The Swiss director Milo Rau, 46, will be the new artistic director of the Wiener Festwochen. He succeeds Christophe Slagmuylder, who surprisingly announced in autumn that he would be leaving the Festwochen a year before his contract expired. The post therefore had to be filled at unusually short notice. And while Slagmuylder is returning to his hometown of Brussels, where he is taking over the management of the Palais des Beaux-Arts cultural center, his successor is moving from Belgium to Vienna: Milo Rau has been director of the NTGent theater since 2018. His contract with the Festwochen begins on July 1, 2023. At his presentation on Friday, Vienna City Councilor for Culture Veronica Kaup-Hasler (SPÖ) described Rau as one of the most important international directors and wished him to set up the festival for a broader public and again attract more audience.
There was a conservative media campaign in Vienna against the candidate Matthias Lilienthal
36 people had applied for the post, six of whom were invited to a hearing by a selection committee – including the former director of the Munich Kammerspiele Matthew Lilienthal. The fact that it didn’t happen is hopefully not related to a bizarre press campaign that had been running in the past few weeks: Two Viennese newspapers had polemicized so violently against the candidate that it was as if the Festival Weeks were finally doomed with his commitment; Lilienthal drove the audience away in Munich and only theatre made for aloof critics. Behind such claims, which are just as superficial and not even half-true, is a new conservatism that can currently be generally stated in cultural criticism. The auditoriums, which were less utilized for a while after Corona, have long since revived debates and ancient bogeys such as the “director’s theater”.
With his eminently political, international projects, in which the literary canon and ancient myths are confronted with documentary forms and harsh realities, Milo Rau is definitely not the dream cast for conservative theatergoers. But he is capable of making the Wiener Festwochen a more aggressive, edgy festival than it was last time. Christophe Slagmuylder was rightly accused of curating the festival weeks in an overly aesthetic and fanciful way. However, a completely radical change is not to be expected: the upcoming festival weeks in May and June will be the last ones that Slagmuylder will still be responsible for. The program includes a production by Milo Rau.