Julia Ulehla is an American singer, grand-daughter of Vladimír Úlehla, the Moravian musicologist and collector of folk songs and author of the legendary book Živá píseň (Living Song). Together with her husband, the guitarist with Armenian roots Aram Bajakian and former player with Lou Reed and Diana Krall, Julia set up the group Dálava, which works in a non-traditional way with Moravian folk music. They have recorded what is already their second album, The Book of Transfiguration, and we talked about it with Julia and Aram during their recent stay in Brno.
An interview between Kateřina Bajo, the main coordinator for the membership of Prague as a city of literature in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and David Dittrich, main coordinator for the membership of Brno as a city of music in the same network. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was set up in 2004 and its main aim is to support cooperation and international cooperation and creativity. Now it brings together 180 member cities from 72 countries from around the world. The cities fall into 7 creative areas – literature, music, design, film, gastronomy, traditional crafts and media. A city applying for membership in the network has to fulfil very strict criteria, and it must be supported not only by the commission of experts but also by all the member cities.
As part of the tour which has been in progress since the spring, on 28 November the group Zrní (which translates as Grain) will be coming to Fléda in Brno. They are performing their latest album called Jiskřící (Sparkling). The members of the group (four Honzas and one Ondra) reacted to our questions collectively, with only the responses of Honza Unger as the author of the lyrics sometimes coming to the forefront.
As part of the Moravia Music Fest on 16 November the group Organic Quartet with Ondřej Pivec will be performing in Brno’s Metro Music Bar. This organist of Czech origin, who has lived in New York since 2009, has in recent years worked with the major signer Gregory Porter, and for his work on his album Take Me To The Alley even won a Grammy. In Brno he is presenting his new album Terms And Conditions Apply, which he recorded with his former Czech fellow players – the guitarist Libor Šmoldas, the drummer Tomáš Hobzek and the saxophonist Jakub Doležal.
From 16 September to 19 December the twelfth year of Jazz Brno will be taking place in the Stará Pekárna club in Brno. It will offer not only modern jazz but also fusion, funk and a solid chunk of blues. The festival opens on Saturday 16 September with a concert by the American blues musician Linwood Taylor, who will be performing in Brno as part of a larger Czech tour. We asked him a number of questions on the telephone.
At Folk Holidays 2017 in Náměšt nad Oslavou two significant groups from Denmark are appearing, among others. On Monday July 24 it will be the instrumental ensemble Dreamers’ Circus and on Thursday 27 July the quartet Nordens Tone. This is made up of three jazz musicians (piano, double bass and saxophone) and the singer Jullie Hjetland, who sings in eight different Nordic languages. And it was with her that we spoke by telephone.
The brilliant Moravian cimbalom player Dalibor Štrunc (1966) came from a folk environment in Wallachia and after graduating from the Brno Conservatory had a number of musical engagements – from classical through folk to being a member for many years of Hana and Petr Ulrych’s group Javory. It is an unbelievable twenty-five years since he formed the group Cimbal Classic, in which he began to make use of his song-writing as well as musical skills. In that time Cimbal Classic has become a fixture on our folk scene. This year they are celebrating their anniversary with a new CD and a tour.
Antonín Fajt is the son of the singer and violin player Iva Bittová and the drummer Pavel Fajt. Even if he does appear as a guest on the latest album At Home by Iva Bittová & Čikori, it isn’t a case of nepotism. He came up with and perfected his playing and composing style himself. He has had the chance to compare his childhood spent in Moravia with the last ten years spent overseas. And since he enjoys linking musical activity with for example the culinary arts or the healing effects of art, our interview was by no means just about music.
When I polled Czech jazz musicians to find the most significant woman on the domestic scene, the largest number of votes went to the trumpet player, composer and conductor Štěpánka Balcarová and the pianist and composer Beata Hlavenková. In the JazzFest Brno festival both will be performing. The Concept Art Orchestra big band under Štěpánka Balcarová will be performing on Wednesday 5 April in the Theatre Husa na provázku and a day later the trumpet player will be playing in HaDivadlo with her Czech-Polish group Inner Spaces. On Thursday 13 April in Besední dům the will be a concert of Beata Hlavenková, focussing on her most recent album Scintilla. We conducted interviews with both young ladies.
The singer Lenka Nová was born in Brno. Even now she frequently and happily returns. Last autumn she released her third profile disk, Čtyřicítka (Forty), on which there are ten personal songs with texts by Michal Horáček. She was recently nominated for the Anděl music prize in the category Singer of the Year. This year with a newly rehearsed repertoire on March 8 and 9 in the bar U kouřícího králíka in her home town she opened her Čtyřicítka Tour, the spring part of which will be concluded with a Prague concert in the DVA studio on May 21. And we spoke about all of this …
Soprano Maida Hundeling, who debuted, for example, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York last season, returned to the Janáček Opera after a year. The singer known from leading opera houses around the world will perform in Brno again in the role of Tosca in Puccini's opera of the same name. The production of the local artistic director Jiří Heřman already impressed during its premiere. The director based his concept on the connection between the story of the singer Tosca in the environment of the complicated political situation in the Roman Republic in 1800 and the story of one of its extraordinary performers in the second half of the last century – opera superstar Maria Callas. As the critics wrote, it is a theatrically impressive and inspiring interconnection between the fates of the two women, adored opera divas, who were in love in politically complicated times that swallowed them whole. Mainly Maida Hundeling excelled in the main roles of this Brno production.
The Vilém Spilka Quartet included surprising material in their new album Podvod. The band, headed by the director and dramaturgist of the JazzFest Brno Festival, recorded instrumental jazz arrangements of songs Hejna včel, Tulácký ráno, Na kameni kámen, Stánky and other campfire hit songs by Jan Nedvěd. He had a chance to listen to the recording shortly after its completion and we spoke to Vilém Spilka about Nedvěd’s reaction. And the interview, of course, also covered Porta, sausages and a campfire pot.
“I knew who I wanted to work with and that guided me when I was trying to set up a group with a pleasant sound,” said the French accordionist Vincent Peirani in 2015, shortly after the release of his key album Living Being. At that time he had already completed several interesting acoustic projects including an album with the saxophonist Emil Parisien and he has continued in this style. In 2016 he brought out an enjoyable CD of duets with the pianist Michael Wollny and not long ago he worked with the pianist Stefano Bollani and the Berlin Philharmonic on the album Mediterraneo, inspired by classical music. The Living Being project is however of a completely different character, embodying the accordionist’s conception of electric music on the borders between jazz, rock and other genres. And it was with this programme that Peirani and his group came to Brno’s Husa na provázku (Goose on a String) theatre.
“The history of the band Gazdina roba goes back to the 1990’s, when most of the current members would meet up in the local Brno bands. […] Gazdina roba functioned for years as a studio project. The turning point happened ten years after its creation with the release of their first regular album under the fitting title Deset let jsme se neviděli (We Haven’t Seen Each Other for Ten Years) in 2004 […] In 2017, the band released their second album První poslední (From Beginning to End)”. That is the basic information found on their website www.gazdinaroba.cz. These are bare facts, which doesn’t really tell us that Gazdina roba (which could be translated as Farmer’s Wench), an almost secret band in the Brno scene, is in its genre of rock song-writing one of the best to be found. Their musical energy brilliantly ties together with their poetic texts.
“Up until now, I recorded instrumental songs – with a few exceptions but most of them were instrumental. This is truly the first album where I sing 100% of the songs from beginning to end, which is a big change for me. I needed to make such a step, so I had a bit of fun and I recorded a vocal album,” Avishai Cohen, the Israeli bass player told me a few months ago over the phone. We were talking of course about his current album 1970, where he includes his own songs inspired by the popular music of the seventies, Eddie Palmieri’s classic Vamos Pa’l Monte, the American gospel Motherless Child or folk songs from the Middle East. The album 1970 in its context leans toward pop maybe as an exception, but also references the bass player’s personal history and his love of jazz and traditional Jewish music. The current tour, which included the concert in the Boby Centre in Brno as part of JazzFestBrno, corresponds with the album’s topic, and yet differs a bit. It is even more pop and can surprise even experienced listeners.
The oratorio St John Passion by the composer Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the indisputable jewels of the world’s music literature. Many conductors try to surprise the audience with a new, fresh, energetic and expressively rich conception of the composer's music. Among the bodies willingly accepting this difficult challenge is the Czech Ensemble Baroque under the direction of conductor and artistic director Roman Válek. They gave their version of one of the most frequently performed of Bach's works on Good Friday in Brno’s Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
Entitled Stay Here and Keep Watch With Me, yesterday the Easter Festival of Sacred Music offered another concert in the Church of St. Augustine. To perform his Vigil for Six Voices and Instrumental Ensemble Wolfgang Rihm invited to the festival two renowned German ensembles - Ensemble Musikfabrik and the vocal sextet Singer Pur - for which the work was composed. The conductor Christian Eggen was responsible for a bravura performance of this extremely harrowing piece.
At first, Slavík performed only with the experienced American musician Doug Hammond, who has played with stars of the American jazz scene like Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins. Hammond’s compositions are based almost solely on rhythm, to which he adds his specific kind of singing that doesn’t follow the classic melodic line, rather playing rhythmic games with the drums. Here, one truly cannot talk about incomprehensible drum solos. The entirety together with Slavík’s piano felt surprisingly light.
The musical ensemble Brno Contemporary Orchestra, which deals with contemporary musical work followed up on the last concert From Czechoslovakia by looking at it from another angle. The For Czechoslovakia concert’s programme included works by foreign composers, written either specifically for the anniversary or with topics related to Czechoslovakia. Quo vadis? by Alois Piňos, who died exactly ten years ago on 19 September, was the first song to be played.
Donny McCaslin and his then band Perpetual Motion was a great attraction already in 2012, when the organisers of JazzFest Brno presented him as a foreign star who was to bring his energetic, jazz/funk music to Brno. This year was totally different. Czech audiences know McCaslin well from his concert at Colours of Ostrava and other appearances here, but mainly as the man who worked with David Bowie on his last, critically acclaimed, album Blackstar. Though Bowie’s shadow dogs McCaslin, he doesn’t try to escape it. His album Beyond Now (2016) includes his own version of the singer’s dark piece Warszawa from 1976 and the twenty-years-younger song A Small Plot Of Land (with singer Jeff Taylor). And Bowie could be heard (though as an addition) at the Brno concert too.
If you are a fan of and listener to ancient music then you will certainly have heard of the Czech Ensemble Baroque and its artistic director Roman Válek. The ensemble works with historically informed interpretations from older stylistic periods, mainly the baroque and classical. The main strength of the orchestra lies in the performance of large musical-dramatic works. Among their recent achievements is the artificially created oratorio Příběh o Kristu (The Story of Christ) created from thematically linked works by the composer Heinrich Schütz. The ensemble has also paid great attention to the works of František Xaver Richter, whose Requiem and passion oratorio Deposizione dalla croce di Gesu Cristo were part of the most recent recording by the orchestra.
Every now and then works appear on a concert that the listeners have not had a chance to appreciate before. In most cases these premieres serve to spice up the otherwise standard repertoire of a concert. Whether it is a brand new piece or a modern premiere resulting from long hours of research in the archives, it normally takes place alongside a long-term classic. For example if a reconstructed symphony by an unknown classical period composer is to be performed then it is almost a certainty that with it we will hear Mozart, Beethoven or Haydn. The programme for the concert by Brno’s Ensemble Opera Diversa with the violin virtuoso Milan Paľa, with which the orchestra opened their concert cycle Slovakia in Brno, was however made up only of premieres of contemporary music.
After more than fifty years The Queen of Spades by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is returning to the repertoire of the national Theatre Brno. The premiere on 17 February in the Mahen Theatre of the production by Martin Glaser also involves one more return for music theatre – after more than sixty years Soňa Červená will once more being treading the boards in Brno.
Music-lovers in Brno like to remember the visit Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made to the city at the turn of 1767-68. The theme of the third subscription concert of the Brno Philharmonic from the cycle The Philharmonic at Home I was however the composer’s visit to Prague. And this was not without reason. Prague has an indisputable place in the professional career of the most significant representative of Viennese classicism. To go with the chosen theme the programme creators chose important milestones in the composer’s output that were linked to Prague and its inhabitants. The Brno Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Alexander Liebreich and the pianist was Saleem Ashkar.
The three musketeers in fact numbered four. In the same way 3fo3 (which reads as “three fotři” – a play on words since ‘fotr’ is an unflattering term for father) is made up of four members. To the founding members of Bombarďák, Michal Dalecký, Jiří Jelínek and Filip Nebřenský, Matěj Pospíšil was added as a kind of d’Artagnan. However otherwise everything has stayed the same. Bombarďák – or rather the lyricist Jiří Jelínek – speaks to kids with a dynamic language full of fashionable and modern expressions. In the space of very brief songs (on average under two minutes) they are able to tell humorous tales full of wordplay and situational humour. One song follows on from another, mostly upbeat, with speaking as well as singing, on the borders of song and theatrical sketch, but all fitting together well.
Hits like Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever or How Deep Is Your Love sung beautifully, and wonderfully constructed and danced choreography in shiny disco costumes, and three exceptional performances in the main roles. That is the currency of the new Brno musical Saturday Night Fever. The director Stanislav Moša staged it in the Municipal Theatre.
Czech conductor and a Bohemian sound. Jakub Hrůša is the new conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Jakub Hrůša will become the fifth Chief Conductor and the musical director of the prominent German orchestra the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra Players – the Bavarian State Philharmonic Orchestra (Bamberger Symphoniker – Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie) in the 2016/2017 season. It was announced today during the morning ceremony, which was attended by Jakub Hrůša himself, by Bavaria’ Minister of Culture Dr. Ludwig Spaenle together with Marcus Rudolf Axt, Chief Executive.
The club, which is starting its 25th concert season, has been reconstructed and is now reopening to jazz musicians from both the domestic and foreign scene. The season will introduce bands as well as individuals such as Ostrich Quartet, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert Balzar Trio, Vilém Spilka Quartet or Nuf Said.
The current 17th year of the festival is divided into two parts. The first part, called Intake of Breath, will take place during October and it will be the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Filigrán dance ensemble. The other part, called Exhalation, will introduce international guests and dance themed movies in November.
The Makropulos Affair opera record directed by David Radok and with music production by Marek Ivanovič won two awards at the International Television Festival Golden Prague which took place last night. The recordings won the Foundation VIZE 97 prize and a prize in the category of Performing Arts. The premiere of the opera was on 21 November 2014 during the Janáček Brno festival.