Festival Culture in Austria
Trade and travel routes have long bisected the area that today is Austria, the Alpine passes here have linked the northern regions of Europe with the Mediterranean, and the Danube has connected West and East. Austria has always served as both a thoroughfare and a cultural meeting place, and innumerable peoples and cultures have left their mark on the country’s history. Vienna, for centuries the centre of an empire and the residence of the Habsburgs as well as one of the world’s leading cultural capitals, was and is the home of many artists. It is the country’s great diversity in its landscape and culture that creates the extraordinary atmosphere for Austria’s unparalleled festivals.
Over 200 music and dance festivals are held all across Austria each year. From large-scale, world-famous festivals to small, intimate events closely tied to their region, they are all characterized by the country’s extraordinary history, the interaction with the surrounding landscape, the ambience of the cities and the manifold culinary traditions. And, of course, by the people who live here.
The Salzburg Festival, one of the world’s most distinguished events of its kind, was initiated in 1920 as a peace project and ushered in Austria’s long festival tradition. A fixture on the cultural calendar that is no less spectacular is the venerable Bregenz Festival, whose opera productions are held on the world’s largest floating stage.
Austrian festivals offer something for every taste, ranging from the Styriarte, directed by the legendary conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and Burgenland’s Franz Liszt Festival and Haydn Festival to the Tirolean Festival Erl. The Schubertiade, held in the Vorarlberg towns of Hohenems and Schwarzenberg, is regarded as the world’s most important Schubert festival, while at Grafenegg Castle, only a forty-minute drive from Vienna, one can experience internationally acclaimed classical artists at the summer concerts of Musikfestival Grafenegg held on the castle grounds.
Other events succeed brilliantly in brooking the divide between traditional and contemporary music, such as the Carinthian Summer music festival, or the more progressive Donaufestival in Krems, which astonishes and inspires with its exciting blend of modern dance, drama and offbeat music. These events take visitors far off the beaten musical path, as does the “Glatt und Verkehrt” festival, whose programme rediscovers Austria’s own musical roots while exploring the traditions of other cultures as well. The Ars Electronica in Linz is another prominent event that is consciously border-transcending and forward-looking.
Two renowned festivals in Austria, in Vienna and the town of Saalfelden, are devoted entirely to jazz. The free concerts high up in the mountain pastures are only one of the highlights that attract fans to the Jazz Festival Saalfelden, which is Europe’s most important festival for contemporary jazz.
Dance is another art form in Austria in which creativity and innovation know no bounds. Vienna’s ImPuls Tanz is Europe’s largest festival for contemporary dance, attracting artists from across the globe and transforming Vienna into a meeting place of the world’s cultures, or rather into one huge dance stage. Innsbruck is another of Austria’s centres for dance. Each year in June and July the Innsbruck Summer Dance Festival showcases internationally known choreographers and dancers.