Best of Fest: Austrian Music Festivals
Austria has a reputation for Classic Music ("Wiener Klassik") starting most notably with Mozart and continuing until Mahler. Most people are aware of this and consider Austria to be a very musical place - but few know which festivals and events are the big ones of top-quality. It is pretty hard to choose, but in the following list I name five music festivals or events from Classic to modern that are big enough to justify a trip to Austria.
Salzburger Festspiele - Salzburg Festival
Of course I have to start with the most famous one (also because they are held in my hometown). The Salzburg Festival (www.salzburgfestival.at) was founded in 1920 mainly by Max Reinhardt and Hugo von Hoffmannsthal and is held every summer around July and August.
It intends to present "the best of drama, opera and concert" and has expanded this focus to poetry and other forms of literature in recent years. The Salzburger Festspiele festival is also famous for the performance of the "Jedermann" play in front of the cathedral, which includes the fašade into the acting. It is modelled after Medieval passion plays performed around Easter. However, the international reputation of the Salzburg Festival was earned for opera and concerts, not for the drama.
Around Pentecost, there is a smaller Festival ("Pfingstfestspiele") that was initiated by the conductor Herbert von Karajan. This one is dedicated to baroque music and less pompous than the one in the summer. During July and August, the festival transforms Salzburg into a playground for Europe′s rich and powerful, nobility and politicians, and occasionally even for people who come for the truly outstanding music. If you want to come to Austria for the Salzburg Festival, plan to spend a lot - however, discounts are available with combination tickets and for students.
Bregenzer Festspiele - Bregenz Festival
This festival is internationally less famous and smaller than the Salzburg one, but nonetheless offers high-quality opera in an impressive setting. The approximately 80 performances of the Bregenz Festival (www.bregenzerfestspiele.com) are done on a big stage built into the Lake Bodensee in Vorarlberg. It is famous for the large decorations of this stage and the scenic setting in Austria′s mountainous west.
Wiener Festwochen -Vienna Festival
This festival in Austria′s capital is done for five weeks during May and June. The Wiener Festwochen (www.festwochen.at) of Vienna founded in 1927 and re-established after the war in 1957. The program includes concert, drama and opera from in variety of ages and styles. The opening is traditionally done at an opening concert and event on the "Rathausplatz" (the square in front of the city hall).
Schubertiade: Schubert Festival
Another festival of the western-most province Vorarlberg: Specialised on Schubert performances that you will not find that easily; "off the beaten track" Schubert, so to say. For details, see my article on the village of Schwarzenberg.
Linz used to have a reputation for being an industrial place with significant socio-economic problems. In recent years, Upper Austria developed rapidly and its capital tried to find its niche in Austria′s cultural environment. Thereby, it made good use of its lack of history and proved to be more open to innovation and technologies than many other places in Austria. The "Linzer Klangwolke" (www.klangwolke.at) ("Linz Sound-Cloud") is one result of this openness: it is an open-air event that is organised annually in September in the Donaupark.
Speakers with a power of 250,000 Watt are mounted on elevated stages and cranes. From there they transmit music that is played live in the Donaupark. It begins with the "Visualised Sound Cloud" that attracts some 100,000 visitors: modern music (normally specifically composed for the event) is accompanied by fireworks, light effects and movement of the speaker cranes.
A second sound cloud of classic music is not visualised and used as the opening of the Bruckner Festival, dedicated mostly to the work of the local hero Anton Bruckner. A third sound cloud is done for children. The festival was first organised in 1979. It is related to the Ars Electronica (www.aec.at) (a festival of art, technology and society) and the "museum" of the same name. The entry is free as the costs are covered by the Upper Austrian public broadcast ORF Oberösterreich and the Brucknerhaus Linz.
The Donauinselfest (www.donauinselfest.at) is a festival of modern music that is organised in its current form in Vienna annually since 1984. For three days in early summer, the series of open air concerts by a variety of international, contemporary bands transforms the Donauinsel ("Danube Island") into Europe′s biggest concert with free entry: up to 3 million visitors, mostly young people, crowd the island.
The festival area is 6.5 kilometres long and the organisation supported by 1,400 volunteers. Something like an annual Woodstock, the Donauinselfest wrote history with a concert by Falco that attracted 230,000 visitors in the early 1990ies. The costs are covered by the public.
The small village of Mörbisch is located just south of Rust and a typical Burgenland "Angerdorf" village: One road flanked by houses that could be locked towards invading hords of Turks, Hungarians or whatever else there was to come.
In our peaceful days, however, Mörbisch has become famous for its Operetta festival Seefestspiele that is performed on a floating stage on Lake Neusiedler See. The festival runs from the middle of July to the end of August. Considering that the Burgenland is a province where rain doesn′t happen very often (a desert compared to Salzburg, where I′m from), the fact that it is an open-air festival is no reason to worry.
Since the subject of the festival is operetta, the audience tends to be a geriatric blend of Viennese and domestic tourists.
This is just a collection of five festivals I found particularly important. I think that they would justify a trip to Austria - as sort of a theme. However, there are many other, smaller music and art festivals especially in the summer - jazz, classical, contemporary rock and pop. Ask regional tourist information centres for assistance, as they will know more about local gems.
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