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Europe: Thousands Join Austrian Music Festival

By Victor Eskenasy

Feldkirch, Austria; 2 July 1997, (RFE/RL) - For the past two weeks, thousands of music lovers from all corners of Europe --and from as far away as Australia, Japan, the U.S. and Canada-- have flocked to the small medieval Austrian town of Feldkirch to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Franz Schubert's birth.

The annual "Schubertiade" music festival recalls the private evening concerts, in or near the composer's native Vienna, that were devoted to his music during his life-time (1797-1828). The festival started in nearby Hohenems in 1976. In the first Schubertiade years, famous Lieder singers --such as Hermann Prey, Hans Hotter, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau-- and renowned orchestras and conductors like the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra --conducted by Karl Boehm and Nikolaus Harnoncourt-- gave the festival great stature and prestige.

In 1991, the Schubertiade moved from the Hohenems Palace to the neighboring town of Feldkirch. The new site has two facilities for concerts, the old but fully renovated Conservatory Hall --with about 500 seats-- and the new modern concert hall (Monforthaus) especially built for the Schubert festival --with some 1,200 seats.

The program of "Schubertiade 1997" was devoted exclusively to the composer's works. They were performed by some of the most famous living interpreters of his music: German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and tenor Peter Schreier, Austria's Alban Berg Quartet, Hungarian-born pianist Andras Schiff and the Camerata Academica of the Mozarteum in Salzburg (with Franz Welser-Moest) and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Among the special guests at this year's anniversary celebration was Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, the 1996 "Gramophone" award winner, and the popular U.S. soprano Barbara Hendricks, who sang the song cycle "Die Schoene Mullerin."

This year, about 50,000 tickets were sold during the festival's 14 days and some of its concerts were broadcast to 24 countries. As a result, the always popular Feldkirch Schubertiade was transformed into a veritable international cultural event. This was important to the private organizers of the festival, which has no funding either from the Austrian government or from the host Voralberg region.

Gerhard Fend, the festival's press officer, told our correspondent that the past two weeks are only part of Feldkirch's celebration of Schubert's bicentennial anniversary. From August 27 to September 7, the festivities will continue at Schwarzenberg, some 30 kilometers from Feldkirch. There, the program will include -- in addition, of course, to Schubert compositions-- works of the other "musical regents of the year": Brahms, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Donizetti.

In Schwarzenberg, the internationally renowned Slovak-born soprano Edita Gruberova will devote a recital to the two composers born in 1797, Schubert and Donizetti. Special attention will also be given to Brahms, commemorating the centenary of his death. His most representative chamber-music works will be performed by a piano quintet consisting of Andras Schiff and Russia's Borodin quartet, piano trios (Trio Fontenay, Wiener Klaviertrio), and two string sextets (Wiener Streichsextett, Cherubini Quartet with Tabea Zimmermann and another musician to be named). Brahms Lieder will be sung by the U.S.'s Helen Donath, Spanish-born Teresa Berganza and Peter Schreier. A special performance of Brahms' "Die schoene Magellone" will bring together the singers Olaf Baer of Sweden and Juliane Banse of Germany, with her compatriot Brigitte Fassbaender as narrator.

Still, Schubert will remain the dominant composer in Schwarzenberg. Lithuanian-born Gidon Kremer will open the concert series as first violinist in a performance of Schubert's late masterpiece, the C-Major String Quintet. He will play together with Germany's Annette Bik, France's Gerard Causs�, Austria's Clemens Hagen and Russia's Boris Pergamentchikov. This concert will be followed by evenings with the well-known Cherubini and Mosaique string quartets.

This year's Schubertiade is complemented with what its organizers call the biggest Schubert memorabilia exhibition in the world, with a total display area of more than 3,000 square meters. The show is divided among historic buildings in Feldkirch and Hohenems, as well as in Achberg Castle and Lindau in Germany. It is the product of an international project in which the two countries bordering Lake Constance --Austria and Germany-- and tiny neighboring Liechtenstein are participating.