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This summer, the ensemble of the Janáček Opera at the National Theatre Brno is again putting on traditional open-air performances in the courtyard of Špilberk Castle. For the first time their summertime schedule shall include performances at the open-air stage of the Amphitheatre in Mikulov. Well-known works are planned, such as Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Bizet’s Carmen, Verdi’s La traviata and a new production of Puccini’s La bohème.
Zdenek Merta – a composer, producer, pianist and singer – has a new CD out on the occasion of his 70th birthday entitled Zdenek Merta u klavíru (Zdenek Merta at the Piano), which reviews his career to date. Guest artists on the recordings include musician Ondřej Pivec, the concert master of the Czech Philharmonic Jiří Vodička, oboist Vilém Veverka and singer & actor Vojtěch Dyk.
JazzFestBrno, an international jazz festival, has announced the name of its first guest for next year. British artist Jacob Collier, a social-media sensation who has risen to prominence videos made in his from his bedroom, is to come to Brno. The festival shall be the only event at which the 26-year-old multi-instrumentalist and singer is to perform in the Czech Republic.
The theatre (NTB) has released details of the 2021/2022 season, which includes premieres of five operas and three ballets. Janáček Opera has dubbed the upcoming season “Follow the voice of the heart…”, and in keeping with this, Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten is scheduled, directed by David Radok. The long-awaited, The Greek Passion by Bohuslav Martinů under the direction of Jiří Heřman, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute directed by Miroslav Krobot are included, too. NTB’s ballet celebrates the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth by presenting a piece entitled Beethoven with Mário Radačovský as the choreographer. After more than thirty years, Cinderella, a ballet by Sergei Prokofiev, returns to the stage of the Janáček Theatre as a brand-new production choreographed by Markéta Pimek Habalová. The new season reflects the sentiment of the heading “Honouring the Greats”.
The Brno Philharmonic is preparing another performance for streaming online. Two symphonies are scheduled – by Johannes Brahms and Philip Glass. The composers’ respective Symphony No. 2 have been chosen, making it the Czech premiere of the piece by Glass. The concert – to be streamed live from the Community Hall (Besední dům) venue – will be conducted by chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies, who shall also interview Philip Glass during the interval.
The session today at the Moravian Library is to be chaired by Vítězslav Mikeš, the dramaturgist of the Brno Philharmonic. His guests are the chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies and opera singer Martina Janková. The discussion is part of a programme accompanying an online exhibition currently taking place, entitled Antonín Rejcha Lost and Found.
Anyone who knows the B-Side Band, especially through performing international hit songs with the singer Vojtěch Dyk, or last year’s album Folk Swing, may be surprised by their unique take on a production of Jaromír Hnilička’s Missa Jazz. In fact, the big band’s history is tightly interwoven with the composer’s legendary Jazz Mass.
Hajcman, a tramp-swing group with its roots in Brno, released their expected debut album Jednou to bude (It Will Come to Pass). The band’s name, derived from the Czech word for a supporting steel frame in coal mining, is a reference to cave exploring, the hobby of the group’s leader Martin Škrobák, whose first band was called Stalaktit (Stalactite). While the album largely showcases the talents of the tramping legend, it does feature a sample of the band’s work in the form of two songs by Martin, hinting at the direction of the band’s future album of author's songs. It’s Jaroslav Velinský aka Kapitán Kid who is the author of the most of the debut’s collection of songs, the result of over a decade’s effort. An old friend of Martin’s, as well as a fellow musician and inspiration to him, the tramping music king Kapitán Kid had planned to record some “blasts from the past” in 2005 with his previous outfit the Banjo Gang, as described in the sleeve notes and associated songbook. Joint recording sessions with Martin and his friends took place subsequently, but Velinský’s best-known tramping songs from the CD Tempo di kůň (Tempo de Horse; released in 2007) were eventually preferred. This is how these tracks came to be short-listed, with the blessing of Kapitán Kid himself, and recorded just a few years after the songwriter’s death, making it essentially a tribute to him.
While concert halls and opera houses are rather on the empty side, seven hotels in the city have seen a lot more activity thanks to the Brno Contemporary Orchestra – a chamber music group led by Pavel Šnajdr and the arts platform Terén – Pole performativního umění (Terrain – Fields for the Performing Arts). Every night of the week, from 15 to 21 March, fans of modern artificial music had the opportunity to visit one of the hotels via YouTube. Not only was the atmosphere of the empty rooms and corridors absorbing, but also the drama in combination with unusual the visual stimuli. Please, do not disturb, as the series was named by its creators - the Brno Contemporary Orchestra and Terén, featured more than just standard recordings of concerts. Indeed, a narrative thread ran through every evening’s experience, which was directly or subtly connected with the musicians or the space itself.
“It’s absolutely perfect, I play it all the time and it plays in my head all the time,” commented Matěj H., a music studies graduate and Brno politician. In another Facebook debate, a musical editor with a pen name of Max B. depicts it to be “totally horrible stuff.” Few domestic albums recorded in 2020 received such varied responses as Folk Swings, a collection of what were initially contemporary folk songs, re-arranged to become big-band pieces and performed by B-Side Band with Josef Buchta as the bandmaster.
In late 2020, the Brno Philharmonic released two recordings of works by Antonín Dvořák and Antonín Rejcha. We have already reviewed the “Dvořák” CD with the composer’s Symphony No. 1 and his Maličkosti (Bagatelles); the adaptation and instrumentation of the two works was provided by Dennis Russell Davies, the chief conductor of the orchestra. Now we are going to look at the recording of Lenore – a musical picture composed by Antonín Rejcha to the text of Gottfried August Bürger’s ballad of the same name. The CD features Martina Janková as Lenore, Pavla Vykopalová as Lenore’s mother, Wojciech Parchem as the narrator and Jiří Brückler as the late soldier William. The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno also performed side by side with the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Petr Fiala as the choir director. As with the recording of Antonín Dvořák´s works, this project was also directed by conductor Dennis Russell Davies.
Following the concerts streamed online in January and complete with a series of innovative video trailers, The Czech Ensemble Baroque returned with live streaming yesterday night. This time it was the second concert from their series entitled Bach & Mozart in Focus (Czech: Bacha na Mozarta); it was planned for 21 October, but rescheduled. From the Brothers of Mercy Convent, it featured, as the central part of the performance, the psalm of Dixit Dominus by Georg Friedrich Händel.
The coronavirus crisis of 2020 (and 2021) has had such an impact on the form of the musical market that researchers, with hindsight, will probably ask whether there are any recordings released at that time and not affected by it. Robert Křesťan and Druhá tráva (Second Grass) wanted to work on a double album containing cover versions of songs by his favourites and new own works next to each other. The British producer Eddie Stevens became a part of this ambitious project but the interrupted opportunity of travelling between the Czech Republic and London also stopped work on the 2CD. The band decided not to wait for the easing and released the Díl první (Part One) separately. This is not the exact form of the initially intended first disc. “Releasing cover versions only without any apparent relationship between them and the original works seemed inadequate to us and the production style of Eddie Stevens is individual and unifying in a specific way to such an extent that we decided to release a mix of the two on the first medium and delay the second part,” explains Křesťan. Therefore, we have Díl první in front of us, but this is not any half-hearted recording or unfinished work. In spite of the Act of God, Druhá tráva has succeeded in recording one of the strongest Czech discs of 2020.
With the current epidemiologic situation and the impossibility of live concerts, many large and small ensembles have been using the time to prepare new media. One of them is the Brno Philharmonic, which has extended its range to include its own edition of CD recordings with this bold motto: “Music you can hardly buy anywhere else”. Although it might seem that this is, primarily, a successful slogan created by the Marketing Department this brief description is not merely empty words. The first pair of CDs released at the end of 2020 offered the unfairly forgotten oratorio Lenora (Lenore) by Antonín Rejcha (heard at concerts on 5, 6 and 7 February, 2020). The philharmonic orchestra also recorded a programme with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Zlonické zvony (The Bells of Zlonice) and the composition entitled Bagatelles, Op. 47, (Maličkosti (Trivia)) both adapted (and in the case of Bagatelles also with richer instrumentation) by the chief conductor of the Brno Philharmonic, Dennis Russell Davies. And this is the album which will be the object of our evaluation.
One older - not quite typical – Květy´s album began with the words: "The quietest band in the world so as not to disturb the neighbours." The newest album, called a bit mysteriously Květy Květy (Flowers Flowers) begins with this text: “We are heading into the dark at the highest speed.” Can one deduce anything from the fact that the band around Martin E. Kyšperský in the slowest year, at the time of the lockdown, came up with the fastest and perhaps the most energetic album in their career? Or is it more important that, despite all the pressure that emanates from Květy Květy (Flowers Flowers) as a collective work, it is actually a very solitary and intimate record?
Tomáš Kytnar, the manager of the Stará Pekárna club in Brno and bandleader of the group Tady To Máš (a pun containing Kytnar's given name 'Tomáš' but meaning 'Here You Are') has been setting Slovak lyrics to music for years. He based several of his albums on the poetry of contemporary Slovak poets Judita Kaššovicová and Erik Ondrejička. When asked if he deliberately avoided Czech lyrics, he replied in an interview for Brno – City of Music in 2013: "I really am thinking a little about Czech, but I will definitely not look for something in a systematic way or place an advertisement. As Slovak poets actually came to me by themselves, the Czech ones should come by way of chance, shouldn't they?" Seven years have passed. Since then, Kytnar and his band have released the "Slovak" albums Srdiečka tiché (Silent Hearts) and Krajina diamantov (Land of Diamonds), and... this year a change is coming. The novelty Ryba Květovoň (loosely translated as Flowerscent Fish) combines Kytnar's typical composing signature with Czech poetry written by Bogdan Trojak.