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



No comment added yet..

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

After Easter, an official statement that ruined every folklore lover's day appeared on social networks and in the media. The folklore festival in Strážnice will not take place this year. The reasons are well known to everyone. Yesterday, another wave of coronavirus lockdown easement began, and this was not the only reason why we talked to Martin Šimša, director of the National Institute of Folk Culture (NÚLK) in Strážnice. Well, is there really a reason for mourning? What can we look forward to in the immediate future? And when is the best time to visit the castle park and the open-air museum in Strážnice? These questions, and not only these, will be answered in the following interview.  more

Although cultural life has suffered significantly in the last two months, people's desire for an artistic experience has not faded. On the contrary – art and its role in our lives are perhaps needed even more than before. Hence, although concert halls are empty and listeners are forced to visit them only through recordings of their favourite concerts, a number of well-made music media  created (not only) in the beginning of the year helps to bridge over this unfortunate period.  more

”It’s a long journey to the West, / Pointless, fruitless is the longing,” began the first cowboy song recording issued by R. A. Dvorský’s publishing house in 1939. The theme and tone reflect the “tramping” movement, with its idealized vision of “America” and its unspoiled “nature”, which led Czechs to take to the woods, where they hiked, met round campfires and sang songs modelled on American folk songs and country music. So widespread was the tramping phenomenon that it made its way into popular music, where it long remained. Over time, the romance of the cowboy and the idea of a free life on the Great Plains found their way not only into songs sung by such late twenti- eth-century stars as Karel Gott, Helena Vondráčková and Waldemar Matuška but into social life itself: very few countries in Europe have such liberal laws when it comes to sleeping overnight, or even setting up camp, in the woods. In the past young people in Brno could choose whether to be “city slickers” hooked on discotheques or “wander- ers”, who would head for the main train station every Friday afternoon or Saturday and from there set out on the first train for wherever in the countryside it was heading to.  more

Bands that have been present on the scene for several decades have two options: Either they make a living from their own substance, and therefore from hits of the past. Or they are still trying to come up with something new, sometimes with the wishes of conservative fans in spite of it. The "Brno-based" group Poutníci (meaning Pilgrims in Czech), who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, are somewhere halfway in between. They still play Panenka [The Doll], which the audience demands, but fortunately they didn't get stuck and – maybe after a long time, but still – they come up with a new serial album, which should not pass unbeknown to the fans of Czech country and bluegrass.  more

The double album Hrubá Hudba, which was jointly created by producer Jiří Hradil (Lesní zvěř, Tata Bojs, Kafka Band and others) and the Horňácká muzika band of Petr Mička, is an extraordinary musical achievement that puts together genuine Horňácko singing (the CD Hlasy starého světa [Voices of the Old World]) and folklore shifted to modern musical expression (the CD Hrubá hudba [Rough Music]). In an extensive two-part interview, we talked to the two fathers of the project, Jiří Hradil and Petr Mička, about their long-term cooperation, their path to Hrubá Hudba and finally about the double album itself and the possible continuation of the project.  more

The Czech Radio Brno folklore section decided that it did not want to idle during the isolation that affected almost the entire world. In addition to "home" broadcasting taking place directly at editors' homes, it also announced a challenge. Listeners can now submit their music recordings to the radio editors; these recordings will eventually be broadcast on air.  more


Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená and her husband, conductor Sir Simon Rattle, will perform together in Brno for the first time as part of the Brno Music Marathon festival. A song recital of Kožená, arranged exclusively for this evening from compositions by Czech authors, will be accompanied by Simon Rattle on piano. The concert takes place in Villa Tugendhat, but it will also be available for viewing in the courtyard of the Governor's Palace (Místodržitelský palác), in the "Scalní letňák" cinema and in other selected cinemas.   more

Václav Věžník ranks among important personalities of Czech opera directing of the second half of the 20th century. During his artistic career of more than fifty years, he directed over 200 productions and almost half of them were created in Brno. Věžník acted as a director also on foreign stages. He celebrates 90 years today.  more

Májový Petrov ("May Petrov") is a charity concert held in support of the Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute, which also wants to pay tribute to all health care professionals for their commitment during the Covid-19 pandemic. The concert was supposed to take place already in May this year, but due to lockdown security measures it will not be staged until September. Featured performers will be Andrea Tögel Kalivodová, a soloist at the Opera of the National Theatre in Prague, accompanied by the Virtuosi Brunenses musical ensemble from Brno and the Kantiléna children's choir.  more

Metro Music Bar will open its Metro Open Air stage in the middle of August. Hence, in response to government regulations, the club concerts will be moved outdoors. The former post office building, which faces the club directly across the street, features a large inner courtyard. This particular venue is where all the concerts will be taking place for two weeks, starting from mid-August. The first two days of the new outdoor programme will be dedicated to the Brno Music Marathon festival.  more

The last premiere of the ballet season will be a performance entitled Radio and Juliet written by Edward Clug, a renowned European choreographer. The ballet with the subtitle "What would happen if Julie decided not to die" is accompanied by music of the UK band Radiohead.  more

The Bartered Bride by Bedřich Smetana will have its 100th rerun as part of the National Theatre Brno's Summer Menu. Jitka Zerhauová, Jana Šrejma Kačírková, Jakub Tolaš as a guest and others will be starring in this Brno production directed by Ondřej Havelka.  more

The Ibérica Festival of Ibero-American Cultures is entering its 17th season on new dates. Due to the current pandemic situation, it will not take place until August. In addition to Brno and Prague, the festival will also visit the castles in Lysice and Čechy pod Kosířem. The talented flamenco dancer Mónica Iglesias will be featured this year. The Brno part of the festival will also host the guitar player Pavel Steidl.   more

The management of the Brno Philharmonic has announced a selection procedure for the position of Executive Editor, who will be supposed to start work from 1 November 2020.  more

The festival for the Jewish quarter of Boskovice will take place in a more intimate version with a limited number of visitors this year. The organisers invite you to a three-day festival to take place this August. The programme promises representation of the Czech-German jazz scene, blues, theatre performances, site-specific projects, readings and lectures.  more

Despite coronavirus measures, the 16th Znojmo Music Festival will take place unchanged and in full. During July, more than 25 music events will take place in Znojmo and its surroundings. The central theme is the blending of theatre and music. The subheading is "Music in theatre, theatre in music".   more