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Gustav Kuhn - A life for music

"Music is life. Life is self-determination and no one should have the right to dictate how to live or what music is.”
Gustav Kuhn

Gustav Kuhn bei der Eröffnung der Tiroler Festspiele Erl
© Hans Osterauer

Education, Opera, Production

Born in Turrach and raised in Salzburg, Gustav Kuhn studied conducting with Hans Swarovsky, Bruno Maderna und Herbert von Karajan at the Conservatories in Vienna and Salzburg and graduated from the Salzburg University in philosophy, psychology and psychopathology. Kuhn was only 24 years old when he won the prestigious international conducting competition of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF).

From 1970 to 1977 Kuhn worked as choirmaster and conductor at the Istanbul Opera House, then as 1st Chapel Master at the Dortmund Opera House. During this time he already gave guest performances in Palermo, Naples and Bologna. Later he had engagements as guest director in Rome, Florence Venice and Zurich.

Gustav Kuhn also conducted the Berlin Philharmonics, the Dresden State Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala in Mailand, the Orchestre National de France in Paris, the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the NHK Orchestra in Tokyo, and, last but not least, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1974 Kuhn founded the Institute for Aleatoric Music in Salzburg; in 1977 he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera with Richard Strauss’ Elektra; only a year later, in 1978, he debuted at the Bavarian State Opera and the Salzburg Festival; the following season Maestro Kuhn made his conducting debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London and was engaged as General Music Director in Bern; in 1980 Kuhn opened the Glyndebourne Festival. More debuts followed: 1981 with Fidelio in Chicago; 1982 with Così fan tutte at the Paris Opera; 1984 at with Tannhäuser Milan’s Scala; 1986 with Un ballo in maschera at Arena di Verona. 

In 1986 Gustav Kuhn started to direct and produce operas to achieve a greater artistic union between a work’s visual and musical components. Kuhn produced and staged The Flying Dutchman (Triest), Parsifal (Naples), Salome (Rome), Don Carlos (Turino), Don Giovanni (Festival di Macerata), Rossini’s Otello (Berlin, Braunschweig and Tokyo), La Bohème (Tokyo), Ariadne on Naxos (Milan), Falstaff (Tokyo), among others. 

In 1986 Gustav Kuhn made his debut as opera director with the Flying Dutchman in Trieste (stage design and costumes: Peter Papst); in 1993 he developed the “Hall Opera” series for Suntory Hall Opera in Tokyo; Kuhn stayed with the Salzburg Festival until 1997 (1989 Un ballo in maschera; 1992, 1994 and 1997 La clemenza di Tito).

From 1983 to 1985 Kuhn served as general music director at the Bonn Opera, followed by engagements as head conductor of the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome and later as artistic director of the Teatro di San Carlo in Neapel. From 1990 to 1994 Kuhn headed the music festival in Macerata.

Teachings, Compositions, CDS

Dirigent Gustav Kuhn

Gustav Kuhn has been artistic director of Neue Stimmen (New Voices), an international singing competition by the German Bertelsmann Foundation in Gütersloh, since 1987. In 1992 Kuhn founded the Accademia di Montegral, headquartered at the Convento dell’Angelo in Lucca (Tuscany) since 2000. In 1997 Kuhn founded the Tyrolean Festival Erl. After working on Wagner’s Ring for several years, Kuhn took the production on tour for the first time in 2005 (Santander) and produced the now legendary 24-hour Ring. The same year Dr. Hans Peter Haselsteiner agreed to become president of the Tyrolean Festival Erl; the construction of the Festspielhaus is largely owed to his efforts and commitment. By the end of summer 2012 Gustav Kuhn has directed and conducted all of Wagner’s grand operas at Erl’s Passionsspielhaus.

Gustav Kuhn’s compositions include orchestra works, masses and solo pieces; his instrumentation of Janaček’s Diary of One Who Disappeared met with great acclaim at the Opéra National de Paris (released at Edition Peters). Kuhn has been performing the Delirium concert series in his hometown of Salzburg annually since 2007.

Gustav Kuhn’s recording are available at col legno, BMG, EMI, CBS, Capriccio, Supraphon, Orfeo, Koch / Schwann, Coreolan, ARTE NOVA and others. His book Aus Liebe zur Musik (Out Of Love For Music) by Henschel Verlag.



Tiroler Festspiele Erl

Mühlgraben 56a
A-6343 Erl
T +43 (0)53 73 / 81 000
F +43 (0)53 73 / 81 000 85
Tickets: T +43 (0)53 73 / 81 000 20

  • Kultur Tirol