The Salzburg Festival's Helga Rabl-Stadler

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The Salzburg Festival in Austria is one of the premiere opera and classical music festivals. It spans 35 days, with 200,000 people attending 69 concerts, 38 opera performances and 135 plays.

For the past 17 years, Helga Rabl-Stadler has been the president of this festival. Recently, she was described in the press as the “shrewdest business manager in the volatile international business of cultural festivals.” In this wide-ranging interview with Mad About Music host, Gilbert Kaplan, she reveals:

— Why seeing Richard Strauss’s handprint on the leather of his desk moved her to tears.

— How she brought American-style fundraising to the Salzburg Festival.

— Why she regards herself as a risk-taker.

— Why Cecilia Bartoli can persuade you “that the only true and best music is what she chooses and what she sings.”

— Why she wishes contemporary composers wrote beautiful melodies: “I feel that way and it’s difficult and dangerous to admit this.”

— The Salzburg Festival has “a dark Nazi past and for me to bring Korngold, Schreker, Zemlinsky was a gesture of musical reparation.”

— Why so few Americans come to the Salzburg Festival.

— How Alfred Brendel made her fall in love with Schubert.

— Her favorite conductor, Mariss Jansons: “charismatic – every time he conducts it’s a matter of life or death.”


Richard Strauss: Der Bürger als Edelmann, “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.” Overture [excerpt]. The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. Paavo Järvi, conductor. PTC 5186 060.

Antonio Caldara: “Quel buon pastor son io” [excerpt]. Il Giardino Armonico. Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano. Decca 478 1521.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Magic Flute “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja.” Wiener Philharmoniker. James Levine, conductor. Christian Boesch, baritone. Sony Music 88697527702.

Johann Sebastian Bach and Benjamin Schmid: “Let’s Gavotte.” Benjamin Schmid, violin; Stian Carstensen, accordion; Georg Breinschmid, bass; Diknu Schneeberger, guitar; Emiko Uchiyama, marimba; Miklos Skuta, piano. GHA002 AUME.

Franz Schubert: Piano Sonata in A, D. 959. Andantino. Alfred Brendel, piano. Decca 289 456 573-2.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 1. Third movement [excerpt]. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Mariss Jansons, conductor. RCO 07001.