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At this time of the year we would head for Salzburg, Austria for the Music Festival at Pentecost weekend, the Whitsun Festival 22-25 May 2015. It is a Festival of music, concerts and opera first inaugurated in 1920 and held every year.

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In 1917, Friedrich Gehmacher and Heinrich Damisch formed an organization known as the Salzburger Festspielhaus-Gemeinde to establish an annual festival of drama and music, emphasizing especially the works of Mozart. At the close of the war in 1918, the festival’s revival was championed by five men now regarded as the founders: the poet and dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the composer Richard Strauss, the scenic designer Alfred Roller, the conductor Franz Schalk, and the director Max Reinhardt, then intendant of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, who had produced the first performance of Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann at the Berlin Zirkus Schumann arena in 1911.

The Salzburg Festival was officially inaugurated on 22 August 1920 with Reinhardt’s performance of Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann on the steps of Salzburg Cathedral, starring Alexander Moissi. The practice has become a tradition, and the play is now always performed at Cathedral Square, from 1921 accompanied by several performances of chamber music and orchestra works. The first operatic production came in 1922, with Mozart’s Don Giovanni conducted by Richard Strauss. The singers were mainly drawn from the Wiener Staatsoper, including Richard Tauber as Don Ottavio.

The first festival hall was erected in 1925 at the former Prince Archbishops’ horse stables on the northern foot of the Mönchsberg mountain according to plans by Clemens Holzmeister and opened with Gozzi’s Turandot dramatized by Karl Vollmöller. At that time the festival had already developed a large-scale program including live broadcasts by the Austrian RAVAG radio network. The following year the adjacent former episcopal Felsenreitschule riding academy, carved into the Mönchsberg rock face, was converted into a theater, inaugurated with the performance of Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni. In the 21st century, the original festival hall, suitable only for concerts, was reconstructed as a third venue for fully staged opera and concert performances and reopened in 2006 as the Haus für Mozart.

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The years from 1934 to 1937 were a golden period when famed conductors such as Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter conducted many performances. In 1936, the festival featured a performance by the Trapp Family Singers, whose story was later dramatized as the musical and film The Sound of Music (featuring a shot of the Trapps singing at the Felsenreitschule). In 1937, Boyd Neel and his orchestra premiered Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge at the Festival.

The Festival’s popularity suffered a major blow upon the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938. Toscanini resigned in protest, artists of Jewish descent like Reinhardt and Georg Solti had to emigrate, and the Jedermann, last performed by Attila Hörbiger, had to be dropped.

The post-war festival slowly regained its prominence as the premier summer opera festival, especially in works by Mozart, with conductor Herbert von Karajan becoming artistic director in 1956. In 1960 the Great Festival Hall (Großes Festspielhaus) opera house opened its doors. As this summer festival gained fame and stature as the premier venue for opera, drama, and classical concert presentation, its musical repertoire concentrated on Mozart and Strauss, but other works, such as Verdi’s Falstaff and Beethoven’s Fidelio, were also performed.

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Upon Karajan’s death in 1989, the festival was drastically modernized and expanded by director Gerard Mortier, who was succeeded by Peter Ruzicka in 2001. In 2006, the festival was led by intendant Jürgen Flimm and concert director Markus Hinterhäuser. That year, Salzburg celebrated the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth by staging all 22 of his operatic works (including two unfinished operas), to great acclaim. All 22 were filmed and released on DVD in November 2006. The 2006 festival also saw the opening of the Haus für Mozart.

The festival’s current director is Sven-Eric Bechtolf who replaced Alexander Pereira who left in 2014 for LaScala Milan, he had succeeded Flimm who departed in 2011 to become director of the Berlin State Opera.

The Salzburg Whitsun Festival (Salzburger Pfingstfestspiele) is an extension of the traditional Salzburg Summer Festival established in 1973, initially performing operas along with works from the great Baroque orchestral repertoire at the Grosses Festspielhaus during Whitsun (or Pentecost) weekend. This is the Festival we have attended for the last 7 years.

For 2015 at Whitsun the 2 operas are from CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK • IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE and GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL • SEMELE which is sold out.

In the Concerts this year we have at the Stiftung Mozarteum a Matinee with CHRISTOPH and JULIAN PRÉGARDIEN, at the Haus Für Mozart ARIA CONCERT PHILIPPE JAROUSSKY which we always like, he has a wonderful voice and will do a Handel Concert. Also A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM • BALLET with John Neumeier, Jürgen Rose, Soloists and ensemble of HAMBURG BALLETT, Simon Hewett, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg.

Then LA LIRA D’ORFEO with  Rolf Lislevand, Marco Ambrosini, Thor Harald Johnsen, David Mayoral, Ulrik Gaston Lersen, Dominique Girod
Works by Gaspar Sanz, Francesco Corbetta, Gian Paolo Foscarini, Alessandro Piccinini, Hieronymus Kapsberger, Trad, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Bernardo Gianoncelli, aus dem Lautenbuch der Margaret Board, Thomas Robinson, Antonio Carbonchi, Diego Ortiz, Santiago de Murcia

The Gala Evening and look at the names of the artists, worth the trip just by itself. At the Grosses Festspielhaus

Performers: Anna Netrebko, Cecilia Bartoli, Marianne Crebassa, Juan Diego Flórez, Christopher Maltman, Andreas Scholl, Salzburger Bachchor, Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée
Works by Henry Purcell, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Joseph Haydn, Jacques Offenbach
and other works.

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Going to the Whitsun Festival means 2 to 3 concerts per day, leaving just enough time for clothes change, fresh shirt or change of suit. Reservations have to be made for dinner and lunch, it is a small town. The atmosphere is magical in Salzburg, you often get to meet the artists between concerts, there is a real intimate little town feeling. So very beautiful, maybe next year we will go to Salzburg.

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