On the first Sunday in Advent in Veselí nad Moravou there will be a concert to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Brno Radio Orchestra of Folk Instruments (abbreviated to BROLN in Czech). For many this ensemble is an inseparable twin of Czech Radio Brno. The orchestra was set up in 1952 for the needs of the radio for two reasons: to create an archive of quality musical recordings and to give live concerts around the world. The recordings of BROLN on old LP discs were for many folk music fans one of their first encounters with this art form. BROLN produced artistically valuable arrangements of folk songs and began a trend that has continued to this day.
The celebratory evening was fronted by Břetislav Rychlík, who worked with his usual improvised presenting style and gave the programme some perspective. Despite this he did nothing to detract from the close relations that have been cultivated among the ensemble and its soloists. Aside from introducing individual performances he gave the listeners a chance to learn of the history of the ensemble and presented its most significant figures.
Outstanding solo singers were the main pillars of the whole show. This was no accident. It was an echo of the original direction of BROLN, which has meandered through its entire history. From the beginning the orchestra’s founder Jaroslav Jurášek relied on exceptional regional singers and this undoubtedly paid off for him. Among the first soloists were Božena Šebetovská and Jožka Severin from Podluží, the brothers Dušan and Luboš Holý from Horňácko and Jarmila Šuláková from Moravian Wallachia. Aside from the Horňácko legend, Professor Dušan Holý, who was unfortunately unable to attend, the others are all now singing in musicians’ heaven. The holding of this concert in Veselí could thus be seen as a minor reminiscence of this regional cooperation.
The sixty-five-year history of BROLN is however made up not just of the figures of the singers, but also those of the musicians and conductors. In the introduction to the concert the beginnings of the orchestra were recalled, when it was headed by its conductors. These were Alois Fiala and Emanuel Kuks, and as a guest Jaromír Dadák.
Several times they brought in former leaders and artistic directors who played a crucial role for the orchestra’s direction and the quality of the playing. I should mention at least three of them. The art of the first two of these players went significantly beyond the borders of the folk movement to the world of classical music. Bohdan Warchal, Slovak violinist, conductor and later founder of the Slovak Chamber Orchestra was a significant interpreter in particular of Baroque music. Similarly Bohumil Smejkal, who after his time in BROLN became for twenty years first violin in the world-renowned Janáček Quartet. The third unforgettable leader was Jindřich Hovorka who, despite being born in Český Budějovice, was an excellent interpreter of Moravian and Slovak folk music. His enthusiasm helped to maintain and preserve BROLN even after 1993, when the orchestra was closed down. By then very ill, he survived to see its renewal under the wings of Czech Radio in 2006, however dying shortly after that.
Rychlík recalled yet another man who should not be forgotten for his bond not only with BROLN, but also in general with the broadcasting of Czech Radio Brno in general. This was the recently departed Jaromír Nečas. A man who it would be hard to sum up in just a few words. Editor, folklorist, composer, musician, member of the Slovácko Association …. He discovered for the radio many interesting personalities (for example Hana and Petr Ulrych) and organised a vast number of folk recordings (among others from the Strážnice Festival, the beginnings of which he was involved in). He was an inspirational figure who made no secret of the fact that his career in Czech Radio began on exactly the same day as the career of BROLN.
The opening piece in the concert was the Myjavský verbuňk in one of the oldest arrangements by the orchestra’s founder Jaroslav Jurášek. This piece has been seen for a number of years as the orchestra’s unofficial theme song. Later in the programme there were several arrangements of Balkan folk songs, which used to be a great favourite amongst BROLN’s material. Their technical difficulty as well as their effectiveness over time led to their being part of the permanent repertoire. Most of them featured the long-term member of the ensemble, the clarinet and tárogató player, Petr Kavalír (earlier Vysloužil).
There were also performances from three present-day soloists. Kateřina Markytánová and Lidka Malhocká sang songs from their home regions - that is Kyjov and Hanácké Slovácko. Both have beautiful voices and the vocal styles specific to their regions. Another singer was Magdalena Můčková, who although dressed in the traditional costume from Hroznová Lhota, where she lives, performed a wedding song from Hriňov in a typically sensitive arrangement by the cimbalom-player Jan Rokyta, who is no longer with us. His version of Kariček zo Sače was sung by the well-preserved East-Slovakian legend Mária Mačošková.
After the already mentioned introductory Verbuňk the music continued on a Myjavan note and with the singing of the sometime artistic director of BROLN, František Černý. Among the male interpreters we must also mention the leader Aleš Smutný, who offered his own version of the song Jede forman dolinú. After the intermission the Wallachian singer Pavel Ptáček took over with his winning temperament. His energetic style certainly made many happy. The current cimbalom player of the orchestra Jan Telecký performed the solo part in the Variations on an East-Slovakian Kariček. The current leader and artistic director Petr Varmuža also performed several times.
For me the high points of the evening were several performances. Vítězslav Pálenský led BROLN in the song Zazpívaj slavíčku and in an arrangement by Jindřich Hovorka. It was a beautiful example of the playing skills of the individual leaders who performed. The male voice choir from Velká nad Veličkou made the hall resound to their strong voices in the songs Uderiła skała and the verbuňk Ked sem kosił. As a reminder of the children’s singing competition Zpěváček, which for many years the orchestra provided the accompaniment for, the now adult piper and trained singer Michal Marhold performed. I see him as a modern successor to the earlier great vocalists of BROLN, especially for his professional approach which however does not take anything away from its folksiness. The Horňácko master Martin Hrbáč also sang and played in the concert a series of songs called Pěkné zkázáníčko. The audience was touched by the sensitive expression of the Strání native Vlasta Grycová. The song Dybych byla, tak jak nejsu bohatá is rightly a frequent and favourite part of her repertoire. Almost at the close the legendary singer from Slovak Hrochoť, the eighty-nine-year-old Milan Križo, made his way to the stage. Given the difficulty with which he made his way onto the stage, people might have thought that his voice would be as weak as his legs. However as soon as the first note was heard it was clear that this was not the case. Accompanied by Pavel Císarík he gave a truly exceptional performance which was rewarded by the audience with a long round of applause.
Three hours with BROLN went past in a flash. The programme had been put together well and it was clear the ensemble still has much to offer. That is also why, in place of a final evaluation I would rather give a greeting. I wish the whole orchestra the best of luck in the coming years and mainly that they will not lose their love for the tremendous riches of folk song. For those who could not make it to Veselí, there will an hour-long selection from the concert broadcast on Czech Radio Brno on December 26. The recording will also be available in the audio archive.