When June finally gives way to July, Styria, the green heart of Austria, beats unmistakably to the right time: styriarte season has arrived. For one month every year, the Styrian festival reflects the diversity of music from the Middle Ages to the present with passion and excitement. Styriarte was founded in 1985 for cellist and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who spent his childhood and youth in Graz, the Styrian provincial capital. The idea of the founders in initiating the festival was to tie in the pioneering conductor more closely with his home city. Harnoncourt’s artistic insights, which launched him to international stardom, became the standard for festival performances. One of styriarte’s distinctive features is the delightful surroundings in which the concerts take place. The scenic old town of Graz with its historic squares and halls offers a backdrop that is as unique as the performance venues outside the provincial capital. Not only the directors and management, but also the basic philosophy and particularly the venues outside of Graz have changed over the course of the years. While the first Styrian festivals were devoted to a particular composer, audiences have been treated to a special theme each year since 1992.
The composer Johann Sebastian Bach is the focus of the first styriarte in 1985. With the Concentus Musicus Wien and Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Nikolaus Harnoncourt performs the St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion in Graz Cathedral.
1987 marks the beginning of the collaboration between Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe at styriarte, when the final six London Symphonies of Haydn in the Stefaniensaal become the cornerstone of a remarkable artistic cooperation
1989 the Baroque Stainz Parish Church in the Western Styrian district of Deutschlandsberg is the first styriarte venue outside of Graz
1990 Gert Jonke’s Beethoven play Der Ohrenmaschinist, commissioned by styriarte, is performed at the Schauspielhaus Graz
2003 the newly-built Helmut-List-Halle in Graz is used as a venue for styriarte
2008 drawing inspiration from the Bayreuth Festival, styriarte introduces a public viewing event during which Mozart’s Coronation Mass is broadcast throughout the country. Since then, this so-called “Klangwolke” (sound cloud), supported by the ORF, has been held every year
At the 2008 styriarte, Nikolaus Harnoncourt takes the director’s chair for the first time when he joins his son, Philipp Harnoncourt, in staging Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo, Rè di Creta
The live recording, at the 2015 styriarte, of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Missa solemnis with the Concentus Musicus Wien that he founded is Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s last recording
Nikolaus Harnoncourt dies on March 5, 2016. The 2016 styriarte is held for the first time without its guiding spirit
The focus of the 2017 styriarte is the Baroque equestrian ballet La Margarita before the scenic backdrop of Schielleiten castle. It features sixteen Andalusian stallions dancing to the music of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer
Did you know?
The styriarte administration is housed in the Baroque Attems Palace on Sackstrasse, Graz – the same palace where Nikolaus Harnoncourt presented puppet theater as a sixteen-year-old.
As a small boy, Nikolaus Harnoncourt heard the freshly-printed score of George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess played on the piano by his father, who had received it from New York by post. At the 2009 styriarte, Harnoncourt fulfilled one of his dreams by conducting Gershwin’s masterpiece for the first time in his life.
A world premiere was given at styriarte in 2011: for the first time, Bedrich Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride was performed in the German version that Smetana himself had commissioned.
styriarte is known for its experimental concert formats and innovative ideas. Each year since 2012, the festival program has included so-called “SOAPs,” a lively format that combines music with both lighthearted and sophisticated biographical stories.
Since 2014 audiences can hear the styriarte Festival Orchestra, which was created specially for the festival.