Matthew Raybould (SABS 2016) attends Roche Continents programme

“Applying through a recommendation by Professor Charlotte Deane in the Department of Statistics, I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto this year’s Roche Continents programme, which took place between the 15th and 21st August. This is an annual event, where Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche invites 100 young academics (70 scientists and 30 humanities students) studying at institutions across Europe to engage in a week of workshops and challenges at the interface between art and science. The course is designed to challenge preconceptions about art, as well as foster innovation between the disciplines. The week is held in Salzburg, Austria, during the Salzburger Festspiele – a prominent festival of music and drama, held annually since 1920. This year’s theme was ‘The Spectrum of Power’, mirroring the theme of the festival under its new Artistic Director, Markus Hinterhäuser.

Salzburg in Summer is a lush mountain-enclosed city, filled with artistic and architectural heritage. References to Mozart lie on every street (and even in the local chocolates, Mozartkugeln!) whilst visitors are stunned by the impressive cathedral, opera house (which contains no less than three concert halls), Mirabell Palace and the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which towers over the city atop the Festungsberg. During the Festspiele season, the streets are lined with musicians, many of whom study at the local Universität Mozarteum, filling the air with harmonious string music. Banners advertise the multitude of performances on offer – chamber music, orchestral pieces, drama and opera are all represented in this prestigious programme. It is the ideal venue to immerse oneself in some of the very best work that the art world has to offer.

Every morning of the programme started with 45 minutes of tai chi, before breakfast. Most days involved percussion workshops, in which we had the opportunity to work with Swiss drummer and composer Fritz Hauser. Other daytime activities included presentations – ranging from talks about the nature and purpose of music to grooming rituals in ant colonies – a photography workshop, and a group activity debating often controversial topics. With scarcely a 30 minute break throughout the day, the programme would slip into ‘festival mode’, as we would all dress up and hit the town for a bite to eat and the evening’s concert experience.

We had the chance to appreciate contemporary music of composer Gérard Grisey, Alban Berg’s dark and engaging opera “Wozzeck”, directed by William Kentridge, a delightful concoction of Schubert, Shostakovich and Mahler and finally the première of Aribert Reimann’s opera “Lear”, directed by Simon Stone. This final performance was the standout concert of the week – a 100-strong Vienna Philharmonic orchestra with exquisite artistic and theatrical touches brought this classic Shakespearean tragedy to life, vivid and dramatic from the very start.

Without doubt the real strength of this initiative lies in Roche’s candidate selection. In just six days it is impossible to get to know everyone well, but the people I did meet were, without exception, passionate about their subject and eager to learn about others. The workshops and concerts were catalysts to fascinating and engaging discussions. The intensity of the course brought people together and sowed the seeds of friendships that I am certain will stand the test of time.

To anyone who gets the opportunity, I would highly recommend that you apply – it is an unforgettable experience. I would like to thank Professor Deane for the opportunity to apply, and everyone at Roche involved in planning and running this year’s event.”

Matthew Raybould (SABS 2016)