20 Years of Festspielhaus St. Pölten

Sasha Waltz and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Les 7 doigts de la main, the Komische Oper Berlin, that  extravagant organist & bird of paradise Cameron Carpenter, DeeDee Bridgewater, newcomer Kovacs or the Vienna Philharmonic – a whole host of Austrian and international artists have been regular guests over the last 20 years, becoming familiar figures at the Festspielhaus.

The house enjoys a particularly close relationship with the Tonkunstler Orchestra of Lower Austria, which as our resident orchestra in St. Pölten is not a guest but has made the Festspielhaus its home from the very first minute of its existence.  On 1st March 1997 the orchestra’s chief conductor at the time, Fabio Luisi, conducted Gustav Mahler’s 2nd Symphony “Resurrection”.  

With this concert to mark the ceremonial opening of Festspielhaus St. Pölten on 1st March 1997, a milestone was laid in the cultural life of Lower Austria.  The construction and opening of this building, which is unique in Austria, sent a strong signal within the Austrian cultural landscape – in numerous respects: not only its innovative architecture but also the intention itself  of creating a new, large scale venue in the city of St. Pölten and to continue to programme it with high quality work all year round appears from a contemporary perspective to be a small revolution and has made a considerable contribution to creating a strong profile for the comparatively young state capital of Lower Austria.

The German dramaturg Dieter Rexroth can be regarded as the first Artistic Director of the Festspielhaus although he took up office before the building was opened. He was commissioned in 1995 and 1996 to develop a concept for events at the Festspielhaus in its context within the cultural quarter. The principal areas of programming established then continue to shape the Festspielhaus’s programme today and make it unique among Austrian cultural institutions: classical music with the Tonkunstler Orchestra of Lower Austria as the resident orchestra plus numerous guest performances by international orchestras and soloists, dance by both Austrian and international artists and companies,  prominent music theatre projects in co-operation with high profile partners such as the Bregenz Festival, the Grand Théâtre de Genève, the Lucerne Festival or Nationaltheater Mannheim together with regular concerts across a range of genres of musical entertainment have characterized the programme since the building was opened to the public.

From 1998 to 2002 Mimi Wunderer became Artistic Director, having previously worked as curator form dance and theatre from 1997 – in a team with the curator for music Renald Deppe for the opening season. Seven years earlier she had founded the Bühne im Hof in St. Pölten. She initiated the festival Austria Dances in 1997 that was held at the Festspielhaus every year until 2013.

Her successor until 2009 was the former Vienna State Opera soloist Michael Birkmeyer. Under his directorship the Festspielhaus had its own dance ensemble. The abcdancecompany presented its productions not only at its regular theatre in St. Pölten but also on tour internationally.

In the 2009/2010 season the German choreographer and director Joachim Schloemer assumed the artistic directorship of the Festspielhaus. As well as contemporary dance, he paid particular attention to outreach work and involving local people in artistic processes.

At the beginning of the 2013/2014 season the Austrian dramaturg Brigitte Fürle then took over as Director of the Festspielhaus. She had previously been Artistic Director of spielzeit’europa for the Berliner Festspiele and in recent seasons has been able to welcome international greats including Sylvie Guillem, Sasha Waltz, Lemi Ponifasio, Grupo Corpo, the Dresdner Philharmonie, Israel Galván and many more to the Festspielhaus.

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