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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
”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.
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.
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.
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.
“Every theatre is a madhouse, but opera is the ward for the incurable,” claimed Franz von Dingelstedt, the first director of the Court Opera House in Vienna. And he was right, for once someone’s fallen in love with opera, that’s it. Opera’s a stepchild of the Renaissance, with a Baroque wet nurse: it was on the cusp between these two great eras that the idea of purely sung theatre saw the light of day. Step by step, composers taught the art of singing to classical gods and brave women, Christian heroes and pagan enchantresses, a Seville barber, a Babylonian king and the Czech Mařenka and Jeník. But it was only here in Brno, thanks to Leoš Janáček, that truly psychological musical drama was born, drama that sees into a person’s heart. Today the Brno opera company has its home in a theatre named after Janáček, mounts a major festival devoted to the city’s most famous composer every two years, and has set its sights very high. “The more opera is dead, the more it flourishes,” pronounced the philosopher Slavoj Žižek when speaking of this fanatically loved but just as fanatically rejected genre. By this measure, opera in Brno these days must have been dead at least a dozen times.
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?”
Trumpet player Jiří Kotača is the leader of a young, but very interesting and healthily ambitious big band named Cotatcha Orchestra. While this Brno-based orchestra is still waiting for its first album, Kotača recently released a CD with his smaller ensemble – the international Alf Carlsson/Jiří Kotača Quartet. The album is entitled Journeys.
The two-day Ghettofest festival is entering its ninth season. Its fundamental idea is to present the "Brno Bronx" as an open and friendly place for at least two days. The motto of this season is An Affair of the Heart, thematically following on from the Masopust (Carnival) festivity, which took place in February. Due to sanitary precautions, the programme will be divided between several smaller separate stages this time. The artists featured will be David Kraus & Gipsy Brothers, Tafrob, Maniak or Prago Union. The festival will also feature a programme for children.
The world celebration of music, known as Fête de la Musique, will be held on this particular day of 21 June. The current situation does not allow for mass celebrations in the form of concerts, happenings and performances in the streets of UNESCO Music Cities. That is why this year's celebrations of music will take place in the form of an online concert. Today's virtual music festival, which starts at 12:00, is jointly held by more than 20 cities from all around the world. You can watch the concert on the Facebook page UNESCO Cities of Music and on YouTube.
After a long pause, jazz music also comes to the fore. The Jazz Courtyard will take place again this year, promising a series of concerts jointly initiated by the jazz departments of Prague’s HAMU and Brno’s JAMU musical academies. The students' ensembles of both schools, their own long-term projects of selected students and, in the case of Brno, also teachers will present themselves in the Czech and Moravian metropolises.
The multi-genre Brno Music Marathon festival is about to enter its fourth season. In August, Brno will have four days full of music that will sound in the city squares, in the festival rooms of Kateřina Šedá, and traditionally in the Alfa pasáž shopping mall. The genre representation in the programme ranges from groove, dance and Romani music through opera, folklore, world music, classics and musicals. Performers will include Pavel Fischer & Jakub Jedlinský, VUS Ondráš with a project by Jiří Slavík, the Indigo Quartet, Monika Načeva, the Epoque Quartet and many others.
Besední dům is coming back to life, with concerts returning there. A project called End of Streaming. We're playing live again! will offer a grand total of eight concerts in four days, starting next Tuesday. Every day, from Tuesday to Friday, there will be two concerts with the same programme: one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. All with a chamber line-up, without wind instruments and for a maximum of 130 listeners.
PonavaFest is entering its fifth season. This year, however, it will take place as a series of smaller concerts on one stage only. Concerts are scheduled to take place from May to August; the organisers will also be streaming some of them online. The first part of the festival, with the subtitle Eine kleine Nachtmusik, will be taking place already this weekend. Tomáš Vtípil, Irena and Vojtěch Havel and others will be featured.