The Festival


The sound of baroque music surrounded by baroque architectur

Monasteries have always been places of spirituality and music. This also applies to the Melk Abbey, where monasterial music reached a high point in the 18th century. The idea conceived by Helmut Pilss in the year 1978 of staging a series of concerts specially adapted to the baroque rooms of the abbey at Pentecost is a continuation of this tradition.

Founder Prof. Helmut Pilss

After several years with a broad classical concert programme, in 1991 the decision was taken to focus on the music of the baroque era in the future, and on its reinterpretation in the light of historically informed musical practice.

The first International Baroque Festival was duly held at Melk Abbey in the year 1992. Umberto Eco delivered the opening address, and guest performers included not only Ton Koopman and Bernhard Klebel with the Salzburg Bach Choir, but also the pioneering ensemble Il Giardino Armonico. In the years that followed, the International Baroque Festival developed into a meeting point for the emerging European Baroque music scene, and the Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Competition for soloists and ensembles was held for the first time in 1993.

Thanks to the long-standing cooperation with Bernhard Trebuch and the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation's culture radio station, the International Baroque Festival became securely established on the Austrian festival scene, and highlights of the concert events were documented in many recordings and CD editions. Right from the very beginning, the International Baroque Festival at Melk Abbey attached great importance to combining a musical programme of the highest standard with delight in experimentation and a tremendous sensitivity for the unique nature of the venues.

The current artistic director Michael Schade also stands behind this tradition when he says: "Our goal is to present a festival that enables our audiences to experience and feel the Baroque cosmos, and that emphasizes the interplay between music and the baroque jewel of Melk Abbey."


KS Michael Schade O.C.

Due to his previous career and international contacts, the appointment of KS Michael Schade O.C. as artistic director was extremely gratifying for the International Baroque Festival for many reasons. The versatile Kammersänger is closely identified with the tradition of this highly esteemed festival. His visions are characterized by an appreciation of the unique genius loci of Melk Abbey as a world cultural heritage site, his aspiration to the presentation of musical sensory worlds of the highest standard, as well as by his heartfelt commitment to the promotion of upcoming talent.

Michael Schade also has a deep personal affinity with Melk Abbey. "In Advent 2001 I had the good fortune of entering Melk Abbey for the first time during the rehearsals for Handel's Alexander's Feast. The concert was then given on December 7th by Concentus Musicus under their conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt – and was one of the most beautiful concert experiences of my career. It was not merely the opulent baroque beauty of the abbey, and the immediate and inevitable striving of one's own heart to raise one's gaze from earth to heaven that made this concert an unforgettable highlight, but also my own personal encounter with the Benedictine abbey and its hospitality," explains Michael Schade.

In 2017 Michael Schade was appointed to the rank of Officer of the Order of Canada (O.C.).

Resident Orchestra

Concentus Musicus Wien

Michael Schade’s first innovative act was to commit Concentus Musicus Wien to the festival. In doing so, he brought to Melk an orchestra which has given its unique mark on the Baroque sound in recent decades. The Melk Baroque Festival also gives the orchestra a platform for new joint ventures and artistic growth. In 2014, for example, Concentus performed under the English conductor Matthew Hall and in 2015 under Daniel Harding. This approach was continued in 2016 with shooting star Pablo Heras-Casado. Since 2015 Concentus Musicus dedicates itself at the “Internationale Barocktage Stift Melk” to baroque chamber music repertoire and thus is returning enthusiastically to its roots. Here too, Concentus Musicus performed a much celebrated matineé in 2016 under its new conductor Stefan Gottfried. 

As one of the first ensembles pioneering the authentic period sound, Concentus Musicus Wien paved the way for the success of the historical performance movement. The orchestra was formed in 1953 by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who was its artistic director until his death in spring 2016. "The music of every period can best be brought to life and is most convincingly realized using the resources of the time," was Harnoncourt's credo. Concentus Musicus Wien has been involved in many spectacular projects, including the complete recording of all Bach’s cantatas between 1970 and 1990, which earned it a Gramophone Award. The ensemble has also recorded many operas, including Mozart’s Lucio Silla and Il re pastore, Haydn’s Armida , Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and The Fairy Queen, and Monteverdi’s Orfeo, as well as numerous oratorios by George Frideric Handel. The orchestra’s repertoire today ranges from the Renaissance to Haydn and Mozart, with a balance of sacred and secular music.

Promoting young talent

International Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Competition

The International Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Competition was established in 1993 and is named after the innovative composer and violinist at the Habsburg court in 17th century Vienna. The competition is every three years at Melk Abbey.

While Helmut Pilss, founder of the Melk Pentecost Concerts, and Bernhard Trebuch wanted to use the competition to revive interest in the works of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and Johann Joseph Fux, it was also intended to foster the young and aspiring Baroque music scene which was emerging throughout Europe.

The result was a unique competition seeking to recognize and encourage the individuality and diversity of this scene. Young musicians and soloists have an opportunity to compete, performing infront of a jury in five categories: voice, ensemble, string, wind and keyboard instruments. 

Max Volbers (recorder), who won first prize in the last competition in 2017, states: "Competitions are extreme situations for a musician, the pressure is immense! Months of preparation have to be condensed into just a few minutes, where you just need let go and fully immerge into the music. This competition made this easy: both rounds took place in beautiful rooms with an excellent harpsichordist and in front of a wonderful audience. You could feel the joy and love for early music in this room – never before have I had the pleasure of experiencing such an electrifying atmosphere. The competition is organized by a great team, that looks after every detail with the utmost dedication and support – it was perfect!

The public concert by the finalists showcases the results of the three-day competition.

The promotion of young artists has been a matter very close to Michael Schade's heart for years. Michael Schade dedicated himself to further develop this traditional competition. Thanks to his commitment and Capital Bank sponsorship, the prize has been increased to EUR 5,000. In addition the winner of this competition will get a concert booking for the following season of the Internationale Barocktage Stift Melk.


Winners of the  International Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Competition

1st prize: Max Volbers, recorder (Austria)
Advancement award: Evgeni Sviridov, violin (Russia)

1st prize: Tabea Debus


1st prize: Jan van Hoecke, recorder (Switzerland) and Anne Freitag, transverse flute (Switzerland)
Audience award: Jan van Hoecke, recorder (Switzerland)

1st prize: Duo Lesaulnier (France)
Ensemble prize: Michael Hell, harpsichordist of the ensemble Vezzoso (Austria)

1st prize: Ensemble Vivante (Austria)

1st prize: Barbara Tisler, soprano (Slovenia)

 2nd prizes: Maia Silberstein, broque violin (Belgum);
Maria Mittermayr, transverse flute (Austria);
Benedek Csalog, transverse flute (Hungary)

1st prize: Susanne Pumhösl, harpsichord (Austria)

1st prize: not awarded
2nd prize: Blockflöten Ensemble Schwertberg (Austria)


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