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SALZBURG FESTIVAL BLOG

Impressive Opening of the 2017 Salzburg Festival

31 JUL 2017

by FESTSPIELKIEBITZ  14:35 h;
published in: General

Ferdinand von Schirach, Photo: Franz Neumayr
The 97th Salzburg Festival opened officially on 27 July 2017 with a festive ceremony at the Felsenreitschule. After Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler welcomed the guests, Landeshauptmann Wilfried Haslauer and Federal Minister Thomas Drozda spoke, the lawyer and writer Ferdinand von Schirach delivered the keynote address and Alexander Van der Bellen, President of Austria, gave the opening speech.

Numerous honorary guests from Austria and abroad attended the opening ceremony. The Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg under its new chief conductor Riccardo Minasi performed the event’s musical segments.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams … he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” The history of the Salzburg Festival offers bountiful proof for this statement by Henry David Thoreau, said Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler in her words of welcome, adding that the Festival owes its existence to the dreamer Max Reinhardt and his unfailing belief in the power of theatre. Guided by his dreams, the success of the Festival has indeed exceeded all his expectations.

Exactly 100 years ago, in April 1917, Reinhardt formulated his idea of a “Festspielhaus in Salzburg as one of the first projects for peace” and sent his appeal to the Emperor. On 1 August 1917, supporters of the Festival idea from Vienna and Salzburg met at Vienna’s Musikverein to found the “Salzburg Festspielhaus Association”. Three years later, on 22 August 1920, Jedermann on Cathedral Square became the Festival’s first performance. “Despite many setbacks, the Festival idea could no longer be eradicated from the world,” said Rabl-Stadler.

In his speech, Landeshauptmann Wilfried Haslauer delivered a “plea for beauty”. Despite war, poverty, hunger, persecution, refugee crises and misery in the world, he posited that there is a right to discuss beauty. “Beauty defines us. It gives us meaning, it has its roots within us and longs for a voice. It is pure joy, if we allow it to engage us and if we accept it. Recognizing it consciously, giving it room in our lives, seeing and perceiving it – all that makes us human and lifts us above other creatures, yet it also makes us vulnerable and assailable.”

Society, however, has commercialized beauty, he went on. Constant exposure, permanent sensory overkill and forced consumption of beauty have reduced it to triviality, said Haslauer. “We must consciously seek out beauty again. And as long as this search continues, beauty is not lost. The Salzburg Festival will contribute once again to this search this year.”

Minister Thomas Drozda is convinced “that we are living in an age of truly momentous changes. A fourth industrial revolution, digitization, has long begun to throw its shadow on our present day. Between humans and machines, power has begun to shift increasingly towards the latter. Along the way, however, we must consider how to strengthen human beings in the digital age. Art will be a beacon, a signpost along this way. The analogous worlds of theatre, opera, concerts and exhibitions offer places to educate the heart.”

Art can incite pleasure, passion, compassion and shame – yet most of all, it can, and it will, make us think, said Drozda, for whom outstanding art is only possible by building on a broad basis of artistic endeavour. “Thus, art is a key discipline of the digital age. It unites the past with the future and turns a critical eye on the relationship between human beings and technology. I am convinced that artists and cultural professionals have an essential contribution to make to resolving the social and political issues of our day,” the Minister added.

Ferdinand von Schirach, who delivered the keynote address, critically examined democracy, power and political ethics: “Citizens are no longer only recipients of news, they have become powerful senders. Never before have people been able to raise their voice so effortlessly, never before have they been heard so clearly. Citizens now believe that they are more able than their elected politicians,” Schirach claimed, asking: “When should a factual decision override the will of the majority? When does it have to? Or does ethics mean nothing against the will of the citizens?” No human, including the voter, possesses absolute truth, “and our future is never without alternatives – on the contrary, it is open.” Tyranny, thus the lawyer and author, arises from the abolition of the division of power. He demanded: “Especially in these excited times, we must set the law against power.”

The opening speech by Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen contained an appeal for more compassion and solidarity: otherwise there is the danger of reverting to a kind of digital Biedermeier era. Our new Facebook friends then replace the old Biedermeier salon. Each individual arranges his life within an echo chamber, and the other only reaches us as a distant image which can just as easily be ignored. “I do believe that it is worth raising our eyes from the display once in a while, in order to see ourselves and our immediate surroundings,” said the head of state.

“In doing so – just consider the keynote address – it is entirely possible to take orientation from Voltaire’s attitude. For Voltaire could have accepted injustice and retreated from the world. Yet he did not! And for this, posterity remembers him with respect and gratitude,” thus Van der Bellen.


Source: Landesmedienzentrum Salzburg

Translation: Alexa Nieschlag

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