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Music, drama and controversy: What can you expect at the Salzburg Festival?

The annual Salzburger Festspiele - Salzburg Festival - is already hitting the headlines due its Russian connections, but there is more to the event than politics. Here’s what to expect at the 2022 edition of the festival.

Music, drama and controversy: What can you expect at the Salzburg Festival?
The annual Salzburg Festival kicks off in the historic Austrian city this week. Image by Salzburg Festival / Marco Borrelli.

As the Salzburg Festival kicks off on Tuesday July 26th with a keynote address by Vienna-based author Ilija Trojanow, all eyes on this year’s theme of war and peace.

The title of Ilija’s speech is Der Ton des Krieges, die Tonarten des Friedens (The Tone of War, the Tonalities of Peace) – something that, according to ORF, has placed the festival “under scrutiny” as the war continues in Ukraine.

The Kronen Zeitung also reports that Trojanow – who fled Bulgaria in 1971 for Germany – is expected to reference Russian funding of the festival and the turbulence of current times.

Trojanow said: “Markus Hinterhäuser [Salzburg Festival Artistic Director] knows me, he knows my work. He knows that he will get a politically dedicated, but also poetic-musical speech from me.”

Meanwhile, a large security operation is underway at Salzburg’s Festspielhause and across the city’s festival sites ahead of a speech by Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen as part of the opening ceremony on Tuesday.

Police Chief Inspector Hans Wolfgruber said: “The maximum level of security will be provided, but there will be minimum restrictions for the people of Salzburg.” 

With the festival programme set to run until August 31st, here’s what you need to know about the 2022 Salzburg Festival.

What is the Salzburg Festival?

The Salzburg Festival is an annual celebration of art and culture in the historic city of Salzburg, in the west of Austria.

It has been described as one of the most important festivals in the world for opera, classical music and drama, and the organisers sell over 200,000 tickets each year.

The event was officially established in August 1920 by Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal in a bid to promote peace following World War I and to support the creation of a new Austrian identity following the fall of the Habsburg empire.

Today, the festival programme still includes an annual performance of Jedermann, a mystery play written by Hofmannsthal, in honour of the founder.

Anything controversial about this year?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, many organisations and institutions have come under fire for their associations with Russia – including the Salzburg Festival.

Last week, the festival organisers justified its decision not to cancel a performance by Greek-Russian conductor Teodor Currentzis, who is scheduled to open the festival with his orchestra musicAeterna.

The Guardian reports that musicAeterna is funded by VTB Bank, which is currently under western sanctions and is often referred to as Vladimir Putin’s “private bank”.

Other venues in Munich, Vienna and Paris have already cancelled performances by Currentzis and musicAeterna, but Salzburg Festival Director Hinterhäuser has defended his decision by describing the conductor as a “counter model” to Putin.

In further criticism, the festival is also reportedly receiving funding in the form of sponsorship from a foundation run by oligarch Leonid Mikhelson who has been sanctioned by the UK and Canada, although not the EU.

But Salzburg Festival organisers have severed ties this year with two Russian performers – Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev – over their connections to Putin.

What are the highlights this year?

The opening ceremony will take place in the Felsenreitschule (a theatre) on Tuesday. Attendees will include Austria’s President Alexander van der Bellan, Salzburg’s Governor Wilfried Haslauer, Secretary of State for the Arts Andrea Mayer and Salzburg Festival President Kristina Hammer.

The keynote speech by Trojanow will be broadcast live on ORF 2, which will be followed by a performance by Currentzis and musicAeterna.

Other highlights during the festival include classical music performances by the Vienna Philharmonic, opera productions of Aida and Bluebeard’s Castle, and a youth programme titled Jung & Jede*r.

The full festival programme can be found here.

Performances and events take place at venues across the city, including the Schauspielhaus Salzburg, Kollegienkirche, Dom Platz and the Festspielhaus.

Tickets should be booked in advance and prices range from €5 to €445, although some key events, such as drama performances of Jedermann and Reigen, are already sold out.

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CULTURE

Austria returns looted Indigenous remains to New Zealand

The remains of scores of Indigenous Maori and Moriori people began a journey home to New Zealand on Tuesday, officials said, most of them stolen by a notorious 19th-century Austrian graverobber.

Austria returns looted Indigenous remains to New Zealand

The bones of about 64 Maori and Moriori — the Indigenous people of mainland New Zealand and the Chatham Islands, respectively — are being returned by the Natural History Museum Vienna.

They will be received at Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand in Wellington, on Sunday as part of a government-funded programme to bring Indigenous remains back to the Pacific nation.

The remains, including skulls, were housed for decades in Austria’s capital after being plundered from New Zealand’s “iwi” (tribes) more than 130 years ago, officials from the two countries said.

READ ALSO: ‘Love in midst of horror’: Austria hosts The Wedding of Auschwitz exhibition

Records show that most of the bones were collected by Austrian taxidermist and graverobber Andreas Reischek, who toured New Zealand for 12 years until 1889.

Reischek’s diaries recount how he looted graves without permission in several locations including the Chatham Islands, Christchurch and Auckland.

“These ancestors were stolen by those with no regard for the Maori communities they belonged to,” said William “Pou” Temara, chairman of Te Papa’s Repatriation Advisory Panel, in a statement Tuesday.

“In his diary entries, Reischek boasts of eluding Maori surveillance, looting sacred places and breaking ‘tapu’ (sacred rules) — he knew exactly what he was doing.

“His actions were wrong and dishonest.”

77 years of negotiations

The remains began their long journey home on Tuesday at a ceremony attended by New Zealand’s ambassador to Austria.

On Sunday a Maori welcoming ceremony, the Powhiri, will mark the repatriation in Wellington — the biggest so far from Austria.

It will conclude 77 years of negotiations between New Zealand and Austria, which began in 1945 when Maori leaders sought the remains’ return.

The remains will be kept at Te Papa’s “wahi tapu” (sacred space) while the museum consults with Maori and Moriori iwi to determine the final resting place.

Te Papa’s Maori co-leader Arapata Hakiwai said the repatriation was the result of lengthy discussions.

“This historic repatriation helps to reconcile the colonial past and opens a new chapter in relationships between Maori, Moriori, and the New Zealand and Austrian governments,” he said.

READ ALSO: Vienna Nazi art show seeks to address Austria’s WWII legacy

Katrin Vohland, the director of Vienna’s natural history museum, said the process was “driven by the wish for reconciliation”.

“I am happy we can contribute to the healing process,” she said. 

Sunday’s ceremony is the latest return of Indigenous remains since New Zealand created a government-funded repatriation programme in 2003.

In July, the Natural History Museum in London returned the ancestral remains of 111 Moriori and two Maori ancestors to Wellington.

Washington’s Smithsonian Institution returned the remains of 54 Maori people, including four mummified heads, as part of another significant repatriation in 2016.

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