Sounds Like Summertime

Classical, jazz and pop/rock festivals in and around Austria: A musical respite from the heat

Top Stories | Binu Starnegg | July / August 2013

Saalfelden Jazz Festival (Photos: Saalfelden-Leogang)

Festivals are to summer what drinking Glühwein is to Christmastime: Nothing prevents you from partaking all year round, but off-season, it just wouldn’t feel right.

In Austria, culture vultures have already descended on the festival circuit – beginning to the west, at one of the country’s oldest continuing Festspiele: the salzburg festival (19 July – 1 Sept., see Events Calendar, page 24). Dating back to 1920, it was founded by cultural heavyweights like composer Richard Strauss, dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal and theatre director Max Reinhardt with the intention to make it the premier festival of its kind worldwide. To this day, Salzburg has remained one of the most prestigious classical music festivals in the world, with its traditional centrepiece, the performance of the morality play Everyman on the downtown Domplatz.


Class(ical) acts 

Among the country’s numerous other classical music festivals, notables include styriarte (21 Jun. – 21 Jul.) in and around Graz; a festival founded (and dominated) by world-renowned conductor and native son Nikolaus Harnoncourt. It focuses on early classical music and this year’s motto, "dangerous liaisons". The maestro himself will be conducting Offenbach’s Bluebeard. At the western tip of the country, the bregenz festival (17 Jul. – 18 Aug.) beckons. Founded in 1946, with the Wiener Symphoniker as orchestra in residence, it stands out thanks to its grand opera productions, implementing elaborate sets built on the banks of Lake Constance. This year, it’s W. A. Mozart’s The Magic Flute, with a Tchaikovsky Symposium held in the Festival Hall.

For an experience closer to home, the grafenegg festival (16 Aug. – 8 Sept.) near Krems offers big names at the lovely 19th century Schloss Grafenegg and park, a fairy-tale castle in the tradition of Romantic historicism, contrasted by an ultra-modern auditorium and amphitheatre. Among those scheduled this year are the Vienna Boys Choir, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist.


Feel the noise

Of course, the greatest triumphs of western civilisation aren’t for everyone; some would rather celebrate their demise with high decibel teenage rebellion. Pop/rock festivals have been a cornerstone of youth culture ever since they embodied the unification of love, peace and loud music.

Millennial commercialism may have displaced ‘60s innocence, but even so, pop/rock festivals strive to recapture the magic of the early days. Camping directly on the festival grounds remains traditional, even at venues that aren’t in the middle of nowhere – and if it rains, a Woodstock-esque mud fight is guaranteed.

Vienna mudslingers needn’t stray far for their slice of paradise; the frequency festival (15 –17 August) takes place in the Lower Austrian capital St. Pölten, a mere hour away by train. Backed by alternative radio FM4, it boasts the largest and most prestigious line-up across the country this summer. Headliners will be idiosyncratic Armenian-American rockers System of a Down. Also, the comedy rock duo Tenacious D and crowd favourite Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will be on site. Another highlight is trip-hop icon Tricky, touring in support of his latest album False Gods.

To top that you’d need to venture to Budapest, where the sziget festival (5 – 12 August) promises an entire week of revelry on the eponymous island in the Danube. It offers a healthy mix of internationally acclaimed artists such as Britpop legends Blur, U.S. punk rock mainstays Bad Religion, dub-step sensation Katy B, French pop-chanson singer Zaz, the Spanish happy-punks Ska-P, alongside local heroes like Hungary’s own world music phenomenon Besh o droM.

If your noise preference tends towards the digital, the urban art forms festival (4 – 6 July) in Schwarzlsee near Graz will fit the ticket. The line-up is mostly DJs, with its three main acts being The Prodigy, Berlin dancehall sound system Seeed, and eccentric party animals Deichkind.


Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

…And even if your daddy’s not rich, nor your mama good looking, jazz aficionados won’t be left out. jazz fest wien (17 Jun. – 10 Jul.) continues well into July (see coverage below), with Rebekka Bakken (see interview, TVR June 2013) performing at the Vienna State Opera on 4 July. For a more pastoral setting, venture to the poetically named Steinernes Meer ("Stone Ocean") to the saalfelden jazz festival in the mountains near the Bavarian border. Fully aware that their pristine alpine setting is at least as much of a draw as the regional musicians playing, they’ve even taken to holding jam sessions on the Alm.

Somewhat later in the year, Salzburg will again be teeming with music lovers when its jazz & the city kicks off (9 – 13 Oct.) What it may lack in world-famous talent it makes up for with the sheer bulk of top regional musicians: 100 concerts at 40 venues will keep listeners busy. As an added bonus, all the concerts are free.

So this summer, there are ample opportunities to escape the routine for a few days of exquisite music, whatever your preference is. Surely the cure for the summertime blues.


Salzburg Festival: 19 Jul. – 1 Sept.

Styriarte: 21 Jun. – 21 Jul.

Bregenz Festival: 17 Jul. – 18 Aug.

Grafenegg Festival: 16 Aug. – 8 Sept.

Frequency Festival: 15 – 17 Aug.

Sziget Festival: 5 – 12 Aug.

Urban Art Forms Festival: 4 – 6 Jul.

Jazz Fest Wien: 17 Jun. – 10 Jul.

International Jazz Festival Saalfelden: 22 – 25 Aug.

Jazz & The City Salzburg: 9 – 13 Oct.

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