This week, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal sets off for Krakow, Poland and then the prestigious Salzburg Festival in Austria, where they will present Krzysztof Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion. To commemorate the significance of this milestone, here is an overview of the legendary festival that takes place each summer in the city of Mozart.
1. Almost 100 years of festivities
The Salzburg Festival is almost 100 years old. Founded in 1920, it has seen performances from some of the greatest artists and orchestras in the world. At first, the goal of its founders, director Max Reinhardt and poet Hugo Hofmannsthal — the author of several of the librettos of Richard Strauss’ operas — was simply to give Austrian artists work in the post-war period. They probably never would have guessed that they were laying the foundation for what would become the biggest classical music event in the world!
2. A first for a Canadian orchestra
The OSM will be the first Canadian orchestra to ever play at the Salzburg Festival. However, it won’t be a first appearance for Kent Nagano, who has conducted at the festival several times already — notably last year with The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
3. The stuff of legends
Under the baton of Kent Nagano, the OSM will enter into Salzburg history alongside musical giants. Among hundreds of artists who have appeared at the festival, some of the most legendary include Richard Strauss, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Paul Hindemith, Claudio Arrau, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Zubin Mehta, Claudio Abbado, The Vienna Philharmonic, The Berliner Philharmoniker, The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Alfred Brendel, and Jessye Norman, just a few of the names from a prestigious list that could go on for pages.
4. The Salzburg Festival in numbers
The Salzburg Festival, which takes place this year from July 20 to August 30, welcomes over 250,000 visitors each year. In 2016, the festival offered 192 performances (including theatre, opera, and concerts) in 14 venues, with an occupancy rate of 96%. In total, 259,018 visitors from 81 countries attended the festival, which also hosted 677 journalists from around the world. Ticket sales generated over €27 million.
5. A history intertwined with the destiny of Europe
The history of the Salzburg Festival is also the history of Austria and of Europe. During WWII, when Austria was annexed by Germany, the Nazis’ political agenda exerted its influence on the festival. Many artists, including Jewish artists, were banned, and the Reich declared that German art should dominate the festival, which then became a vehicle for propaganda. In 1945, a few months after the end of the war, the festival took place amidst a devastated Europe, with the support of the occupying American troops.
6. The OSM at the Felsenreitschule
The OSM’s July 20 concert will take place at the Felsenreitschule (literally “rock riding school”), originally constructed as a venue for cavalry exercises. This extraordinary theatre carved out of the stone of Mönchsberg, one of Salzburg’s five mountains, can accommodate 1237 spectators seated among 96 stone arcades. You may recognize this famous amphitheater from the movie The Sound of Music.
7. In the words of Kent Nagano
Kent Nagano is thrilled to bring the orchestra to the Salzburg Festival. “For nearly a century, the Salzburg Festival has been recognized throughout the world for its exceptional musical quality,” he says. “The OSM is proud to take part in this great tradition, where Krzysztof Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion, an important but rarely-performed work, will be featured. The St. Luke Passion unites a large orchestra, three mixed choirs, and soloists in an expression full of sacred text and the composer’s profound faith.”
8. Krakow, Poland, and Penderecki
Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki will turn 85 this year. For the OSM, it was the perfect occasion to perform one of his greatest works, The St. Luke Passion, in his native country. On July 18, the OSM will perform the Passion in Krakow. Don’t forget that Penderecki himself conducted the OSM on a few occasions, the first being on March 27, 1979. His latest appearance was September 20, 2015, when he conducted the Choeur de l’OSM in the Canadian premiere of Psalm III.