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Hans Köhl and the magic of christmas

Salzburger Adventsingen (“Salzburg Advent Singing”) is his passion: Current producer Hans Köhl has had close ties to heritage groups and folk culture since his childhood. Which led him from Ennstal in Styria to Salzburg.

In November 1946, Salzburg was in the middle of an extreme cold snap. The destruction wrought by the war was still apparent, while Christmas was just around the corner. It was in these difficult times that Tobias Reiser, an expert on folk culture, organized a peaceful gathering in a small room on the Rudolfskai intended to commemorate local boys who had fallen during wartime. Together, they made music, shared stories, enjoyed one another’s company. It gradually drew more and more visitors, until eventually the event we know as “Salzburger Adventsingen” was born. In parallel to this, Reiser also developed Salzburger Heimatwerk, a cultural institution dedicated to preserving and documenting regional folk traditions, folk dance and folk music. With Heimatwerk as the event organizer, after various ports of call Salzburger Adventsingen finally moved into the Grosses Festspielhaus in 1960, which has served as its permanent home ever since.

A Styrian in Salzburg

It was Heimatwerk and Adventsingen that led Styria-born Hans Köhl to the City of Mozart. Folk traditions have been an important part of Köhl’s life for longer than he can remember: His parents were folk dancers, he personally studied music and was active in wind ensembles for the better part of 27 years. Those are the kinds of things that leave a lasting impression. Add to that the fact he knew Tobias Reiser personally, and you can see why he was practically half-way to Salzburg before his feet touched the ground. There, this Zuagroaste (“out-of-towner”) now pulls the strings behind the scenes, though he used to stand in front of the curtain. “For many years I sang at Adventsingen in the vocal ensemble”, Köhl reveals with a grin. After the unexpected death of Tobi Reiser, son of the original founder, in 1999, Köhl took over the reins at Heimatwerk and, a little thereafter, also as head producer of Salzburger Adventsingen.

The Salzburger Original

“The tradition of ‘Advent Singing’ already existed before there was a Salzburger Adventsingen”, Köhl explains. Though the earlier repertoire consisted merely of a string of prescribed songs and music. In contrast, what we now know as the “Salzburger Original” also contains theatrical scenes and is constantly developing. “Every production is new”, says Köhl, quite delighted by the constant change of pace. “That presents big challenges, of course.  In earlier times, it was no big deal if someone like Karl Heinrich Waggerl – a literary icon of this city – would simply read the same stories out loud for ten years in a row. The people back then were fascinated. Today, on the other hand, they would likely comment, ‘What, the same old stuff? Guess there isn’t much point coming back next year then’.”

Shepherd children never sang sweeter

Hans Köhl is proud of Salzburger Adventsingen. In fact, even the venue where it’s performed is guaranteed to excite audiences: “The Festspielhaus as well as the city itself, so much of which has been shaped by the church, guarantee a truly special atmosphere”, says the Heimatwerk director. He is also happy to note that there’s never likely to be a shortage of aspiring cast members either. Aside from the soloists, choir and musicians, it is youngsters who absolutely leap at the chance to become one of the shepherd children. “We never have to advertise. Quite to the contrary. They ‘flock’ to us, presenting us with some really tough choices.” Every year, they accept three or four new shepherd children. “It’s especially nice to see how we have basically become a training ground for an up-and-coming generation of talented musicians.” The list of former shepherd children includes a number of prominent names such as percussionist Martin Grubinger.

Did you know?

150 singers, musicians and actors perform on stage for Salzburger Adventsingen, which is always held on the first three weekends during Advent as well as on 8 December. Fans who aren’t fortunate enough to snap up one of the around 36,000 tickets can always console themselves with the album: Every year, the current production is recorded to CD and available for purchase.