Heimatwerk and Salzburg Advent Singing: An interview with Hans Köhl about the balancing act between tradition and new approaches.
SALZBURG. Hans Köhl, who was born in Styria, has been managing director of the Salzburger Heimatwerk since 1989; In this role he sees himself as a helmsman who brings the boat steadily through the waves of time.
At the end of the year the 65-year-old will take the helm and will retire as managing director of the Heimatwerk, the Salzburg Advent Singing WILL still be “kept”. In an interview, Hans Köhl talks about this year’s anniversary of Advent singing, which guiding principle accompanies him and why regionality and tradition have gained in importance.
Mr. Köhl, the Salzburg Advent Singing celebrates its 75th anniversary. What does Advent singing stand for, what message should it convey to people?
Hans Köhl: I like to compare the Salzburg Advent Singing with the “Jedermann” of the Salzburg Festival. The “Jedermann” deals with the mystery of death, Advent singing with the birth – both were designed as the peace project and for the population. The “Jedermann” after the First World War, the Salzburg Advent Singing in 1946 after the Second World War. Both have lost none of their charisma to this day.
In 2000 you took over the overall management of the Salzburg Advent Singing. What demands do YOU have of yourself and of the Advent singing, what guiding principle drives you?
Hans Köhl: I have been familiar with the Salzburg Advent Singing since 1989 and have worked closely with my predecessor, Tobias Reiser. After his death, I was given overall management. Since then I have seen myself as a helmsman who gets the boat through the waves and leads it stably into the future. The religious aspect and the advent event remained as a foundation, but new, current elements flow into it every year. People are still looking for orientation today, but their needs have changed. Society is more curious, more critical, also of what the church says.
You say that “people are more curious”, is that one of the main reasons for YOU to stage the Salzburg Advent Singing every year?
Hans Koehler: Surely. If you showed the same play to the audience two years in a row today, most of them would not die in the third year. This variety is needed, people want to see new aspects, new influences. On the other hand, consistency among the participants is one of the central factors for me. Whether director or ensemble, continuity plays an enormous role in quality.
The title of this year’s piece is “Don’t be afraid!”. You will probably hit the nerve of many who are plagued by worries or fears due to the pandemic.
Hans Köhl: The piece fits exactly into this time, although in this case it is due to chance. I wrote the piece in 2019 when nobody knew what to expect from spring 2020. My intention was to take up Jewish history and tradition and to sensitize people to Jewish life. The piece leads mentally back to the time around the birth of Christ. Rabbi Jacob, who lives with the shepherds in the field, tells of a promise made by the prophet Isaiah, who said: “Do not be afraid …!”. Advent singing is shaped by new approaches that die in these turbulent times and carry the power of hope for peace.
The uncertain factor probably plays a not insignificant role for you too. The number of infections is high and the vaccination rate is too low. What measures or restrictions do you anticipate for the performances?
Hans Köhl: We pay attention to high security standards. The 2G rule applies to our contributors, including those who have been vaccinated or recovered. As of now, viewers must meet the 3G rule. In any case, we hope for 100 percent utilization. So far, 85 percent of the cards have been booked.
You are the managing director of Heimatwerk, an institution for the preservation of regional customs, folk music and folk dance. At the end of the year you will be giving up this function?
Hans Köhl: Yes. From 2022 there will be a new managing director at Heimatwerk. I’m not a chair glue and it was important to me to set the course in time and to make a good handover. I will still be in charge of the Salzburg Advent Singing, but here too I will prepare an orderly transition in good time.
Regionality, tradition, customs: How important are these values for people today? Did the pandemic make them important again?
Hans Köhl: At many events, it is more on the regional circuits. We as Heimatwerk see ourselves as a platform for regional culture, we want to provide impulses and new approaches, adapted to the zeitgeist.
I am thinking of the tradition of tying palm trees. People used to go to the market, bought a palm tree and disposed of it after Easter. My approach was to show people how a palm tree is made, the custom behind it. We then started to tie these bushes together with the people in front of the Heimatwerk and many communities have taken up this activity. This has made it possible to turn a family custom into a community custom.
A report on which craft businesses invite you to take a look behind the scenes, you can read here