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President Helga Rabl-Stadler About Art as Necessity

6 NOV 2013

published in: General

‘Every art needs two: one who makes it and one who needs it.’ Thus, Ernst Barlach – sculptor, draughtsman and author – described the existential relationship which also characterizes the Salzburg Festival’s essence.

Max Reinhardt described this relationship differently, but no less vividly when he argued for the Festival’s founding in 1917. He spoke of art ‘not as a luxury for the rich and sated, but as food for the needy’. And Reinhardt continued, in defiance of his times, which were as inimical to art as they were deathly: ‘Art, especially theatrical art, has not only held its own during the ravages of this war, but it has proven that its existence and maintenance are among the most indispensable necessities.’

The great number of people who attend exhibits, follow opera with bated breath and impatiently wait for the latest books to be published is a clear indication of the degree to which the arts are needed. We interpret our constantly rising numbers of Festival visitors as another gratifying proof that art is as important as food.

In 2013 more than 280,000 people travelled to the Salzburg Festival from 73 countries, 39 of them outside Europe. None of us would have dared to prophesize that concerts given by Japanese Shomyo monks would sell out. Based on the experience of the last Festival season, however, we are fairly certain that the 2014 Ouverture spirituelle will be sought out again by many, in search of an experience for which regular daily life leaves too little space. In this regard, the Festival holds a privileged position compared to municipal theatres and local concert producers: our guests consciously take their time; they are willing to experiment with novelty that might require preparation and a willingness to explore and grapple with a subject.

Charlotte Salomon, our first opera world premiere since Wolfgang Rihm’s Dionysos in 2010, promises an interesting libretto and music. And our production of Fierrabras might help combat ancient prejudice against Franz Schubert, who we are convinced is underrated as an opera composer.

In 2014, all of Europe commemorates the outbreak of World War I one hundred years ago. With our programme, we wish to show how artists reacted to this fundamental catastrophe of the past century. Especially since one can rightfully claim that the Salzburg Festival was conceived as an answer to the horrors of World War I. Max Reinhardt and Hugo von Hofmannsthal dreamed of a peace project. They believed in the arts “not as a luxury for the rich and sated, but as food for the needy”.

Illuminating war as an important topic of our drama, opera and concert programme in 2014 we illuminate is an obvious choice given the history of the Festival’s founding. On May 17, 1918 an association was registered striving to ‘establish a world centre of art on Austrian ground through the construction of a Festival theatre’. ‘After the war… this Festspielhaus is to initiate and nurture the understanding between peoples through the reconciliatory and compelling power of the arts.’

What a wonderfully optimistic view forward this text conveys – a ‘world centre of art on Austrian ground’. It sounds far more encouraging than the scathing taunt of Karl Kraus, who described Austria as an ‘experimental laboratory for the end of the world’.

In the end, Max Reinhardt – derided by Karl Kraus as the ‘epitome of the problem of theatrical people’ – was right. The Festival really does turn Salzburg into something like the world capital of the arts every summer. The fact that in 2014 we will stage Kraus’ play Die letzten Tage der Menschheit, described by himself as difficult to perform, would surely have inspired him to publish another brilliant polemic in his magazine Die Fackel.

Alexander Pereira, Sven-Eric Bechtolf and I hope that our programming ideas will make the summer of 2014 a very special one as well.

Helga Rabl-Stadler

(Translated by Alexa Nieschlag)