History Wien Modern
The festival owes its existence to the initiative of the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado. As music director of Vienna State Opera he convinced leading political and cultural representatives of the need to create an independent forum in Vienna for the music of the 20th century. The aim of the new festival, set up in 1988, was to re-vitalise Vienna’s traditional musical scene. In the dialectic betwee musical tradition and innovation, Wien Modern was conceived as an international platform for the latest musical trends, presenting major works of new music to Vienna’s public.
With this main idea in mind, Wien Modern focused between 1988 and 1995 on the presentation of leading composers of the 20th century. No less than 36 composers of different generations, cultural backgrounds and aesthetical concepts were invited to Vienna and showcased in portrait concerts, workshops and talks. The first years of Wien Modern have contributed to the festival's international reputation and have been decisive in establishing the musical avantgarde in Vienna’s music life.
Theme-related concerts marked the festival programme between 1996 and 1999. The titles of the festival «Foreign Worlds» (1996), «Voices.Words» (1997), «On the Fringe of Europe» (1998) and «Rites.Myths» (1999) highlighted different themes, which play a major role in the production of contemporary music. Wien Modern highlighted the influence of non-European music on the Western avantgarde, shed light on the treatment of the human voice in contemporary music and explored the existence of musical-aesthetical centres and peripheries in Europe.
The focus on theme-related questions has remained an essential aspect of Wien Modern’s artistic concept planning. For example, the production of electronic sound and its impact on New Music were highlighted in Wien Modern 2000. Since then, experimental electronic music has formed an essential part of the festival’s artistic profile. The integration of visual media in 2001 has opened the festival towards other arts: dance, performance, visual arts, film and video – as they interrelate with music have become a vital part of Wien Modern. Wien Modern sees itself today as a forum for the rich diversity of contemporary music and a network to other media.
Lothar Knessl, Karsten Witt, Christoph Becher, Thomas Schäfer and Berno Odo Polzer have shaped the festival's artistic profile since its foundation. In 2010 Matthias Lošek took over the artistic direction of Wien Modern. He has been instrumental in opening up Wien Modern still further to other arts. The focal points in recent years included «UK Collection», «Tanz – Wien Modern bewegt» and an evening of dance for the advanced «RSO Wien Modern TANZT», a complete performance of Friedrich Cerha's «Spiegel» and in 2014 «on screen» and the commission of a sitcom-opera. Under Lošek's artistic leadership, a whole range of new formats was introduced – such as «Wien Modern: Im Gespräch», «Easy Listening», «Wien Modern StudioNÄCHTE» and «Wien Modern KlubNÄCHTE» – with the aim of targetting new audiences.Wien Modern Transfer marked the expansion of the festival's outreach and youth work with workshops, audience debates and round-table discussions. Among the featured composers of recent festivals are Johannes Maria Staud, Mark Andre, Friedrich Cerha, Wolfgang Mitterer, Olga Neuwirth, Peter Eötvös and Georg Friedrich Haas.
Since 2016 Bernhard Günther is the festival's artistic director.