In conversation with Kristina Hammer: The president of the Salzburg Festival welcomes Artsper to the opera stage

Kristina Hammer © SF/Erika Mayer

This week Artsper had the pleasure to meet with Dr. Kristina Hammer, the president of the Salzburg Festival! The Salzburg Festival is an annual highlight of the international cultural scene and a global, outstanding platform for music, opera, theater and dance. Our team spoke with Ms. Hammer about her career path so far, the special features of this year's edition of the multispecies festival, and her personal, artistic sources of inspiration! Welcome to the world of Kristina Hammer!

1. Hello Ms. Hammer! Could you tell us more about your professional path and what insights you have taken with you from it into your position as President of the Salzburg Festival?

Let's proceed chronologically. My career as a manager began in beautiful Vienna as managing director of the fashion department store Steffl. During this time, I was able to observe how retail was changing its focus. In purchasing, merchandise presentation and services, the focus was increasingly on customers and their needs. From then on, that became my guiding principle. Then I moved to the automotive industry and to Great Britain. Under the umbrella of the Ford Motor Company, premium brands from different countries were gathered together, for example Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin from England, Volvo from Sweden and Lincoln from the USA. This constellation demanded a clear understanding of the different brand cores, intercultural competence and the knowledge that progress and innovation are building blocks for tomorrow's success. 

After that, I had the privilege of managing the global brand communications of Mercedes-Benz at the headquarters in Stuttgart. This was a challenging task that required not only knowledge of different markets but also a focus on previously neglected customer segments: How do you gain access to the younger generation without losing the best agers? How do you make a brand more attractive to women? Which communication channels can be used effectively to awaken desire in the target group? At their core, these questions also revolve around such important issues as sustainability and diversity. Later, I ran my own consulting company in Zurich and learned what it means to individualize the offer, to put the client and his needs in the center and to sell this accordingly. 

2. What is your connection to the culture sector?

Growing up in a family with an affinity for culture, I have been to opera houses, concert halls and theaters countless times- both in Germany and abroad- since I was a child. From the very beginning, what interested me was not only the examination of the works, the productions and the performances of the artists on stage and in the orchestra pit. What always fascinated me at least as much was the business behind it. Everything that it actually takes for a house like this to function. The multitude of activities, each of which is based on skill, craftsmanship, artistry and inspiration- and which only in perfectly coordinated interaction make a truly artistically high-class work possible. 

It was one of the most interesting experiences of my life when I was able to personally witness this creative collaboration for the first time as part of my work on the board of the Friends of Zurich Opera. To be a part of that, to be able to contribute to it- that has become so fulfilling for me here at the Salzburg Festival.  

3. Which 3 keywords would you use to describe the Salzburg Festival?

Highest artistic quality

Unique setting in the heart of Europe

Trust & Passion

Left: Don Giovanni, 2021 / Right: Orfeo ed Euridice, 2023 © SF/Monika Rittershaus

4. What makes the Festival so special and what are the highlights of this year's edition that should not be missed?

The Salzburg Festival was founded 100 years ago after the horrific experiences of World War I, in a time of pandemic, hardship, abject poverty, but also political radicalism, to focus on the power of the mind and human creativity as the unifying factor between people of different nationalities, identities, religions and ethnicities. Thus, from the very beginning, the idea of reconciliation and peace was at the heart of the festival's program. 

The war in Ukraine, the first war on European soil in a long time, has thrown our experienced world out of all its seams. A world through which a rift has been running for a long time anyway: a rift between East and West, between nationalities and population groups, between cultures and genders. A world that now seems to be drawn in black and white, that is becoming more and more mysterious, and that is losing the shades in between. What can art, what can music and theater achieve at all in such times? Art cannot save the world for us, nor can it end a war. But it can certainly help us to pause in times like these, to look back and to draw hope. The Salzburg Festival has been a shining example of this for more than 100 years. 

As President, I naturally believe that you should not miss any of the 213 performances of the next Festival summer: The plot of Bohuslav Martinů's opera Greek Passion is timelessly topical, and the points of reference to current events are unmistakable: debilitated refugees in need of help ask a wealthy village community for asylum, triggering unrelenting conflicts. Who takes sides with the refugees, who against them? It's a biographical fate shared by the Czech composer Martinů himself. 

In drama, I look forward to the stage version of Michael Haneke's cult film Liebe (Amour). Karin Henkel, who most recently staged Richard the Kid & the King spectacularly in Salzburg, stages this great discourse, about a self-determined approach to age, illness and death. 

And among the many concert highlights, it is of course particularly difficult to pick out anything, but the concert Notturno as part of the Ouverture spirituelle in the Kollegienkirche with Salvatore Sciarrino's mystical short opera Infinito Nero promises to be a very special festival experience.

5. Since your time as President, do you have a personal highlight or story that you would like to share with us about the daily life of the Festival? 

The moment that enchants me is when the artists arrive and start rehearsing. I would like to describe the arrival of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as an example. All the instruments alone require a huge truck and then this unique orchestra. Welcoming them for the first time last summer on behalf of the Salzburg Festival meant an infinite amount to me. I have heard them play so many times over the course of my life, but it is something different to suddenly say: Welcome to Salzburg for the 2023 Festival. It is simply true: without the Vienna Philharmonic it is the Festival - with them it is the Salzburg Festival.

6. Artsper and the Salzburg Festival are connected by one keyword: Jedermann (Every Man). Artsper's goal is to make art accessible to everyone, and the annual performance of Jedermann at the Festival echoes the theme of access, 100 years after its premiere. How do you ensure that the festival is accessible to everyone? What projects do you have planned for young audiences for the 2023 edition? 

We are going to the city and province of Salzburg with two mobile productions: with 53 performances as well as numerous school workshops, the Salzburg Festival will offer a wide range of programs for children and young people in Salzburg schools and in cultural centers in the province of Salzburg from March to the end of August. In addition, school classes can work creatively and in depth on a Salzburg Festival production in project weeks of their own. They are supported by artists and educators in workshops and discussions.  

Maurice Ravel wrote the children's opera The Child and the Magic Things, which will delight young audiences during the Festival. Giulia Giammona will direct the piece, which has been translated into German by Egon Bloch. The young German conductor Anna Handler will be in charge of the musical direction. As always, the participants of the Young Singers Project 2023 will sing. Before the performances, there will be introductory workshops under the title “Wir spielen Oper". 

The festival sponsorship model already proved its worth last year: experienced festival guests share their passion, enthusiasm and experiences at the Salzburg Festival with young audiences. They sponsor teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 26 who have never attended a Salzburg Festival performance before. A reception with an introduction to the work before the performance offers space for getting to know each other and for conversation. The joint performance attendance and exchange creates a special access to the festival world for both sides. 

In the four opera camps, music-loving children from 9 to 17 years of age delve into the world of opera and spend a week at Schloss Arenberg with artists and experienced teachers. They deal with opera material and present their own new interpretation in a final public performance with the participation of members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2023 there will be a Jedermann Camp, a Figaro Camp, an Orfeo Camp and a Falstaff Camp. 

We also sell 6,000 discounted tickets for young people; for opera, theater and concerts! The discount of up to 90% applies to teens and young adults who are under 27 years old.

Left: The foyer of the Haus für Mozart © SF/Andreas Kolarik / Right: Exterior view of the Haus für Mozart © SF/Karl Forster

7. Since 1920, this event has been deeply anchored in Salzburg as well as the international music scene. What do you think will never change about the Festival, what changes are already noticeable and where do you think the Festival will be at its 200th anniversary?  

In order to maintain its own image as the most beautiful, best and most important festival, it is necessary to have great commitment and passion for the cause, to constantly feel the pulse of time and often be ahead of it; to constantly change without melting the inner core, the basic idea of the event. And all this with a radius of action around the world. 

It is about relevance for today's society. Each year has a general theme. Old and new material meet. Composers whose works are to be discovered are brought to the fore in concentrated form. Operas that once set standards are examined for their suitability for today: A cosmopolitan project that seeks to explore the foundations of our society through artistic means. Art must also swim against the mainstream - art is not mainstream or escapism! That is the essence of art. The Festival has impressively fulfilled this task over the last 100 years and will continue to do so in the future. Their social role is one of responsibility, but also of experimentation.  

At the same time, it is our task to maintain a dialogue with the 225,000 people and over 70 nations who visit our Festival every year - to unite peoples instead of dividing them. The Salzburg Festival will never exclude anyone simply because of their nationality or origin.

8. In your work, you are surrounded by creative minds and artists every day. Besides your love of classical music, what visual artists inspire you? 

I got to spend an hour alone last year in the "Pixelwald," my favorite installation by video artist Pipilotti Rist at the Kunsthaus Zürich. It was great to experience this three-dimensional work so intimately. To experience the color changes, spherical sounds, in general the interplay of light, color and sound from ever new angles. This work does something to you when you get involved with it. Like an enchanted forest, but also like real life, which always opens up new possibilities depending on your perspective. I first encountered the Swiss artist, whose real name is Elisabeth Charlotte Rist, at the Venice Biennale in 1997. This work burned itself into my memory through the unexpected play with many contrasts. "Ever is Over all" is the name of the early work, which was later acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. 

9. Artists have long been inspired by the beauty of Austria. Where in the world inspires you the most?  

All over the world. I love to conquer cities on foot and explore them - even the not-so-famous neighborhoods. I always try to have enough time on my travels to see an interesting play, a new opera production or an exciting concert. It's important to know and experience firsthand what exciting new things are happening nationally and internationally. Likewise, a visit to a museum or gallery is important to me; it gives me strength and inner peace. 

Their favorite artworks

Photography, Gabriel's Wing, Robert Longo

Gabriel's Wing

Robert Longo

Photography - 81 x 132 x 1 cm Photography - 31.9 x 52 x 0.4 inch


Painting, Petite coupure, Jérémie Iordanoff

Petite coupure

Jérémie Iordanoff

Painting - 41 x 33 cm Painting - 16.1 x 13 inch


Painting, Untitled 707 (Abstract Painting), Jérémie Iordanoff

Untitled 707 (Abstract Painting)

Jérémie Iordanoff

Painting - 92 x 73 cm Painting - 36.2 x 28.7 inch


Painting, Ponds edge, Berit Louise Sara-Grønn

Ponds edge

Berit Louise Sara-Grønn

Painting - 250 x 200 x 4 cm Painting - 98.4 x 78.7 x 1.6 inch


Painting, The dandelion has it's own will, Berit Louise Sara-Grønn

The dandelion has it's own will

Berit Louise Sara-Grønn

Painting - 197 x 237 x 4 cm Painting - 77.6 x 93.3 x 1.6 inch


Painting, Mr.Spoon bender, Berit Louise Sara-Grønn

Mr.Spoon bender

Berit Louise Sara-Grønn

Painting - 237 x 197 x 4 cm Painting - 93.3 x 77.6 x 1.6 inch


Painting, Chaud, Jérémie Iordanoff


Jérémie Iordanoff

Painting - 92 x 73 cm Painting - 36.2 x 28.7 inch


Fine Art Drawings, Weinenmüssen, Miriam Cahn


Miriam Cahn

Fine Art Drawings - 57 x 42 cm Fine Art Drawings - 22.4 x 16.5 inch


Print, Couple enlacé / Couple embracing, 1901, Gustav Klimt

Couple enlacé / Couple embracing, 1901

Gustav Klimt

Print - 64 x 48 x 1 cm Print - 25.2 x 18.9 x 0.4 inch


Print, Untitled, Antoni Tapies


Antoni Tapies

Print - 77 x 57 cm Print - 30.3 x 22.4 inch