The oratorio St John Passion by the composer Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the indisputable jewels of the world’s music literature. Many conductors try to surprise the audience with a new, fresh, energetic and expressively rich conception of the composer's music. Among the bodies willingly accepting this difficult challenge is the Czech Ensemble Baroque under the direction of conductor and artistic director Roman Válek. They gave their version of one of the most frequently performed of Bach's works on Good Friday in Brno’s Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
The musical ensemble Brno Contemporary Orchestra, which deals with contemporary musical work followed up on the last concert From Czechoslovakia by looking at it from another angle. The For Czechoslovakia concert’s programme included works by foreign composers, written either specifically for the anniversary or with topics related to Czechoslovakia. Quo vadis? by Alois Piňos, who died exactly ten years ago on 19 September, was the first song to be played.
If you are a fan of and listener to ancient music then you will certainly have heard of the Czech Ensemble Baroque and its artistic director Roman Válek. The ensemble works with historically informed interpretations from older stylistic periods, mainly the baroque and classical. The main strength of the orchestra lies in the performance of large musical-dramatic works. Among their recent achievements is the artificially created oratorio Příběh o Kristu (The Story of Christ) created from thematically linked works by the composer Heinrich Schütz. The ensemble has also paid great attention to the works of František Xaver Richter, whose Requiem and passion oratorio Deposizione dalla croce di Gesu Cristo were part of the most recent recording by the orchestra.
Every now and then works appear on a concert that the listeners have not had a chance to appreciate before. In most cases these premieres serve to spice up the otherwise standard repertoire of a concert. Whether it is a brand new piece or a modern premiere resulting from long hours of research in the archives, it normally takes place alongside a long-term classic. For example if a reconstructed symphony by an unknown classical period composer is to be performed then it is almost a certainty that with it we will hear Mozart, Beethoven or Haydn. The programme for the concert by Brno’s Ensemble Opera Diversa with the violin virtuoso Milan Paľa, with which the orchestra opened their concert cycle Slovakia in Brno, was however made up only of premieres of contemporary music.
Music-lovers in Brno like to remember the visit Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made to the city at the turn of 1767-68. The theme of the third subscription concert of the Brno Philharmonic from the cycle The Philharmonic at Home I was however the composer’s visit to Prague. And this was not without reason. Prague has an indisputable place in the professional career of the most significant representative of Viennese classicism. To go with the chosen theme the programme creators chose important milestones in the composer’s output that were linked to Prague and its inhabitants. The Brno Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Alexander Liebreich and the pianist was Saleem Ashkar.
Brno is a city full of contrasts. A short walk through its centre reveals curious contrasts: the Rozkvět passage next to the House of the Lords of Lipá or the Omega department store inserted into the historic centre are clear examples. The Brno Philharmonic also bases its musical production on the contrast of old with new. More than once I have praised the fresh programmes of the concerts, which go for contrasting musical works and present combinations of compositions which are rarely heard alongside each other. In the case of the concert entitled Romantic Fairy Tales of 24 January however the programme was down to earth. There were no sudden dissonances or odd instrumental combinations and the musical language did not depart from the moderately conventional. However we do not have only the contrasts of old and new, known and unknown, but unfortunately also between quality and its absence and not last between interesting and dull.
If you went to the Brno Philharmonic’s New Year Concert expecting a serious, rigorous celebration, with measured and distinguished entertainment, most probably you left extremely disappointed. In your frustration you may have complained and muttered: what was this conducting dance creation, why did they clap to the rhythm of the Radetzky March and primarily – why were we made to sing? And the programme! Last year at least there was Smetana, but this year? Just waltzes and polkas, operettas and whipped cream! If you are not a bitter grouch, it is likely that along with the Brno Philharmonic you danced into 2018 with ease and sprightliness.
The programme of the third Sunday of Advent from the orchestra of the Ensemble Opera Diversa with the help of their sister body – the choir Ensemble Versus – was marked by modern contemporary creations. In the Convent of the Merciful Brethren they performed the works O antifony for baritone and strings and the Magnificat and choir and strings from the ensemble’s court composer Ondřej Kyas and the Sonata da chiesa by the composer Jaroslav Štastný-Pokorný, written under his artistic pseudonym of Peter Graham. The soloist for the evening was the baritone Roman Hoza, while the performance was conducted by Gabriela Tardonová. The concert was broadcast live by Czech Radio Vltava and other stations in the Euroradio network. In this way the music was heard by listeners in Spain, Saarland, Estonia, Sweden, Portugal, Hessen, Denmark, Greece, Iceland, Slovenia and it was broadcast by the BBC.
Yesterday the biggest hall of the Brno Exhibition Centre – Pavilion P – was filled with an audience of a thousand. The premiere of the ballet West Side Story was completely sold out. The performance was given by the National Theatre Brno, the author of the original concept and also the original choreography is Jerome Robbins, the libretto is by Arthur Laurents, the music from Leonard Bernstein and the song lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The Brno performance of this world-famous musical was directed by Mário Radačovský, who also created the choreography for this new production. The sets were designed by Marek Hollý and the costumes by Alexandra Grusková. The lighting design was by Tomáš Morávek while the projection was directed by Jan Fuksa and Martin Svobodník.
The last concert of the 49th Moravian Autumn International Music Festival took place on Saturday 28 October. Immediately before its fiftieth anniversary the festival chose as an overarching theme ®evolution and the inevitability of progress. For a month signs and posters in Brno have called out to passers-by and attracted them to this ambitious spectacle. After a quick look at the programme, it was clear that the pivotal musical works this year will be primarily innovative achievements of the first half of the 20th century seasoned with the musical delicacy that is early music.