Salzburg, Austria – The Salzburg Festival always has a theme or two. I’m not talking about melodies, although there are those — I’m talking about programming themes. This year, the festival began with a mini-festival, or a festival-before-the-festival: “Ouverture spirituelle.” This was a series of sacred-music concerts. Why they gave it a French name, I can’t tell you. Maybe religion is less scary under a foreign title? In any case, it was a magnificent idea, this series. Even a little bit daring.
Since the “overture,” there has been “Über die Grenze,” or “Over the Border.” What border? The one between Austria and the Czech lands. In keeping with this theme, many of the concerts have featured music by Dvořák, Janáček, Suk, et al. There has also been a series called “Salzburg contemporary.” That is an interesting word, “contemporary.” One of the concerts had a piece by Hanns Eisler composed in 1932. Would songs written by Lee Hoiby just a few years ago be considered “contemporary”? Or are they too “traditional” for that? “Contemporary” can be a matter of attitude, more than anything else.