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The Peak (Hong Kong) - - The Arts -

n pho­to­graphs and post­cards, Salzburg owns all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a beau­ti­ful but some­how still non­de­script European town. A river that slices across the old and the new towns with sev­eral foot­bridges that con­nect the two; cathe­drals dot­ting cob­ble­stone al­leys that twist and turn in ev­ery di­rec­tion, gush­ing foun­tains at the cen­tre of open-air plazas. It’s scenic, for sure. But for 10 months of the year, this small city is not a whole lot more ex­cit­ing than this.

But this is also the birth­place of Mozart, the home of Europe’s old­est restau­rant (Stiftskeller St Peter, which claims to have been in op­er­a­tion since 803 AD) and back­drop to the movie The Sound of Mu­sic. And, fit­tingly, the hills that are set sternly around the town do very much ap­pear to be alive each sum­mer – dur­ing the 41-day Salzburg Fes­ti­val.

For years, the Aus­trian classical mu­sic fes­ti­val has drawn per­form­ers of the high­est cal­i­bre, stag­ing over 190 per­for­mances in 11 venues each sum­mer and at­tract­ing an en­thu­si­as­tic, up­per-class crowd who make the event an an­nual pil­grim­age and an op­por­tu­nity to play dress up for an evening or two.

Classical mu­sic is a way of life for Salzbur­gians; there’s a large con­cen­tra­tion of per­form­ing arts and mu­sic schools in the city, and vi­o­lin­ists and singers per­form to their heart’s de­sire on street cor­ners, un­der beau­ti­ful baroque arch­ways or even just ca­su­ally ly­ing on a bed of grass along the river.

The genre has a slightly more bour­geois rep­u­ta­tion else­where around the world, and hence, the fes­ti­val it­self has gained a rather high­brow sta­tus. It has been crit­i­cised for be­ing elit­ist, with tick­ets to a sin­gle con­cert of­ten go­ing for as much as €400 (HK$3,500); lim­it­ing ac­cess to lo­cals and mu­sic lovers with­out a bankroll. But, de­spite the bour­geois light casted upon the fes­ti­val, this small Aus­trian city has en­joyed a pres­ti­gious sta­tus as an an­nual sum­mer hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion for rich Euro­peans to air their ball gowns and tuxes.

Dr Helga Rabl-stadler, pres­i­dent of the Salzburg Fes­ti­val, ac­knowl­edges this is­sue of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, but she notes the for­mal tone had al­ways been in­tended to be a part of the fes­ti­val ex­pe­ri­ence. “The fes­ti­val was founded in 1920 by Friedrich Gehmacher and Hein­rich Damisch, who al­ways felt peo­ple should dress up for the oc­ca­sion and that go­ing to con­certs should be an ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says. “The fes­ti­val con­tin­ues to bring to­gether roy­als, dig­ni­taries and celebri­ties, mak­ing it one of the rare events where you might see the King of Swe­den and An­gela Merkel sit­ting along­side Karl Lager­feld.”

But Rabl-stadler is also very much in tune with the chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics of the au­di­ence and notes that sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of tick­ets are priced be­tween €5 and €105. Free out­door con­certs are also staged through­out the du­ra­tion of the fes­ti­val, bring­ing the

mu­sic to a wider au­di­ence. It’s all a part of her ef­fort to bring more di­ver­sity to the event. The pres­i­dent cred­its this largely to spon­sors that she’s cul­ti­vated over the years since she took on the role of pres­i­dent in 1995.

Among the most suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships the fes­ti­val shares is that which it has with Rolex. The col­lab­o­ra­tion, Rabl- Stadler ex­plains, was brought about by one of the most re­spected di­vas of this gen­er­a­tion – mezzo-so­prano singer Ce­cilia Bar­toli.

“Sev­eral years ago, Ce­cilia ap­proached me with an idea to stage an opera at the fes­ti­val. She had some bril­liant ideas but we did not have the funds. So Ce­cilia, who was a Rolex Arts Tes­ti­monee, came up with the idea to get the brand in­volved,” Rabl-stadler re­calls.

This part­ner­ship has lead to the ex­pan­sion of the Salzburg Fes­ti­val; Bar­toli founded and took on the role of artis­tic di­rec­tor of a sub-event, the Whit­sun Fes­ti­val. Be­gin­ning in May 2012, the same year the fes­ti­val kick­started its part­ner­ship with Rolex, Whit­sun Fes­ti­val be­came the first stage where Bar­toli’s op­eras are staged. The diva and the rest of the cast then reprise their roles in ad­di­tional per­for­mances dur­ing the main fes­ti­val in Au­gust. This al­lows more peo­ple to en­joy the per­for­mances, while ul­ti­mately up­ping the prof­its of each pro­duc­tion.

It’s part­ner­ships like these, Rabl-stadler ex­plains, which has made less-than-con­ven­tional per­for­mances, such as this year’s opera adap­ta­tion of the Leonard Ber­stein Broad­way mu­si­cal West Side Story, pos­si­ble.

Ac­com­pa­nied by the Simón Bolí­var Sym­phony Orches­tra of Venezuela, con­ducted by Gus­tavo Du­damel, the pro­duc­tion re­quired tremen­dous

“THE FES­TI­VAL IS ONE OF THE RARE EVENTS WHERE YOU MIGHT SEE THE KING OF SWE­DEN AND AN­GELA MERKEL SIT­TING ALONG­SIDE KARL LAGER­FELD”

– Dr Helga Rabl-stadler

fund­ing, from trans­porta­tion and ac­com­mo­da­tion costs of the orches­tra and cast, to build­ing a set that can adapt to the tem­per­a­men­tal Felsen­re­itschule stage; set within a for­mer horse rid­ing school that was built into the side of the Mönchs­berg moun­tain in 1963.

And with only €16mil­lion of its €60mil­lion bud­get sub­sidised by the Aus­trian gov­ern­ment, it’s up to Rabl- Stadler to con­tinue to reach out to like-minded spon­sors. “We only want global players, and they have to be known for their qual­ity and share a sim­i­lar ide­ol­ogy for ex­cel­lence,” she says with as­sur­ance.

On top of that, spon­sors have to give the fes­ti­val close to free reign over how spon­sor­ship funds are used. “Just like we’re not go­ing to tell Rolex how to make a watch, they shouldn’t tell us how to stage con­certs and op­eras,” Rabl- Stadler says.

The fes­ti­val is set to ap­proach its 100th an­niver­sary in 2020, and Rabl- Stadler be­lieves the founders’ mes­sage to the world is as per­ti­nent today as ever. “The founders were con­vinced that cul­ture is the only thing that will bring peo­ple to­gether; to bring peace to the world,” she says. “It doesn’t mat­ter which pro­gramme, what mat­ters is the qual­ity, the free­dom of choice of opera or theatre – the only thing that mat­ters is that we bring the best to the fes­ti­val.”

The un­con­ven­tional de­ci­sion to bring West Side Story onto the Salzburg Fes­ti­val stage is a clear in­di­ca­tion the near cen­tury-old event is in­creas­ingly about much more than sym­phonies and sonatas. As Rabl-stadler puts it: “Pro­duc­tions like these will change the fu­ture of the Salzburg Fes­ti­val.”

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01 Dr Helga Rabl-stadler, pres­i­dent of Salzburg Fes­ti­val 02 Mu­sic lovers from around the world flock to Salzburg dur­ing fes­ti­val sea­son each year

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03 03 Ce­cilia Bar­toli's opera adap­ta­tion of Broad­way mu­si­cal West Sidestory 04 Rolex Arts Tes­ti­monee Ce­cilia Bar­toli 05 Simón Bolí­var Sym­phony Orches­tra of Venezuela con­duc­tor Gus­tavo Du­damel

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