BW: Today it’s only about the top, the superstar, the star artists. The media works with that. You talked about star vocalists and star pianists. There is always this top – and ultra name calling. The big dream of all the artists or conductors is, not to only knock once at the door of the Vienna State Opera but also to be let in. Isn’t this a fatal situation, that everything is focused on the centers of art and culture linked to the issue of cult?
Holender: The known cultural institutions, to which I also count the Vienna State Opera became what they are because of their history. I do not want to contradict your classification nor insert another one, but with those four or five top institutions this is the case. Why is the Vienna State Opera so important for Austria? Because there is not much else in Austria that has international value. After the lost World War I Austria became a small country. The rest remained Austria, how Clemenceau formulated it. After 1945 the Vienna State Opera, the former court opera, which has been representative for the big Habsburg Empire in the Residence-city Vienna, had been rebuilt as big as before. For Austrian culture and the country the opera very important, especially for a country that is not known for its current assets but what it once had. The Salzburg Festival counts as relativized important, in combination with the everlasting leading orchestra, that fulfills two functions, on one hand as the independent Orchestra Vienna Philharmonic, and on the other hand as the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. If we are lucky there maybe will be snow in winter. Those are the only international important and sought after phenomenon that we have in Austria.
In Milan if today is good or less good, the Scala stays the Scala and lives through its loose history. Nevertheless I have to relativize. In Germany the opera houses live because of their big past. Dresden, München, Hamburg and Berlin have much more money than all the other opera houses. Naturally you lean towards the known houses, because high profile means financial stability. However in those two decades at the opera I experienced that opening is possible. That became very apparent in the engagement of an Asian as music director at the Vienna State Opera. That Seiji Ozawa was even possible had an important, worldwide effect.
BW: You were the one that made Seiji Ozawa possible!
Holender: I made him possible, because someone made me possible. Also that any Tom, Dick or Harry from Romania – as Sigrid Löffler wrote so beautifully in the Austrian magazine “Profil”- could become director of the Vienna State Opera, that was a strong signal.
Not only for me personally but in reference to the calling of a person, which did not have any relevance in the history of the country. But acceptance followed because otherwise they would not tolerate me for so long. But I also tolerated the others for so long!
BW: Someone would not, if I may say so put down in history books that Ioan Holender has been tolerated or only became director of the Vienna State Opera by chance. If you talk about career, you always say that you don’t like the word, because you don’t become successful because of success but through defeat. You explain that if you talk about your own career. You wanted to become a singer and had a very exciting path of life until you got this very important position at the beginning of the 1990s. This one has been really important! Holender completed this office. If I may say so, Holender has been in reality the Austrian Cultural Minister.
Holender: It has not always been important who the Austrian Cultural Minister was – but please. Holender has tried to open the house and not limit the importance of it to its country, in which it is located. I confess on being political in terms of performing arts. There are always two things crucial: what you play and with whom you play it. I don’t find Korngold less important than Richard Strass. If you are going to take out this single sentence then– under quotation mark – the most important Austrian music critic will demolish me and is going to hate me even more than he already does now. Nevertheless, I defend this opinion and I already proofed it with “Oedipe” from Enescu and more debut performance from Enescu, Krenek, Zemlinsky, Schönberg, Janacek and Reimann. As a singer looking for work it had been easier to come into the opera house. In the meantime the whole configuration has changed a lot. There has been almost an invasion of artists from an enormous big country, the People’s Republic of China. Equally from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Those who could not come before are here now too and everyone wants to sing and make music. That has been making it much harder for European artists, because it is not vice versa. Austrian singers, apart from the top artists are not sought after in China.
You mentioned the media. In my opinion the media, especially the Austrian cultural media, play a fatal roll. Either they don’t write anything at all or they idolize the Idols even more. In the meantime Open Air Events have become even more important than opera houses. There they make lots of money in conjunction with tourist organizations and get backed up by the media. That is a very negative and poor development, which nobody seems to see even though it could be easily limited.
BW: This is a development of society, which is not only limited to culture, but also to other parts. Because of the overkill, the flood of the media, people are hopelessly overwhelmed. That’s why there is a focus on top names. How can you counteract that? How can you counteract the star cult, because mankind has the limited capacity to memorize names?
Holender: That is imperialism in art. It is the result of the development of capitalism and imperialism. We are in the middle of it. Everything is limited to top products, on names in the economy, conditioned by the enormous pressure of big companies. This unfortunate development cannot be stopped because we live in a society with a poor political base. Winston Churchill was right, it is still the best system, a better one has not been invented by mankind, only worse.
BW: If you had the possibility to change the system just a bit – let’s think about that idealistically – where do we need to start on getting culture back in the conscience of the people? As a source of creation for them. Culture is not only pleasure, culture is a source of life.
Holender: Culture has life quality. It is nourishment for the brain and for the people, which is not less important than physical nourishment.
Let’s talk about Fundraising: It should be an additional appeal that the art and cultural institutions produce more for those who pay them. The tax payer gives money to the Vienna State Opera that they return something to them, in form of art and culture. Now in Austria the borders between art and entertainment are blurred. It seems that the relevance of opera events and festivals is only determined by how many people go there. Constantly I’m reading something about use to capacity, to be precise how many butts sit in the chairs, it doesn’t matter if they have paid for their tickets or not.
The conversation is always only about the revenues. The success of directors of cultural institutions seem to be only determined on how many tickets they sell. They operate out of fear, that their own position could be in question. Failure has to be possible, projects that you believe in but they turn out not as good as you thought they would. That is the right of art. Art has to look for something and present something new. A very positive example for that – a glorious exception – is the Vienna Festival 2014.
In no other area is the person in charge so influential and important, positive and negative, like in these cultural institution. A lot of it depends on the person in charge, because art institutions should not be a democracy. One person needs to be in charge and needs to decide what has to be shown, with whom it’s going to be shown, but also what is not going to be shown at all. This is equally as important. An open, curious person like Hinterhäuser from the Festival can proof what is possible with limited funds. He advocates for something and burns for the matter. In my opinion more money does not mean more quality. That is not the case, but also not the opposite. Today the world is focused on tangible assets, only to make money and acquire wealth. Mankind is developing accordingly and this causes that art and culture have less relevance.
BW: The great and known composers, for example the highly praised Mozart that gave Austria its identity, have been in a way a revolutionists of their time? Are those revolutionists in today’s culture missing?
Holender: I do not want to overuse the word revolutionists or use it in this particular context. Sure, their own belief, their glowing and their individuality gets less appreciation. Composers are only humans too. If you want it justifies that Richard Strauss approached the former regime. He only wanted to be played. Today it is similar, only the regime is no longer criminal. You try to form relationships by advertising, by approaching the economy and by being present at big events so that you can master your own existence.
Still artists are the exception, they are exceptional phenomena of the word. An artist is always giving more than he takes. He gives mankind something back with his talent. There is also an imperative to create, if you have to say something, if you have a voice that has a communicative effect through beauty, stature and sensuality. Not only to be present in the media and the gazettes. The cultural critics in the newspapers are not helpful, they do more damage than they help.
BW: Let’s focus on the situation of artists today. During your long professional practice you decided on careers, on success and failure, but you also made careers possible, to put a positive spin on it.
Holender: For me achievement was always more important than the name. I did not decide on success and failure, the consumers did that, in that case the audience. But I did not let myself get influenced by applause or denial. I thought that I knew, what real quality is. Quality is not necessarily success and failure does not necessarily mean bad quality.
Now let’s talk about productions. The productions of music theater has gained disproportionate fame, caused by the permanent incest actions because only the same core repertoire, only the known works are being played. People think they have a better understanding of known works than unknown works. Someone should make a new understanding possible, with debut performances, but also to tap into the things that became unknown. We know so much about everything that had been destroyed and has been banished from the conscience of the people in those short twelve years under the leadership of the Third Reich, but it is lost until today. Indemnification has been tried. But as I always say you can’t compensate anything, you can only make it good.
It has been done on a very small scale. I brought Ernst Krenek back and I thought it would have consequences, but it did not have any consequences. Interestingly enough we were on the cutting edge with Krongolds “Toter Stadt” and we achieved a worldwide effect. It was a happy exception, unfortunately not the norm.
In that matter the European Union could influence it. If we only had the right personalities in the culture field. But also here party politics play a roll. Because the delegates are no connoisseurs or fighters. That carries through up to the director of opera houses and theaters, since they are often decided on a political level, they are dependent on the politics of the party. That is the main problem. Sometimes you are lucky though.
BW: Call it chance or luck, but there have been always personalities that stir up society. You mentioned Markus Hinterhäuser, if I may contradict you, did not come from nothing since he has already been in charge in Salzburg.
Holender: People know Hinterhäuser not because of his presence at various events.
BW: He is still an artist.
Holender: That is correct. He is an artist. He is the work. The success of Hinterhäuser is what he does and not his own persona. But without grooming and fostering the extraordinary. We don’t know a lot and read about the character Hinterhäuser. That is also not important. After years of money destruction at the Vienna Festival in which nothing happened, Hinterhäuser comes in and shows what is possible. You can’t emphasize that enough. I do not want to make a comparison to other Viennese Institutions, but he showed us that the impossible is possible.
BW: Are you looking forward to his artistic directorship in Salzburg?
Holender: He raised the bar very high and he is going to be challenged at the next Vienna Festival seasons since the better it is the more the people expect from you.
BW: As a fan he already won you over and that is a tremendous success.
Holender: I’m not a fan, but I have respect, appreciation and sympathy for that man. He is not the only one, but one of those who really moved something. Someone could also mention the opera in Munich. Suddenly it is now one of the best opera houses in Europe.
BW: Is that correct?
BW: Is the Vienna State Opera in its shadow?
Holender: No, I did not say that. We can talk about everything and I will comment on everything you want, but I am definitely not going to comment on a house that I left in order with honor, appreciation and pleasure. I’m not commenting on the events at the Vienna State Opera.
The Bavarian State Opera, has been one of the important, but not the most important opera houses in Europe. Now something has changed through directors, singers and an exceptional conductor, Kirill Petrenko, which came from the Russian countryside. He became general music director at the Bavarian State Opera where he now achieves extraordinary results. He emerged through small houses like the People’s Opera, Meiningen, the Komische Oper. It doesn’t need more than that. It is not that hard. I don’t think that the whole thing is that hard. I don’t think I had difficulty at the opera. If you don’t listen too much what’s going on left and right, if you don’t want to please everyone and if you don’t search for it, you can become more easily successful. As you pointed out earlier, we have the right to fail and defeat on the quest of quality and what we want to give to the people that are coming to us.