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Mozarteumorchester Salzburg: Touching Audiences with Authenticity

img  Tobias

Thomas Bernhard, like many artists, has always had a love-hate relationship with Salzburg. How are you liking it so far?
I love Salzburg. It is a very beautiful, picturesque town with a very high quality of life, surrounded by splendid landscapes. Being used to living in much larger cities, I am still under the charm of the peace and loftiness of the nature around Salzburg. There is no place where I enjoyed walking my two dogs as much as here! Another fascinating point is the town’s relationship to music: Salzburg truly loves music, its history is totally imbued by music and music is part of its everyday life. In this town, it is not unusual to have up to 150 concerts a day (!) – which is quite extraordinary for a population of 150 000. It is very exciting being confronted to the density of culture and traditions concentrated in this town. The Salzburgers are very music-savvy and extremely cultivated and thus very exigent with regard to the quality of the music presented. This is very stimulating for me.

You've just taken over the position of director of the Mozarteum-orchester. In which way are your challenges here different from those in Berlin?

As I insinuated before, the audience here in Salzburg is entirely different from the audience in Berlin: with a very sophisticated taste and a real consciousness of Salzburg’s rich heritage. The challenge is of course to satisfy the desires and demands of this audience, but also to find ways to break through their reserves and to confront them with different, exciting works without putting them off. Another challenge is that the reputation of the Mozarteumorchester is less developed than the one of the Staatskapelle Berlin with Daniel Barenboim. So, a lot of work at the Mozarteumorchester goes into developing this well-deserved reputation and promoting the orchestra’s excellent work outside the Austrian border and Europe. Certainly, my previous experiences prove invaluable in facing these challenges: not in the sense, that I could copy management strategies from my previous positions and apply them to the situation here, but in the sense that they have trained me in thinking creatively, in putting myself in the position of the audience and in feeling at easy with a variety of management tools and marketing techniques…

To you, what is the particular appeal of working with and for this orchestra?

The Mozarteumorchester is incomparable! :-) Well, what distinguishes it from other orchestras is its anchorage within the unique musical heritage of Salzburg, which has had a huge influence on the orchestra’s repertoire. The orchestra’s core repertoire is the Viennese classicism and, of course, Mozart and I think that no other orchestra in the world has excelled in this repertoire as marvellously as the Mozarteumorchester. The sensitivity, precision and clarity of tone the orchestra achieves, conveys perfectly all the refinement and elegance of these compositions. Under the artistic leadership of Ivor Bolton, chief conductor since 2004, the orchestra has made tremendous steps to reach this degree of perfection. Ivor understands the very essence of this repertoire and he conducts beautifully, with extraordinary tension and sensitivity. In an age of star-systems, where star-conductors and massive orchestras dominate the forefront of the classical music world (which does not diminish their artistic excellence), I think the Mozarteumorchester under Ivor embodies authenticity and purity – it is a real gem, unfortunately also a relatively hidden one.

Touring has been named as one of the important focal points for the next years. Why do you feel this is so important for the orchestra?
Exactly for the reason mentioned above! I think the Mozarteumorchester definitely deserves more international attention and given the quality of its performances, I believe, it can easily increase its international renown once the sails are set. In previous years the Mozarteumorchester has toured throughout Europe and internationally, including China, Japan and the United States - always with enormous success. During the USA tour in autumn 2009, which concluded with a concert in the New York Lincoln Centre, the Mozarteumorchester received outstanding reviews for each concert. Especially overseas, audiences are very sensitive to the rich cultural tradition and authenticity of the Mozarteumorchester. Mozart sounds all the more exciting when his works are played by the musical ambassadors of his hometown! :-) As such, we also make efforts to interact more closely with young artists on site. In October 2009, for example, the Mozarteumorchester held a residency at Orange County (California, USA) to conduct a youth project named “2 orchestras” in cooperation with the Orange Country Youth Symphony. For about 2 weeks, the musicians of the Mozarteumorchester and of the OCYS studied together the newly commissioned orchestral work “Mr. K comes to America” by Viennese composer Kurt Schwertsik. This was followed by two joint performances of the work. An absolutely uplifting experience! That is what I perceive as the mission of the Mozarteum-orchester: to show that classical music is exciting and alive – not only by maintaining and constantly rediscovering its rich tradition, but also by exploring new classical works! Not for nothing is the motto of the Mozarteumorchester “Klassik am Puls der Zeit”, in English “at the edge of classical music”. It is in this perspective that I aim to develop the touring activity of the Mozarteumorchester.

Will the fact that the Mozarteumorchester will be on the road more often in some way influence its engagements in the Orchesterhaus Salzburg?

No, not at all. The touring activity will not have any impact on the frequency of our appearances at the Festspielhaus, especially that since the 2009/2010 season we have a new concerts series, the “Sonntagsmatineen” (engl. Sunday matinees) which will entirely be performed at the Festspielhaus.

The orchestra has made a name for itself with its core repertoire of pieces from the Viennese Classical period and select works of contemporary composition. Will there be any shifts or changes in this balance?

The core repertoire, Mozart and the Viennese classicism, will continue to play a major role in our programming, after all it is the calling card of the Mozarteumorchester. And we will of course also consolidate our work with contemporary composers. What Ivor and I wish to achieve in the longer term, is to demonstrate the excellence of the Mozarteumorchester in a broad musical spectrum, which means that - among the works which are not part of the core or the contemporary repertoire - we would like to explore a wide range of composers and works, also lesser known ones. This intention for example already shows through our Thursday concerts. In 2009/2010 this thematic concerts series focuses on the music of the Romantic period. Besides presenting works by Romantics per excellence, such as Schumann, Schubert and Chopin, we also want to attract the audience’s curiosity towards lesser known composers from this era: Luciano Berio, John Adams, Wojciech Kilar, Johann Wilhelm Wilms… I think it is very enriching, both for us, as presenters, and for our audience.

The Digital Concert Hall, offering downloads of concert performances, setting up your own label – are these interesting ideas for the Mozarteumorchester or rather distractions from the real work of getting people to physically attend a concert?
I do not believe that viewing a classical concert online can in any way replace the physical experience of attending a live performance. That is why I think the digital concert hall will never be a serious competitor or even threat to the real concert hall. However, I am certain that the digital world offers a huge amount of possibilities to promote classical music and to conquer new audiences: if someone who has never seen a live performance of the Mozarteumorchester before, discovers a performance online which really seduces him, he is more likely to attend one of our live performances afterwards, than if he had no idea of our output. We do currently have a couple of videos on Youtube and other digital outlets: The performance of the Mozarteumorchester with Placido Domingo and Ana Maria Martinez at the 2007 Salzburg Festival is for example available for download on We are currently still pondering how to increase our presence in the digital media. Although the digital concert hall is a fantastic idea to reach a broader audience, it is not necessarily make sense for every orchestra – we will have to find our own ways of touching new audiences via digital channels. 

In how much do you still see the album market as an interesting field for the ensemble, which has a long tradition of prestigious recordings?

Although I believe that in the long run, the possibilities offered by the Internet (livestreaming, downloads, etc.) will definitely be pre-eminent in promoting classical music, the classical recording has not died yet. A lot of people still appreciate a lot holding a finished quality product in their hands and bringing the Mozarteumorchester-experience to their homes. We do have a very loyal and affectionate client base for our recordings and we will continue recording several albums a year with Oehms-Classics. These albums will be representative of the balance of our repertoire, which I explained above, and accompany the development of the Mozarteumorchester.

There has been talk about a subtle competition with the Wiener Philharmoniker. In how far is this actually part of an underlying, more general conflict between Austria's mighty capital and its smaller, but equally artistic rival-cities?

I do not understand the talk about an apparent rivalry between Vienna and Salzburg, and equally between the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Mozarteumorchester, because both cities and both orchestras are not comparable. Though both orchestras are Austrian, the history and musical heritage they are based on is very different, as are their artistic aims and their management. They are both outstanding in what they do: The Philharmoniker in the big orchestral repertoire, the Mozarteumorchester in the intimate repertoire of the artistic personalities tied to its heritage, such as Mozart and the likes of him. In short, I strongly believe both cities and both orchestras make up equally for the cultural richness of Austria - they are complementary, not antagonistic.

Homepage: Mozarteumorchester Salzburg

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