Conferencing from the Comfort of Home: Meeting in an Online Environment

10 July 2020, 10:00
Conferencing from the Comfort of Home: Meeting in an Online Environment

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.

However, music is not just a performing art – various workshops, seminars, training camps, summer schools and conferences are also taking place. And also in this space, some bold people were found who decided to move the programme to a virtual environment. One of these events was the third annual Conference on Music Communication and Performance, to be held, under normal circumstances, in the Italian city of Montecassiano under the patronage of the Associazione Europea di Musica e Comunicazione (European Association for Music and Communication – hereinafter referred to as  AEMC), the president of which is also the conference organiser Alberto Nones. A slightly threadbare journalistic question became the main topic of the programme, which took place on the weekend of 27 and 28 June: Is Classical Music Dead? It was provoked by the e-book Challenging Performance by the musicologist Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, who commented critically several times on the current state of the performing arts.

The pianist, music teacher and member of the Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble Natalie Tsaldarakis  was the first to have her say about Daniel Leech-Wilkinson's criticism in her contribution The Work, the Mirror, Relevance and Meaning: Is Classical Music Dead? A Critical Response in Beethoven's 250th Anniversary. Tsaldarakis understands Leech-Wilkinson's opinion as a continuation of his critical view of so-called historically informed performance, but she herself tried to look at the problem in a peaceable manner, and moreover in terms of structure, autonomy, strength of emotions, conformity, and general or personal meanings and interpretations of a musical work. In her contribution, she also followed on from the theoretical work of the composer and musicologist Lawrence Kramer, whose lecture on the topic was the centrepiece of the programme of the second day of the conference and which, unlike the other fifteen-minute contributions, had reserved for it an entire hour. However, most of the lecturers stuck to the key topic only in a symbolic fashion and, in some cases, essentially not at all. However, this lack of thematic boundaries did not seem to bother anyone excessively.

After all, already the second lecture in a row was the theme of Waxing and Waning: Musical Depictions of Cyclicity and Fluidity in Moonlight by the musicologist Hamish Robb. The subject of his analysis was the motif work in the film Moonlight (2016) by Barry Jenkins. The thematic diversity was also demonstrated by a contribution delivered by the composer and oboist Francisco Castillo entitled Our Local Music and the Classical Music of Others: Misconceptions and Possibilities in Colombian Music Education, dealing with the polemic between European artificial music and Colombian folk culture. The most remarkable research presented was, in my opinion, the work of the musicologist Cecilia Taher Performances Expression and Empathy in Children, examining the degree of empathy and identification with an artistic experience in children aged eight to nine and ten to twelve. These two groups were presented not only with the music itself, but also the music with a video of the performer, with the reactions of the two age groups to these incentives being different to a significant extent. While the children aged eight to nine didn't really care if they just listened to the music or could also watch the performer during the performance, the older children strongly preferred the version with video. Equally interesting was the contribution by the composer, lawyer and educator Jeffrey Izzo, who in his presentation entitled Space, Time and Memory: Examining the Disconnect Between Looking at Contemporary Art and Listening to Contemporary Music searched for identical and different features in the visual and musical arts. He asked himself the question of why people accepted modern fine art much more easily than contemporary music, to which they often struggle in vain to find their way.

A significant part of the conference also consisted of streamed concerts featuring Animo DuoIvory Duo Piano EnsembleDuo Francés-BernalEurasia String Quartet, the Czech Trio Aperto (thanks to which I had gotten to know about the conference) and Deborah Stokol. For example, the Animo Duo performed a programme entitled Animo Declassified consisting of works by Daniel Dorff, Maurice Ravel, Adam Caird, Anna Boyd and the premiere of a commissioned work The Journey of Alan Kurdi by Lukas Piel. The Eurasia String Quartet could also boast of a premiere – they performed the String Quartet No. 8 “Reflections and Memories” by Lawrence Kramer. The Aperto trio presented four compositions for a wind trio and an electroacoustic component – Wooden Music by Emil Viklický, Ritorni  by Pavel Kopecký, and a composition entitled Krapp Trio by Vojtěch Dlask and Unknown Terrains by Lucie Vítková; as part of their presentation, the trio introduced listeners to the specifics of the interpretation of music with an electroacoustic component using these examples.

Last year, the Trio Aperto took part in the AEMC Montecassiano chamber music competition, where it won third place and, in February this year the trio also appeared in Porto Recanati in Italy, at the invitation of Alberto Nones. Barbora Šteflová, the oboist of the trio, commented on the selection of pieces as follows: “The choice of presenting electroacoustic compositions for a wind trio was obvious to us. We consider the compositions with the EA component to be a very interesting phenomenon, which allows us to expand the timbre possibilities of the instruments and the sound possibilities of a chamber ensemble.

A brochure with the conference papers should be published later this year. The conference was concluded by an English language teacher and singer-songwriter with her songs based on the poetry of Homer's Odyssey.

Although at first glance it might seem that similar events are at home in the online environment, the effort to preserve the classical conference format as faithfully as possible brings with it a number of pitfalls. First of all you need to choose a suitable platform – AEMC chose the Microsoft Teams service, which offers not only the conference calls themselves, but also work with files or desktop sharing. (Another option would be the Zoom service, which I coincidentally had the opportunity to get to learn about at another conference taking place at the same time.)

Presentations are relatively friendly in Microsoft Teams, allowing participating spectators to scroll through the individual slides at their own pace, and return, if necessary, to some pieces of information already discussed before. However, it should be noted that not everyone can handle similar software equally efficiently and it is difficult to expect people who have dedicated their lives to historical research, performing arts or analysis of musical works to be equally agile in a relatively complex application in a short time as those who move around such an environment every day. As a mere observer, I could just heave a sigh of relief that I don't have to deal with sharing presentation controls or sharing audio tracks in the files played back. In fact, it frequently happened that we heard the sound, which was supposed to be a shared track, indirectly through often poor-quality microphones of laptops. And such music – even if it was the most beautiful – will unfortunately never satisfy itself or the performers. Fortunately, the musical performances were mainly sorted by providing a link to a YouTube video, so everyone could listen to the recordings without the above-mentioned problems, which occurred mainly during demonstrations played in the lectures themselves. Hence, those who wanted to enjoy the sound recordings in the highest possible quality did not have to be disappointed.

The biggest (and probably also the most unfortunate) concession that the online form of the conference required was the discussion. In the environment of lecture halls, one can simply react much more flexibly and naturally, and it does not happen rarely that several different parties participate in the conversation. Here, such a situation would result in an incomprehensible overlaying of voices and "feedback sound" of microphones.

Despite some of these shortcomings, the conference can be described as more than successful, mainly thanks to the organiser Alberto Nones, who took care not only of managing the conference as such, but often also dedicated himself to the technical side. This resulted in a thematically varied and musically rich event, the third year of which, even in this unusual and last-minute-chosen online environment, proved one thing in particular: If both performers and musicologists join hands, the results can be truly remarkable!

Alberto Nones/ photo from archive of the artist

Comments

Reply

No comment added yet..

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.  more

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.  more

“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.  more

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.  more

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.  more

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.  more

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.  more

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?  more

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.  more

The poetic title Květy nevadnoucí (Flowers Never Fading) hides the most recent publishing achievement of Jiří Plocek. This compilation CD celebrates a quarter of a century since the establishment of the Moravian folklore series in his GNOSIS BRNO publishing house, which released fourteen albums created between 1995 and 2005. And they are not just ordinary albums. Jiří Plocek's enthusiasm and feeling for song is indisputable, but there is much more coming from the recordings – for example, it is the enthusiasm of the singers themselves, which Jiří Plocek fuelled during the recording sessions, while letting them play and sing according to their own will and mood. I must also emphasise the choice of performers themselves. The names have really become iconic by now – František Okénka, Zdeněk Kašpar, Karel Rajmic, Vlasta Grycová, Jiřina Miklošková and many others. Unfortunately, some of them have already departed from this world. Others, which we hear on the album as gifted children, are already rising to become another generations of singers – which is the case of Tomáš Beníček. I'm intentionally mentioning the singers, but the album itself also has a high musical quality. However, all the songs are performed by exceptional performers. This also gives them uniqueness in the spirit of a living folk tradition.  more

Two years after the monothematic album Bleděmodré město (Pale Blue City), for which the Brno-based group Nevermore & Kosmonaut received a nomination for the genre-specific Anděl Award, the band released a new album with a mysterious name XCR-9. The subheading Písně do rakety (Songs for a Space Shuttle) reveal more. While on the last album we walked through the streets of the city of Brno together with Michal Šimíček and his band, this time the singer-songwriter, who has been using the nickname Kosmonaut for years, is taking us on a fictitious journey into space.  more

The album Folk Swings of the Brno-based B-Side Band is being vividly discussed on social networks. Can a big band take the liberty of to playing the "sacred" songs of Czech folk? And what if these compositions are sung along with the band directly by their authors such as Jaromír Nohavica, Vlasta Redl or Slávek Janoušek? However, while the above might have been able to have their say concerning the arrangements, Karel Kryl, Zuzana Navarová or Wabi Ryvola could no longer make any comments regarding the makeovers of their songs… We talked to Petr Kovařík and Pavel Zlámal, members of the orchestra, about how the album was created, why Ryvola's song 'Tereza' sounds like a Cuban dance, and why 'Podvod' ('Scam') by Honza Nedvěd is played only as an instrumental piece. The two guys have actually created new arrangements for widely famed as well as less well-known folk songs, which now appear on this album.  more

Tiché lodi ('Silent Ships') is not a band, but a project of the guitarist and singer René Müller, who lives in Brno. While he recorded his previous album Časy vody ('Times of Water' – 2015) working together with Roman Cipísek Cerman, his former colleague from the band Hynkovy zámky ('Hynek's Locks'), Müller is now appearing all by himself on the new album – as writer of the music and lyrics, guitarist and singer, or – in his case more precisely – narrator.  more

Until recently, this Brno singer with the shortest given and family names was the leader of the blues band The Weathermakers. He also led the ephemeral "tramping" group The Honzíci. However, the main thing that he attracts attention with – in addition to the guitars and other instruments that he produces under the brand Red Bird – is his original solo production. After the mature debut Město [The City] (2018), he has now made himself heard with a new album entitled Potom [After]. In the lyrics he goes down to the core again, being able to transform his personal problems into timeless stories and extraordinary poetic expressions. And even though he abandoned the blues form in most of his songs, the recording, in which Martin Kyšperský once again participated as a producer, has a blues nature by its very essence.  more

Those who were captivated by the introductory distinctive song with surrealistic lyrics  Z ježatých hor [From the Spiky Mountains] on the previous album of the Brno group Budoár Staré dámy [Boudoir of an Old Lady] (Sůl [Salt], 2017), can rejoice. The collaboration with the contemporary poet Lubor Kasal that began only three years ago has now resulted in an entire album of his texts set to music. However, the songs on the new album Kostřičky [Little Skeletons] have one more characteristic in common: the production and arrangement contribution by the multi-instrumentalist Tomáš Vtípil.  more

Editorial

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”.  more

The Brno Cultural Newsletter outlines what’s on and the latest developments and opportunities in culture.   more

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.  more

Brno's Shot-C’s first CD release is entitled “Multipotential” (“Multipotenciál”). Six young musicians present original compositions and new arrangements of cover songs on the album.   more

The Indigo Quartet string ensemble will celebrate its milestone anniversary with a concert at the House of Arts. The event is part of the programme of the multi-genre festival Brno Music Marathon multi-genre festival. Guests of the evening will be the actress and chanson singer Andrea Buršová, accordionist Klára Veselá and composer and pianist Zdeněk Král.  more

The Moravian Library (ML) has signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with the French National Library (Bibliothèque nationale de France, BnF). Signed by ML’s Director Tomáš Kubíček and his counterpart, President of BnF Laurence Engel, the memorandum has stipulated joint activity to be performed by the two institutions in the field of science & research as well as digitisation and mutual internships. Together, ML and BnF launch an online exhibition entitled Antonín Rejcha znovunalezený (Antonín Rejcha Lost and Found).  more

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 Foundmore

The ceremony announcing the results of the 29th annual Theatre Critics’ Awards will take place online this year. Janáček Opera received exactly three nominations.  more

Today’s online lecture focuses on the Neo-Baroque elements in the creative production of Bohuslav Martinů. The event is part of the programme accompanying the presentation entitled The Eyes of Brno and taking place at the Moravian Library.  more

The Czech Ensemble Baroque is preparing for another live concert. This time, the Power of Music – the oratorio by Händel, one in which the author included all his theatre experience – can be watched from the comfort of your own home. Performed in English – with Czech subtitles available, the show will feature Markéta Böhmová, Jaroslav Březina and Jiří Miloslav Procházka as the key soloists.  more