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Austria rings sounds of music, innovation, dynamism

"Austria is as much about cutting-edge technology and innovation as Amadeus Mozart or Gustav Klimt."

Despite being far away from each other, Austrians and Koreans are kindred spirits sharing unusual passions for the arts, culture and nature, says Ambassador Elisabeth Bertagnoli.

Although typically identified as Europe’s crown jewel of art, music and sightseeing, Austria is as much about cutting-edge technology and innovation as Amadeus Mozart or Gustav Klimt, the country’s top envoy to Korea wants people to know.

Marking the 125th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations this year, the German-speaking Central European country is strengthening its cooperation with Korea. Various musical concerts, art exhibitions and film premieres are planned alongside startup schemes and engineering partnerships. 

Austrian Ambassador to Korea Elisabeth Bertagnoli (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Austrian Ambassador to Korea Elisabeth Bertagnoli (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

“The Republic of Austria and the Republic of Korea are like-minded countries that share the same values of democracy and respect for human rights,” the diplomat told The Korea Herald. “We are also leaders in technology and innovation, with strong people-to-people contacts in education and tourism.”

The bilateral relations began on June 23, 1892, with the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Korean Empire. Full diplomatic relations were inaugurated in 1963.

As Koreans are increasingly drawn to Austria’s music halls, museums and castles -- to peer into the extraordinary lives of Mozart, Klimt and Sigmund Freud -- culture forms a key pillar of the comprehensive two-way relations, she explained.

The Vienna Boys’ Choir performs annually in Korea along with numerous Austrian artists who showcase their works here. The Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble held performances in Gwangju, Ulsan, Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, and Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, from late March to early April, and the Haydn Chamber Ensemble will perform Wednesday with Korean violin prodigy Ko So-hyun. 

Members of the Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble perform at the Austrian ambassador’s residence in Seoul on March 24 ahead of their first performances in Korea. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Members of the Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble perform at the Austrian ambassador’s residence in Seoul on March 24 ahead of their first performances in Korea. (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

In addition, Austrian musicals “Rudolf,” “Mozart!” “Rebecca” and “Elisabeth” have been translated into Korean to much acclaim. The New Year’s Concert of the Wiener Philharmoniker is broadcast live at Megabox cinemas and the Bregenz Festival as well as in Salzburg. Austrian movies are also featured at the Busan International Film Festival.

“Austria is a highly modern, innovative and economically vibrant country with its advanced industrialized sectors and strong services industry,” the envoy emphasized, adding Koreans have too often recognized the country only for music and the arts. “The strength of our economy lies in the balance between small, yet competitive enterprises on one hand and large multinational corporations on the other.”

The promising fields of potential are tourism, creative industries, information communications technology, engineering, energy and materials and bio and applied health sciences, according to the ambassador.

Noting that food and luxury goods as well as mechanical engineering, steel construction, chemicals and vehicle manufacturing form Austria’s core industries, Bertagnoli highlighted the successes of companies Swarovski, Red Bull, Silhouette, AVL, Plansee and Palfinger. The Pioneers Festival in Vienna links 500 promising tech startups with the world’s top investors and financial executives. 

Members of the Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble, which comprises 13 string, wind and percussion instrumentalists (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Members of the Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble, which comprises 13 string, wind and percussion instrumentalists (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

“Austria’s standing in the global political arena is rising through the hosting of international summits, conferences and meetings, including those of the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries,” she said.

Austria joined the European Union in 1995 and signed the Schengen Agreement, which led to the creation of Europe’s Schengen Area, allowing people to move freely across borders through harmonized visa policies and abolished border checks. As a eurozone economy, Austria firmly supports various initiatives of the EU, she said, adding “good communication, coordination and collaboration” would help solve the continent’s growing challenges.

On the tourism front, Austria attracted a record 135 million travelers in 2015, including 300,000 from Korea. The country offers world-class facilities and resorts for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and other winter sports, she said.

Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck are urban magnets for tourists with events like the Salzburg Festival, Bregenz Festival, Danube Festival and Life Ball charity. The picturesque lakes, snowcapped mountains and leafy towns are in vogue for hiking, biking and outdoor activities.

Members of the Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble, which comprises 13 string, wind and percussion instrumentalists (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Members of the Vienna Philharmonic Ensemble, which comprises 13 string, wind and percussion instrumentalists (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

For university students in the EU, the diplomat encouraged studying in Austria through the Erasmus exchange program, and for those outside the EU the Erasmus Plus program. The Austrian, German and Swiss embassies and cultural institutes annually organize the Day of the German Language in December.

Austrian artists will participate in the Daegu Contemporary Music Festival, Jarasum International Jazz Festival and Seoul International Dance Festival this year, and the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in the fall will showcase architects and designers from Austria.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)
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