Austrian cultural guests speak about Vienna Week and cultural cooperation

Austrian artists came together for a week of cultural exchange in Ulaanbaatar.


Since 1999, the Cultural Center of Austria has organized the Viennese Waltz event every year in Ulaanbaatar. However, since 2014, the event has grown in scale and an entire week of concerts and performances of Austrian music and dance is now put in place. As part of the
2016 Vienna Week organized in Ulaanbaatar from June 6 to 11, The UB Post had the pleasure of speaking with renowned Austrian conductor and pianist Matthias Fletzberger, and Arnold Obermayr, the cultural counsellor of the Austrian Embassy in Beijing.

What is Vienna Week about ? Which shows are going to be performed?

Arnold Obermayr: There are several events organized for the third edition of Vienna Week
here in Ulaanbaatar. The Austrian artists attending this program are Fletzberger and the famous violinist Lidia Baich, as well as dance instructor Martin Grund. We also have the Minarik Trio, an Austrian jazz band who gave a jazz concert on June 7 at the Shangri La Hotel. The trio, as well as Fletzberger and Baich, will give master classes to Mongolian students at the Music and Dance College of Mongolia. The biggest event, the Vienna Waltz, will be on Friday, June 10 at 5:00 p.m., at Chinggis Square. It is part of the Friendly Ulaanbaatar program and open to everyone. It will gather 300 artists, including Matthias Fletzberger, Lidia Baich and Martin Grund on the Austrian side, and the Mongolian conductors N.Tuulaikhuu, R.Ganbat and D.Nyamdash, who will also attend the event. The last highlight of the week will be on Saturday, June 11 at the Shangri La Hotel, the Vienna Ball, a charity ball whose profits are going to an orphanage here in Ulaanbaatar.

How will this cultural program benefit Austria and Mongolia?

Matthias Fletzberger: One of the points is that as Ulaanbaatar tries to develop the image
of a green city, and Vienna has this image very strongly in Europe, this association could try and help Ulaanbaatar on that side. But the cultural exchange is the most important dimension of this week. There is a big interest in Mongolia on the cultural side; there are great instrumentalists, but who, most of the time, have no possibility to go abroad because of the economic situation of the country. In that way, fundraising was then organized for Mongolian students to study at the music colleges and universities of Austria. The other part is for Austrian musicians to come here and for them to be able to teach students and work together with the Mongolian musicians to provide some input and have a kind of exchange.

It is, therefore, also about bringing knowledge of classical music, as Vienna is extremely famous for this and some of the greatest classical musicians of all time come from this country – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart probably being the most famous one. That is the major thing we have to provide as it is one of Austria’s specialties. Most classical music is based on what was made in Vienna during the classical period, so we tried to bring an authentic knowledge in Mongolia to help develop classical music here as well. The good thing is that there is a very big interest in that; the musicologists are very strong, and the teachers find it great to have their students get in touch with the original, authentic style from Vienna. I work here together with the Mongolian State Philharmonic Orchestra, and, among other things, we try to teach how to play proper Viennese music to students, which is, at first, not that easy for them. Indeed, most of the musicians here were educated in Moscow, Leningrad
and other Russian cities, and the Russian tradition is strong here but very different from
what we do in Central Europe.

The idea is really to develop this classical tradition here in Ulaanbaatar, because it is a
young country that has been under different influences for a long time, especially from its two
neighbors. And we are happy to help people discover and learn more about the music of another country, and to develop this knowledge here, mainly through the education of Viennese music to students.

Fletzberger, can you tell us a little bit about your career?

Matthias Fletzberger: I was raised in Vienna, started as a pianist and launched my career
with quite a lot of success. I played around 200 concerts a year when I was 20. After conducting for a while, I stopped making music altogether as I grew completely tired of it, so I stopped everything with music as I needed to have time for myself and my family. I went into marketing, quite a different field, and some years ago, I decided that I wanted to do music again. Since then, I am playing and conducting again more and more, mostly in North America, and I am also working in Japan and China twice a year. My career is now on the rise again.

…we are happy to HELP
people discover and learn
more about the music of
another country, and to develop
this knowledge here,
mainly through the education
of Viennese music to

Are there any differences in how Austria and Mongolia work regarding classical music?

Matthias Fletzberger: Both countries’ ways of working with classical music are different in
the sense that here in Mongolia, the musicians do not know the Viennese repertory that well as it is not their specialty, while Viennese musicians grew up with this music and could benefit from the five major orchestras and three opera houses for example. There is only one opera house and one orchestra that performs from time to time in Mongolia, so it is really different. In a nutshell, the interest and the technical abilities are similar, but the knowledge is missing, and that is what we try to provide. This is the main difference, because the curiosity is here;  Mongolian musicians and students of music just need to get more accustomed to it.

How did the cultural program start? Who had the idea?

Matthias Fletzberger: It started with Obermayr’s predecessor, Gudrun Hardiman-Pollross,
who was very keen on doing this cultural exchange in Mongolia. She had the support from
the ambassador and she was the one who really started that off. She was doing similar things in India, and that is where I know her from. We then decided we would do this together and tried to build something up. It was also an initiative from the Austrian Embassy in Beijing, which is also responsible for Mongolia, and the goal was to extend the corporation between Vienna and Ulaanbaatar.

When I came here the first time, it was quite chaotic and proper organization was lacking, but since then, the city of Ulaanbaatar has stepped in this very strongly and put a big effort
in this cooperation, which is great. At the beginning, it was only cooperation with the Opera House here, and now it is the city of Ulaanbaatar which is funding it, organizing the events and the ball, so there is really a big interest from the political side to have this cultural exchange. As for now, Obermayr is extending the work and pushing it forward.

And as far as I’m concerned, I decided to dedicate this one week each year to put some
effort in a country which is, I think, underestimated, and yet has great potential. The people
here are very musical and have a clear interest in European culture. It is therefore really worth putting in the effort and time to work here. There is a genuine interest, response and happiness that comes out of it.

Have Mongolia and Austria had a long partnership, especially a cultural one?

Arnold Obermayr: Austria and Mongolia have had very good relationships in general. Three years ago, we celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations. But it can always be extended
and developed, and we really want to build a strong relationship on various levels, culture of
course being one of them.

What do you hope to achieve through this cultural exchange?

Matthias Fletzberger: The most important thing is to give inspiration to students and musicians here; to bring here people from outside and from places that they most of the time can hardly get to because of the economic situation – only getting a glimpse of it through television, but it is always different if people come to the country and are here for real. There are around five conductors in all of Mongolia for classical music, which is not many. They do most of the work because they hardly have guest conductors, apart from some from South Korea, as there are very strong relations between the opera house
here and the one in Seoul. But outside of that, not so many people are coming here, which is
a pity. I feel like everyone keeps focusing on China, which in my opinion is already overfed
with Western culture, but Mongolia is not at this stage yet.

As it is not your first visit to Mongolia, what are your impressions?

Matthias Fletzberger: I know Mongolia a little bit, as during the first Vienna Week, the opera
director took us to the homeland of her family outside of Ulaanbaatar, and we spent two days there with local people and staying in a ger. That was very exciting, even if I’m not sure I could live like that for a long time! I actually have never seen such a clean sky anywhere else in the world, even the sky over the Alps in Europe are nothing compared to that of the Mongolian countryside. You are in the middle of nowhere, there is no mobile connection, nothing, and that is great in a way.

Arnold Obermayr: As for me, it is my second time here in Ulaanbaatar as I have been at
this position of cultural counselor only since last November, but I hope that by the upcoming years I will have seen a lot, not only of Ulaanbaatar but also of Mongolia. I plan to travel outside and try to see as much as possible. It is the first Austria Week that I am attending, so next year, I will go outside of Ulaanbaatar for sure.

Do you know a little bit about Mongolian music?

Matthias Fletzberger: When I was here last year, I had one day called “Cultural Exchange
with Mongolian Musicians”. I spent half a day listening to performances of traditional Mongolian music, talking to the musicians, hearing the instruments and getting to know them, which was very exciting. Seeing how they were played, where they came from was especially pleasing, given that I studied musicology in Austria. During my studies, we worked a lot on African and Indian music, but the program tends to forget some other countries. And Mongolia is very intriguing because of the very strong influence from China on the one side, and also of the Indian and Arabic influences in the instruments, which is very interesting to see.

What is the plan for the upcoming years?

Arnold Obermayr: We want to continue doing this cultural program, but of course, it also depends on our partners. But we are keen on working on that for as long as possible and I hope that when I leave my position in five years, I can look back on five wonderful Austrian
Weeks that have been held here in Mongolia, but also follow-up events. We don’t want to
only do this week, which only happens once a year, but try to organize other projects every now and then throughout each year – not only in the music field, but also art exhibitions, for example – and we already have an exhibition planned of Austrian artists that is going to be on display in Ulaanbaatar.