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January 2014
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Salzburg Fest: Musical Hothouse on WFMT


Salzburg Festival 2013, Sundays at 5:00 PM

Being the birthplace of one of mankind’s greatest geniuses has a way of energizing people, especially a music-loving people. True, Mozart had troubles in his hometown; he felt he’d outgrown it. His boss, the Archbishop Colloredo, was less than patient with the creative whims of his gifted servant, and eventually gave Mozart the boot (quite literally). But Salzburg, even in Mozart’s time, was cultivating music at the highest level. Today this Austrian town of 150,000 is a beacon for all of classical music.

WFMT brings you a nine-part series from the Salzburg Festival, recorded last summer. Here is a Q and A with program producer Carolyn Paulin:

Did you travel to Salzburg for this series? What’s it like? Can you build a vacation around it? If so, what travel tips would you offer the first-time attendee (dress, dining, weather, other attractions?)

I was fortunate to spend about a week in Salzburg this past summer, and wish I could have stayed longer.  That part of Austria is perfect for family or couples (or even single travelers) to vacation.  You can take a bus to the lake districts around Salzburg – Mondsee is the closest and my favorite spa town (Brahms composed there many summers).  But you can hike or walk throughout the town itself, visiting the Hohensalzburg Fortress (the “castle”), the wonderful sights of the Old Town, including Mozart’s birthplace and the daily Farmers’ Market in the center of the city, as well as delightful restaurants of all kinds, and some pretty fancy shopping.  Across the Salzach River is the “New Town” with more shopping, transportation and many more restaurants.

Salzburg is famously formal in its dress for many concerts, particularly opera. You’ll even see people in white dress coats and black tie at the Mozart Matinee concerts, weekends at 11 AM in the Mozarteum.  But it’s becoming a little less formal in other ways.  You still don’t wear jeans to a concert, but formal dress is not always required.  Ticket prices can be very high, again particularly for opera, but there are very reasonably priced tickets for a lot of concerts.  It is important to plan ahead….many concerts sell out VERY early – tickets go on sale in April (online), and operas can be sold out in a week.  However, you can often find tickets for concerts the day before, if you just happen to  find yourself in Salzburg.

Weather can be very variable in August – everything from cool and rainy to very hot and humid.

It looks like the festival is a microcosm of what we do on a daily basis on WFMT. They do opera, chamber, recitals, orchestral. How does that work in one little town? What’s the repertoire?

The Festival is not really like what we do on WFMT.  Yes, there are recitals, chamber music, orchestral concerts and opera.  But the Festival is really three main parts: Opera, Concerts and Theatre.  There also is a big, and relatively new, emphasis on contemporary music, with a commissioned or new opera every summer, and many performances of contemporary works.  The opera offerings are remarkable, with the greatest stars and conductors (the “best of the best”) in residence.  And all productions of opera are new productions.  The theatre component, which is not really even mentioned in our series (because it focusses only on music) is enormous.  Great directors, wonderful actors (mostly European) and everything from Shakespeare to new plays.

Does the festival attract major artists?  

Yes……the most famous artists are all there!

Is it a fun place for people-watching?

The best place to people watch is at the Triangel Restaurant, at the corner of Wienerphilharmonikerstrasse and the road in front of all the theatres (Haus für Mozart, Felsenreitschule, Grossses Festspielhaus).  Everybody walks by – from the stars to families of hikers with their children.

How are the performances? What were your highlights?

Performances are consistently at the VERY highest level.  The greatest artists in the western world (Europe, Russia, US, etc.) are always in Salzburg.  A big event this year was the presence of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela, as well as the Simon Bolivar String Quartet (principals of the orch.).  All of the Mahler Symphonies were performed in Salzburg in 2013, and several were done by this orchestra, with conductor/music director Gustavo Dudamel.

The locally- based Mozarteum Orchestra is a real delight – playing weekly on the “Mozart Matinee” concerts at 11 AM on Saturdays and Sundays.  Repertoire favors classical composers (Mozart and Haydn, of course) but also other composers whose works are suited to a chamber sized orchestra (50-60 players) and the rather small (750 seats), absolutely gorgeous “Golden Hall” of the Salzburg Mozarteum.  Repertoire of the Mozarteum Orchestra included works by Ives (!) and Stravinsky, as well as Handel and Gerhard Wimberger.

Other great orchestras in Salzburg in 2013 include the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (Barenboim), the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra (“youth” equals ages 19-28 in that orchestra), the National Orchestra of Santa Cecelia in Rome, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and, of course, the Vienna Philharmonic, which really is the orchestra-in-residence, playing concerts and many operas.

Chamber music and solo concerts/recitals are also greatly enjoyed….the Hagen Quartet (based in Salzburg and teachers at the Mozarteum) played 6 Beethoven string quartets.  There also were wonderful voice recitals and solo piano recitals.  And, there is a focus on sacred choral music (called “Ouverture Spirituelle”) that always opens with Haydn’s Creation, and has a week of concerts in late June, plus other performances throughout the Festival.

And for fans of contemporary music, there is a rather new series call “Salzburg Contemporary,” with focus on new works and at least one particular composer in residence – this year it was Harrison Birtwistle.  There also was a great interest in new music from Japanese composers.

Personal highlights: Verdi’s Don Carlo (all 5 ½ hours of it) with Thomas Hampson and Jonas Kaufmann; Wagner’s Die Meistersinger (ditto the 5 ½ hours) in a fabulous new production, with Michael Volle as Hans Sachs. Verdi Requiem with Vienna Philharmonic and Chorus, Riccardo Muti, conducting.  Britten War Requiem with Anna Netrebko, Ian Bostridge and Thomas Hampson, and Antonio Pappano leading the National Orchestra, and Chorus of Santa Cecelia from Rome – their first visit to the Festival.  Haydn’s first oratorio, Il ritorno di Tobia, with the early-music orchestra La Scintilla, led by Nicholas Harnoncourt.

Do you have a sense that we get a slightly different stream of artists in the U.S. than they do? Any you wish would come over here to play, but haven’t?

While all the most famous artists in the world come to perform, there are many singers and players that are well-known and admired in Europe but not too well-known here.  I would love to have baritone Michael Volle come to Chicago – for recital, orchestral concert or opera.  He’s very famous and has a huge following in Europe but not known much here.

Who chooses the artists for Salzburg? How does that process work typically?

The Festival has an Intendant (artistic director), a President and a leader of the theatre.  They all work on putting the huge and very complex summer program together, with themes, cycles, opera offerings, and theatre, all with connections.

Is Salzburg a place where people go to discover artists (for example opera companies etc)? 

Opera company directors, in particular, are in Salzburg to hear singers.  And MANY artist representatives, impresarios, and agents are there for the entire Festival, looking at artists.


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