“There Is No Other City In The World With Such An Interest For Music And Theatre As Vienna”– Ioan Holender

Vienna is not Vienna without the Opera. There you may not only enjoy traditional world famous masterpieces, but also discover contemporary art. We met Ioan Holender, who had led the Vienna State Opera for the last 15 years, and talked about conservatism, contemporary opera, and Vienna. 


Kris Kulakova: Everyone knows you as the former general manager of the Vienna State Opera, but what is Ioan Holender doing now? What are you currently working on?

Ioan Holender: I am currently working as the artistic advisor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, artistic advisor of the Spring Festival in Tokyo, I am leading the Enescu Festival in Bucharest – the most important international music festival in Romania – and I am teaching at two universities –at the Department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies by the University of Vienna and at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.

KK: Do you have any plans involving Romania?

IH: Besides the Enescu Festival there is nothing otherwise going on in Romania. This is the only real artistic event because the rest is very sad. A few weeks ago I got together with the Minister of Culture and we fixed everything for 2015, for the next festival. After three days the Minister was replaced, so politically things change very quickly in Romania.

KK: What kind of contemporary music did you bring to the State Opera?

IH: The most important work I did in the last 20 years was Medea by Aribert Reimann. I commissioned the composer, as it used to be done in the times of Verdi and Puccini. I paid him to write something for the house. It was done only four times, which is not that much in 19 years. Medea went from here to Frankfurt and then to Köln, so this was a success. The sales weren’t that high for the premiere, but as the performances took place, more and more public came in.

KK: What about visual arts?

IH: Regarding the visual arts, I did something that caused me a lot of problems. I replaced the old “iron curtain”. “Museum  in progress” is the association we paid to do the new “safety curtain” (176 square meters) every season, instead of the old picture, which was made by Rudolf Eisenmenger. This is a real contemporary art element, which we did for the Vienna State Opera.

KK: Which are the other changes you did?

IH: If you look at the Opera, you will see that we made a small house, for 150 people, on the top of the roof. There we only do contemporary opera for children. I think that this is the most important thing I did here in 19 years. Of course, they wanted to change it immediately after I left management because this was not accepted. I tried to change 150 years of tradition and I faced a lot of complains.

KK: What do you think about contemporary Vienna?

IH: It is more open, really. But the bad part is that the separation between classic and contemporary is still strong. The most old-fashioned programs are the ones performed at the Vienna Philharmonic. The orchestra of the Vienna Philharmonic doesn’t touch contemporary music. It only happens if they feel obligated to do so and this is why the larger part of the public doesn’t come in contact with contemporary music. It is all old-fashioned, but I think it would be better if they would support the musical part a little less and more other things.

KK: What is your favorite building in Vienna, aside from the Opera?

IH: Who said that the Opera is my favorite building? I have no favorite building. 

KK: Where is your favorite place to walk in Vienna?

IH: I enjoy going to the Weinberg, the vineyards in the 19th district.  I like to spend time with my two dogs and there they can run. I go there very often with them.

 Vineyard in Vienna ©WienTourismus / Lois Lammerhuber

Vineyard in Vienna ©WienTourismus / Lois Lammerhuber

KK: If you would only have two hours to go somewhere in Vienna, where would you go?

IH: To the Wiener Zentralfriedhof. It’s so close to the airport!

Central Cemetery, Vienna  Photo: Peter Drechsler www.peterdrechsler.de/

Central Cemetery, Vienna
Photo copyright:  Peter Drechsler, http://www.peterdrechsler.de

KK: Which is the flavor of Vienna?

IH: Horse excrements.


KK: Which is the sound of Vienna?

IH: The motivation for everything happening here is: “It has always been this way. Could we change something? No, it was all the time like this.”Austrians are so disturbed if you put it otherwise because they are used to it like that. This is the music that I always hear: “Why try to change it, if it has always been like this.”

KK: Will they always be that conservative?

IH: If they begun eating sushi, then it means they are more open-minded. This is a fantastic development.

KK: Where is the best place to waste time in Vienna?

IH: I am against this “doing nothing” idea. I wouldn’t choose Vienna for doing nothing. I would choose a country house.

KK: I love Vienna for…

IH: I respect and I have a great sympathy for Vienna because there is no other city in the world with such an interest for music and theatre in general.

Ioan Holender was born on July 18, 1935 in Timisoara, Romania. After graduating from high school, he studied for six semesters at the technical high school specializing in steam-engineering in his hometown and successfully completed the first round of the state examination. At the age of 22 he was expelled from all Romanian universities for political reasons. Thereafter he worked as a tennis trainer before he began studying singing. 1959 he came to Vienna where he continued his vocal studies at the Vienna State Conservatory from which he graduated in 1962.
From 1962 to 1966 he started a career as an opera- and concert-singer and sang two seasons at the Stadttheater Klagenfurt before entering the Starka Concert Agency which he later acquired and transformed into the worldrenowned Concert Agency Holender. In 1988 he was appointed General Secretary of the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Volksoper, in 1992 after the  death of Eberhard Waechter General Manager of both Opera Houses. On August 31, 1996 he retired as General Manager of the Volksoper. His contract in Vienna ran until the year 2010, and he is the Vienna State Opera’s longest serving director since 1869. In February 2007 Ioan Holender announced publicly that he would not be at disposal for an eventual prolongation of his current contract as General Manager of Vienna State Opera beyond August 2010. He held this position the longest in the history of the Vienna State Opera.

Nowadays he is advisor of the Metropolitan Opera New York and the Spring Festival Tokyo and artistic director of the George Eunescu Festival Bucharest. He is a lecturer at the University of Vienna. Further he is a jury member for several international singing-competitions.

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