Born in Turrach in Styria, Gustav Kuhn studied conducting with Hans Swarowsky, Bruno Maderna and Herbert von Karajan at the conservatories in Vienna and Salzburg and graduated from 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 chorus director and conductor at the Istanbul Opera House, then as first Kapellmeister at the Dortmund Opera House. During this time, he already gave guest performances in Palermo, Naples and Bologna. Later he had engagements as guest conductor in Rome, Florence Venice and Zurich. Gustav Kuhn conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala in Milan, 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 conducting Richard Strauss’ Elektra. Only a year later, in 1978, he made his debut 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 Berne. In 1980, Kuhn conducted the opening production at the Glyndebourne Festival. More debuts followed in 1981 conducting Fidelio in Chicago; 1982 Così fan tutte at the Paris Opera; 1984 Tannhäuser at Milan’s Scala; 1986 Un ballo in maschera at Arena di Verona.
In 1986 Gustav Kuhn started to direct and produce operas so as to achieve a greater artistic union between a work’s visual and musical components. Kuhn produced and staged The Flying Dutchman (Trieste), Parsifal and La Bohème (Naples), Don Carlos and Don Carlo (Torino), Mozart’s Da Ponte operas (Festival di Macerata), Rossini’s Otello (Berlin, Braunschweig and Tokyo), La Bohème, Falstaff and La Traviata (Tokyo), Capriccio (Milan), among others.
After making his debut as an opera director with his staging of The Flying Dutchman in Trieste (set design and costumes: Peter Pabst), he developed the “Hall Opera” series for Suntory Hall Opera in Tokyo (1993). Kuhn conducted at the Salzburg Festival until 1997 (1978 debut, 1980 Figaro, 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, which was followed by engagements as principal conductor of the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome and later as artistic director of the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.
Kuhn headed the music festival in Macerata from 1990 to 1994; from 1994 he served as artistic director of the Filarmonica Marchigiana, Ancona (1997-2002). Gustav Kuhn was artistic director of the Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento from January 2003 until December 2012. In October 2013 Gustav Kuhn conducted two performances of Wagner’s Parsifal in Peking. This was a very special occasion because Wagner’s opera had never been performed before in China.
From 1987 to 2017 Gustav Kuhn has been artistic director of Neue Stimmen (New Voices), an international singing competition organized by the German Bertelsmann Foundation in Gütersloh. In 1992 Kuhn founded the Accademia di Montegral, based at the Convento dell’Angelo in Lucca (Tuscany) in 2000. In 1997, Kuhn founded the Tyrol 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 Tyrol Festival Erl. The construction of the new Festspielhaus, which was opened on 26th December 2012, was made possible by Mr. Haselsteiner’s efforts and commitment.
In addition to its summer festival the Tyrol Festival Erl now also hosts a winter Festival that runs annually from 26th December to 6th January. The general artistic director is Gustav Kuhn. The new winter programme focuses on works from the Italian and the bel canto repertoire as well as Mozart operas. In the summer the old Passionsspielhaus continues to be an important performance venue for the Festival’s Wagner and Strauss productions. With the performance of Lohengrin in July 2012, Gustav Kuhn brought his cycle of Wagner’s ten greatest operas at Erl’s Festspielhaus to a close.
Gustav Kuhn’s compositions include orchestral works, masses and solo pieces; his instrumentation of Janáček’s Diary of One Who Disappeared met with great acclaim at the Opéra National de Paris (released by Edition Peters). From 2007 to 2011 Maestro Kuhn performed a series of classical concerts entitled Delirium in his former hometown of Salzburg.Gustav Kuhn’s recordings are available on the labels 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) was published by Henschel.