A New Music Guide From Brno – The UNESCO Creative City Of Music

A New Music Guide From Brno – The UNESCO Creative City Of Music

To write a guide to music in Brno in the past and present means digging deep into one’s own recollections and those of others as well as into sources with varying degrees of reliability, and as far as possible not believing anything automatically but always asking “Did this really happen just like that?” And in doing so, to be very, very suspicious of one’s own memory. Two basic questions that cropped up in connection with almost every sentence were “What is it about this band or that event that makes them special? Would someone who’s never been to Brno and has no ties with the city find it interesting?”

At times Brno’s obsession with Janáček, whom it promotes as one of the few figures of world stature who lived here for a considerable length of time, really does go too far. But it’s thanks to a biennial festival devoted to his operas that ninety years after his death the city has moved into the musical big league: in April 2019 Brno was presented with a prestigious International Opera Award in the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. Earlier, in 2017, the Moravian Autumn Festival staged a megproduction of Arseny Avraamov’s The Symphony of Sirens, whose recording on the occasion was commissioned by Bavarian Radio, which offers it to listeners on-line. So Brno’s musical activities are far from local in their impact.

Of fundamental importance for Brno is its proximity to important folklore regions, which are an endless source of fresh, creative blood. On the other hand, however, people often leave Brno for larger centres in the past mostly for Prague, but increasingly in the past thirty years for the whole outside world. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the standard musical genre in Brno is alternative; genuine pop has always had a minimal presence here. With fewer than 400,000 inhabitants, Brno isn’t really a very big city, though it’s big enough to be the Czech Republic’s second largest. Basically all the musicians in Brno know what all the other musicians are doing.

Brno is the unofficial metropolis of Moravia. It boasts a massive concentration of universities, theatres, clubs and all sorts of spaces suitable for playing music. There’s perhaps an even greater concentration of people who want to play,  and this is quite logical. Brno has more than twenty basic schools of the arts, a conservatory, the Janáček Academy of the Performing Arts, and a Department of Musicology at Masaryk University. A huge number of people with a musical education are to be found in a fairly small area. And it’s impossible to count the number of amateurs who participate enthusiastically in all genres, from choir singers through musicians in symphony orchestras to rockers and songwriters.

A basic feature of life in Brno is the way in which musicians and musical genres are interconnected through innumerable networks, something that long predates the age of the Internet. When Brno became a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in the field of music in 2017, it was simply a further logical step in its long development. At the moment Brno is in the first stages of preparing a bid to be named a European City of Culture in 2028.

In writing the individual chapters of this guide, a multitude of facts had to be sacrificed on the altar of brevity. The aim was to offer a general and personal view rather than an exhaustive list. For the preparation of this brochure, even the smallest bits of information and advice were always welcome: my thanks go to on-line sources and to individuals both living and dead, from nearby and afar, people known personally to me and strangers: Jura Cancák (trampskymagazin.cz), Zdeněk Černý, the Czech Theatre Encyclopedia, Jan Dalecký, David Dittrich, Martin Dohnal, encyklopedie.brna.cz, Petr Gratias, L. P. Fish, Dušan Holý, folklornet.cz, Kateřina Hnátová, kftp. cz, Vladimír Maňas, Ivo Medek, Jan Němeček, Jiří Plocek, Jan Pohunek, Irena Přibylová, Don Sparling, Milan Tesař, trampnet.sk, and myownmemory.bk. All helped to make the guide what it is.

For any shortcomings in the guide, the responsibility is mine.

About Author

boris-klepal-portret-tisk

Boris Klepal was born on 3 October 1966, a year and a day after the Janáček Thea- tre was opened in Brno. He probably came into this world because his parents loved each other back then.

When he was five, his mother taught him to go to the Janáček Theatre. And his grandmother started teach- ing him to play the piano, which he still considers the right thing to have done. Soon after, he saw Smetana’s The Bartered Bride with his mum. He liked the piece, though what he remembered most was Kecal, who kept singing “it’s all settled” over and over. Thanks to his mother’s habit, he then continued going to the opera regularly and gladly.

Later, his love of music led him to talk about it so much that they asked him to write an article for Literarni noviny. So he started writing, and since there was such a desperate shortage of people who could write about music, he was soon noticed by the editors of the music review Opus Musicum. Soon he also took on the technical editing, which ended up with him writing, producing and reading this distinguished periodical for several years - though of course it was far from being a one-man show. He also launched a blog called The Diary of One Who Disappeared and headed the Brno - City of Music web portal for three years.

At present, he writes for the daily Hospodářské noviny, Aktualně.cz and HIS Voice, collaborates with the Czech Philharmonic and the weekly magazine Respekt, and works as the editor-in-chief of the Magazine of the Academy of Classical Music and Opus musicum. He has to write quite a lot, which he considers divine retribution for all the essays he didn’t hand in at secondary school. He’s a co-founder of the Trochu nižši C4 prize, which is given annually for the best piece of contemporary Czech music and has so far been awarded twice.

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The Janáček Brno 2020 International Festival promptly replaced yesterday's Hungarian performance of the opera Salome by Richard Strauss. Instead of the guest appearance, the National Theatre Brno offered a concert programme under the simple name Orchestra of the Janáček Opera. After a long time, the audience could see the musicians who normally remain hidden inside the orchestra pit. In addition to the orchestra, which was conducted by Robert Kružík, the violinist Josef Špaček and the pianist Miroslav Sekera also appeared. The programme clearly consisted only of the works by Leoš Janáček, and since the originally planned performances can no longer be staged in the ever-tightening quarantine environment, the evening at the Janáček Theatre meant a farewell to the festival as such. The last live concert of the Janáček Brno 2020 festival is today's performance of the Brno Philharmonic in the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Old Brno.  more

Sunday afternoon was marked by another concert of the Janáček Brno 2020 festival. Chamber music performed by the Josef Suk Piano Quartet was given space in the Mozart Hall of Reduta. This ensemble (young both in the year of its founding and its age composition) prepared a truly beautiful and diverse programme for its visit to Brno, and presented it to the audience with adequate commitment.  more

Despite the unpredictability of the coronavirus situation, the Janáček Brno 2020 festival opened yesterday at the Janáček Theatre in Brno. The gala opening of the festival featured a premiere of the opera Destiny by Leoš Janáček directed by Robert Carsen, one of today's praised opera directors.  In fact, Brno audiences had the opportunity to get acquainted with his directing visions of Janáček's operas already in the past; Carsen's concepts for The Makropulos Affair and Katya Kabanova rank among the best that have appeared on the stage of the National Theatre in Brno in recent years. However, the production of Destiny at this year's Janáček's festival is even more exceptional, as this time the director created it directly for the Brno opera house. The costumes were designed by Annemarie Woods, while the stage design was created by Radu Boruzescu. Philip Sheffield (old Živný) and Enrico Casari (young Živný) played the roles of the composer Živný; his fateful love Míla Válková was portrayed by Alžběta Poláčková and her mother by Natascha Petrinsky. Peter Račko performed the role of Dr. Suda, Jan Šťáva was the painter Lhotský and Lukáš Bařák gave his voice to the character of Konečný. The music production is the work of Marko Ivanović, who also conducted the premiere yesterday.Destiny is often described as a problematic opera with a confused story and an imperfect libretto.  more

Let us hope that Sunday's concert to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the great music band of the Brno-based Valášek Children's Ethnographic Ensemble (Dětský národopisný soubor Valášek) will not be the last event that ever-changing government regulations will allow. And even if that, God forbid, was the case, it would be a dignified farewell.  more

For the end of this summer, the National Theatre Brno prepared a children's opera, written by the composer Evžen Zámečník under the title Ferdy the Ant  (original Czech title: Ferda Mravenec), based on the story by Ondřej Sekora. The stories of an optimistic ant who "can do anything and knows everything" and doesn’t turn his nose up at “work of all kinds", however, are actually not appearing at the Janáček Theatre for first time. Zámečník's work in eight scenes won the hearts of the Brno audiences between the years 1977 and 1986 with astounding success; it helped bring a number of children to opera – the most refined form of musical theatre. Today, these already adult musicians, actors, directors, lighting technicians and many others have decided to pay tribute to the composer, who also carried out a lot of "work of all kinds" for Brno's musical life.  more

The municipal council of Velká nad Veličkou decided already in mid-April that this year's Horňácké Festivities (original name: Horňácké slavnosti) would not take place on the traditional dates around the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and their scope, previously meant to be of three to five days, would also be modified. Obviously, it was impossible to foresee the development of lockdown measures towards the third week of July, but musicians from the Horňácko district tried to come up with at least a partial alternative solution in order to maintain continuity. Eventually, two concerts were officially held on two consecutive Saturdays:  On 18 July,  live broadcast of a public radio recording of Czech Radio Brno under the title Hrajte že ně, hrajte aneb Horňácké trochu jinak (Play for Me, or Horňácké Festivities in a Slightly Different Fashion) took place at the Culture House in Velká nad Veličkou. A week later, at a sports complex in Javorník, a traditional competition for "the biggest expert on Horňácko peasant songs" was held under the auspices of the Horňácko Dulcimer Band of Libor Sup. Needless to say, both events have found their spectators and listeners.  more

The Brno-based rock band Kulturní úderka (which translates loosely as "Culture Brigade"), led by singer and guitarist Štěpán Dokoupil, did not keep its fans waiting for too long this time. While there was a fifteen-year break between their first and second albums, the new album Black Metall was released less than two years after the previous album Sarajevská Katarzija (Sarajevo Catharsis). The name of the new album must be handled with care. Úderka has never had anything to do with black metal as a music genre. And once again, we are treated not to metal, but to relatively raw rock, which in some moments is pleasantly softened by the keyboard of Omer Blentič, or the trumpet of their guest artist Jan Kozelek.  more

Cultural life has endeavoured to move into a sterile and "life-safe" social networking environment in an unequal struggle against the viral phantasm and government lockdown regulations. In the darkest months, music institutions competed with one another in staging recordings of memorable concerts, and major opera houses broadcast to the world those of their performances that gained the most success from spectators.  more

Shortly before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, the Brno-based group Plum Dumplings released a new album. As opposed to their official debut L'épitaphe des papillons (The Epitome of Butterflies, 2014), sung in French, the band went for Czech lyrics this time. We are talking to the band's vocalist, who presents herself as Adéla Polka.  more

Oldřich Veselý, a Brno-based singer, composer and keyboard player, died in January 2018. In February 2019, the 10th Brno Beatfest, dedicated to his memory, took place in the Semilasso music hall. And a year later, a CD recording of this concert was released under the title Malý princ [The Little Prince], complemented by several bonus items.  more

On the twenty-fourth of May of this year, five days before her ninety-second birthday, Mrs. Anna Kománková passed away – and with her departed her particularly extensive songbook of ballads (not only) from the Javornicko and Horňácko districts, which she had always carried in her head. She was able to perform all the songs conserved in her memory in a distinctive and inimitable style. All her life she safeguarded the rare legacy of her ancestral heritage – all the more interestingly because she did not write down the hundreds of often complicated tunes and many dozens of verses and variants of ballads, but she knew them all by heart. Even after she reached the age of ninety, when she no longer enjoyed good health and did not perform in public, she remained in contact with the Javornický ženský sbor [Javorník Women's Choir], which she had revived and eventually led for many years. She never pushed herself forward anywhere, while at the same time she learned a lot from the skills of her ancestors: apart from singing (dozens of songs from the hymn-book  and hundreds of folklore songs) she was an excellent embroiderer: She sewed and embroidered with her own hands every part of the folk costume she wore.  more

The Brno Contemporary Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Šnajdr, concluded its ninth season with a concert called Con certo: With Certainty or with the Devil?, held in the hall of the Convent of the Merciful Brethren. The programme featured works by authors already established in the world of contemporary classical music: Alexej Fried, Olga Neuwirth and György Ligeti, whose violin concerto was performed by the violin virtuoso Milan Paľa.  more

When pronouncing the name Jiří ‘moravský’ Brabec (1955-2018) (the name is partly a pun referring to a typical Moravian dish called "moravský vrabec", which is pork roast with braised cabbage and  dumplings – translator's note), anyone, who until recently had any business concerning the Czech-Moravian folk and country scene, is reminded of the unmistakeable figure of a mighty man wearing a beard, with a strong voice and an inexhaustible source of information, and an enviable general knowledge of not only the above-mentioned music genre. We are speaking here about a complicated but deservedly respected personality who was able to surprise us with his knowledge in a number of disciplines, but also with his self-deprecating humour and unexpected physical dexterity. Unfortunately, for the last time he surprised people around him with his sudden departure, only a few days before his sixty-third birthday in June 2018, almost unnoticed by the public media, for which he had worked for so many years.  more

Electronic music, big beat and clubbing go together - but that’s only a small part of the truth. In fact electronic music was here long before clubbing, and thanks to enlightened teachers at JAMU it was doing very well indeed in Brno as early as the 1960s. That is, long before synthesizers and sequencers appeared on rock podiums, long before any old band had a computer, long before the first dance parties in glittering halls and dark cellars. Today electronic music is one of music’s most omnipresent genres: neither dance parties nor contemporary operas can do without it. Electronic big beat music has occupied reggae and swing, remixing is a daily affair, Brno artists have learned to sell instruments they built themselves to the whole world and to amplify an old knitting machine. As early as 1907 the composer Ferruccio Busoni dreamt of the future potential of electronic music, but not even his imagination and genius could have anticipated what Thaddeus Cahill’s first weird experiment with an immense electrical organ would lead to one day.  more

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Editorial

The Janáček Theatre, which is part of the National Theatre Brno and hosts the Brno opera and ballet ensembles, is celebrating 55 years of its existence. The operation of this theatre began on 2 October 1965 with a performance of The Cunning Little Vixen by Leoš Janáček.  more

The church concert of the Ensemble Opera Diversa was originally supposed to present Ondřej Kyas' oratorio Stabat Mater; due to the current situation, however, the production of this work will be replaced by a purely instrumental performance of other compositions. The new programme will feature MacMillan's Seraph, a concerto for trumpet and strings with Vít Otáhal as the soloist, and Arvo Pärt's Festina lente with Dominika Kvardová playing the harp. The concert will be complemented by instrumental works by Ondřej Kyas and Ľuboš Bernáth with the Czech premiere of a rarely performed piece - Summa by Arvo Pärt. The concert will be conducted by Gabriela Tardonová.  more

The situation in the Czech club scene has been alarming for a long time now. Music clubs, which were the first to close in the first wave of the coronavirus crisis, are now facing serious existential problems. Without state aid to the cultural sector, there is a threat of absolute bankruptcy in the coming weeks.  more

The Moravian Philharmonic Olomouc is now entering its 75th concert season, which will begin with music by the Czech composers Antonín Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, Iša Krejčí and Marek Keprt. The last of them wrote a composition directly for the Moravian Philharmonic. The orchestra will play it tonight under the baton of the chief conductor Jakub Klecker, with the pianist Ivo Kahánek appearing as a soloist. The concert will be broadcast live by Czech Radio on its Vltava station.  more

The Brno Philharmonic is preparing one global and one Czech premiere for this week. However, there will be one change to the programme: as opposed to the original one, Mozart's Symphony No. 32 in G major will be played instead of the previously announced composition Angels of Sorrow by Giya Kancheli. Furthermore, works of Josef Haydn and Kurt Schwertsik will be featured; the latter will attend this premiere in person.  more

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Metropolitan Opera will not start the season until January of the following year. Traditional cinematographic broadcasts will now make use of the Met's archive. In the autumn, three classic works of Italian opera and one bonus screening are planned.  more

The musical evenings entitled Zdenek Merta u klavíru v Městském divadle Brno ('Zdenek Merta Playing the Piano at the Brno City Theatre') are continuing. The concert to be held in October promises Ondřej Pivec as a guest – a pianist, composer and winner of a American Grammy Award for 2017.  more

With the upcoming Janáček Brno 2020 festival, dummies of Leoš Janáček with his dog Čipera started to appear in the streets of Brno. A QR code is placed on each of the dummies, which, after scanning, will play a sample of his works.  more

Metronome Blues are sending their album Garden Of Eden out into the world. They will release it in their domestic Kabinet Múz (Cabinet of Muses), where they will also present their new line-up. Garden Of Eden is the fourth serial album of the band Metronome Blues. It was released digitally in the spring of 2020 during "lockdown" in New Zealand. Its vinyl version will be released in October by the Brno label Kabinet Records.  more

Hausopera will present two short operas connected with important functionalist monuments in Brno. The performances will take place in the 'Zemanova kavárna a cukrárna' ('Zeman's Café and Confectionery Shop') and in the 'Knihkupectví Michala Ženíška' ('Michal Ženíšek's Bookshop'). The venues, well-known to everyone, will appear in a new light and context during the opera shows. Jiří Nekvasil undertook the directing of both pieces.  more