Even though music and dance festivals are now regular features of many European countries, the Vienna festival has managed to maintain its pre-eminent position. A five-week programme of over 200 performances of music, dance, theatre and the visual arts is the highlight of Vienna’s cultural calendar and, for many visitors, an annual delight to be long anticipated. Taking place during May and June, the Vienna Festival is a wonderful beginning to the Austrian summer.
It was in 1927 that the first Viennese Festival Weeks took place but it was in 1951, when the city was still occupied by the four allied forces, that the Festival really began to establish itself. Now, the traditional free opening concert – held in front of the Town Hall on Rathausplatz and formally opened by a stunning Werner Pirchner fanfare– is known throughout the world.
One of the undoubted strengths of the Vienna Festival is the variety of artistic expertise that is presented each year. In 2009, for example, performers came to Vienna from 28 different countries and there were some stunning productions. Ranging from high profile productions of world-renown operas, plays and orchestral pieces to major exhibitions and absorbing film retrospectives, the 14 different venues are sure to sell out for every performance. The musical programme is divided into four categories – Classical, Modern, Jazz and World Music – and the performing arts side of the festival has everything from classical stage productions to up-to-the-minute exhibitions of installation art and video performances.
Two recent innovations in the Festival programme include Festwochen jugendFREI and Into the City. The former is a series of activities designed for young people of 12 years old and upwards to stimulate their interest in theatre. Into the City is a programme initiated in 2006 that is radically different to anything else the Vienna Festival has to offer. Aiming at the younger, urban inhabitants of the city, it offers themed weekends of music and art.
An enduring quality of the Vienna Festival is that some of its venues are amongst the most beautiful buildings in a beautiful city. The Theater an der Wien, for example, is a building from 1801 that, after several years neglect, became a full-time Opera House in 2006, to commemorate Mozart’s 250th anniversary. Perhaps even more impressive is the recently renovated Konzerthaus, with four concert halls including the largest, the 1840 seat Grober Saal. The Burgtheater, or Imperial Court Theatre, is a fabulously imposing building with a wonderful reputation. Pride of place, though, undoubtedly goes to the Vienna State Opera House, the Opernhaus, a Renaissance style building from the 1860s and one of the busiest Opera Houses in Europe. With venues like this and a programme to match, it is little wonder that the Vienna Festival has become such a worldwide attraction.
Vienna has a very pleasant summer climate – it’s seldom too hot and has only a moderate amount of rain. It is, therefore, a perfect place for a visit during May or June. The airport, just to the south-east of the city, is Austria’s largest and, once you are in the city itself, the public transport system – trams, trains and buses – is one of the best you’ll ever come across anywhere in the world. There are, as would be expected, hotels, hostels and self-catering apartments available and many websites offering good deals. Vienna additionally has a host of superb camp sites for visitors – look at Camping Wien West and Camping Wien Sud, for example. Both of these sites not only have first class facilities but are also within easy reach of the city centre by public transport.
One of Europe’s most thriving cultural capitals, Vienna is a city full of spectacular squares, imposing palaces, echoes of some of the world’s most famous composers and yet also completely contemporary. A city to enjoy; especially at the time of the incomparable Vienna Festival.
More information about the programme can be found on the official Vienna Festival website which also has full details of how to purchase tickets.