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A Loving Enabler of Modernity

19 SEP 2013

published in: General

Hans Landesmann, Photo: Schaffler
Hans Landesmann constructed an important space for the present – remembering a creative innovator.

Hans Landesmann and Salzburg: this constellation was “a stroke of fortune for both sides,” said Salzburg’s Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler last year. At the time, she was delivering a speech on the occasion of the cultural manager’s 80th birthday. On Wednesday evening, the Salzburg Festival had the sad duty to announce the passing of this long-term member of its Directorate: Hans Landesmann died of a severe illness at the age of 81.

From 1989, he played an important role for the Festival, mainly as its Business Director and Concert Director. In this double role, Landesmann created an “unbeatable combination,” Rabl-Stadler said. He was “a fount of knowledge, a lover of art, a clever Kaufmann (businessman)”. Those at the Festival’s helm are obliged to “position it as the artistic and economic motor of a region. That is a double responsibility which no other cultural institution in the world has to fulfil in comparable intensity.” Therefore it had been only consequent that Landesmann’s position “in Salzburg could be characterized as K & K: Konzert und Kaufmann (Concert and Commerce)”.

Hans Landesmann was born in 1932 as the son of a grand-bourgeois Jewish family in Vienna. He studied piano in his native city and in Budapest, where he grew up from 1938 to 1945. He subsequently completed university studies in chemistry in Paris and New York, earning a doctorate. However, the shifting of his life’s focus to New York which he had planned was prevented by a family tragedy: his father died in 1957. Hans Landesmann returned to Vienna to take a leading role in the family’s wholesale business. His life’s focus, however, was art, and this always remained the same: he became a member of the directorate of the Vienna Konzerthaus and its Secretary General in 1977. He founded the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra together with Claudio Abbado in 1986. He also played a major role in the founding of the festival Wien Modern and the Mondsee Music Festival as well.

His unflagging activism on behalf of contemporary music and the passion with which he had already opened Vienna’s Konzerthaus to the sounds of the 20th century was to remain his unmistakable trademark in Salzburg. As an early mastermind of structural reform after the Karajan era, he shaped the Festival’s history. One of his major projects during his tenure on the directorate was the appointment of Gerard Mortier as Karajan’s successor and artistic leader for the Festival. Together with Mortier, albeit not always in harmony, he worked as the Festival’s business director and concert director from 1991 to 2001. During these years, he amalgamated economic expertise and business acumen with his artistic and aesthetic instinct – to Salzburg’s lasting benefit.

Responsible for the concert department, his large-scale “projects” (Pierre Boulez, Maurizio Pollini, György Ligeti, György Kurtág) provided independent and idiosyncratic, but invariably highly successful accents. The festival Zeitfluss, with which Markus Hinterhäuser, who subsequently became Artistic Director himself, and Tomas Zierhofer-Kin provided legendary art experiences beyond the established Festival boundaries, was another endeavour which Landesmann’s love for contemporary art made possible.

The composer Friedrich Cerha summarised Landesmann’s legacy in this regard: “It is not the fact that new music is played in Salzburg, but that the significance it has gained, especially in the concert department, is now a different one.” Markus Hinterhäuser described his mentor’s modest, subtle restraint: “Hans Landesmann did not show himself immediately, he always maintained a certain reserve, a noble distance,” Hinterhäuser is quoted as saying in the book Ohne Musik wäre das Leben ein Irrtum (Without Music, Life would be a Mistake). In this 2011 volume, the editor of the Salzburger Nachrichten’s culture pages, Karl Harb, collected the memoirs of Landesmann, citizen of the world, as well as many interviews of his companions.

Landesmann’s recollections revealed an enabler of culture with attributes that are unusual in this profession: he was polite, quiet, subtle and idealistic.

This idealism was also apparent in his last great effort on behalf of modern music: in 2009, eight years after he had left Salzburg and joined the Wiener Festwochen, he conceived the Salzburg Biennial as a new festival for contemporary music and programmed its first season. In this undertaking, he once again fulfilled his basic premises as an alert observer of art: “After all, I believe,” he once said, “that the most important task of a cultural manager is to maintain a creative dialogue with the artist. One must build a creative house for the artist, providing ideal external conditions, protecting against irritation, but making it a home for a fruitful discourse about artistic ideas and programmes.”

Source: Salzburger Nachrichten

Translation: Alexa Nieschlag