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.
We talked with Jitka Šuranská about a new album full of music, where she is the bandleader, but as she points out herself, she is only one of three equal elements. The Jitka Šuranská Trio consists of her, cross-genre mandolinist Martin Krajíček and multi-instrumentalist (educated jazz bassist) Marian Friedl. The three musicians started the debut tour of the first album Divé husy symbolically on 1 October at the Goose Festival in Boskovice, two day later they launched it in the Stará Pekárna Club in Brno. Until mid-October, they will be touring clubs, cinemas and libraries in Náchod, Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, Zlín and České Budějovice. Although the trio mentions folk songs as their inspiration, their author's coat is made of many musical styles, yet it is harmonious and interesting. And Jitka's own musician's path is important and inspirational for the final outcome.
The Swedish mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus is hosting in Radok's opera staging of Bluebeard's Castle / Expectation where she plays the role of the Woman. Katarina Karnéus is the winner of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and debuted at the New York Metropolitan Opera as Varvara in Janáček's Katya Kabanova. This season, she performs in the Stuttgart Staatstheatre, Theater Basel and in the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus. The premiere of the Bluebeard's Castle / Expectation is part of the programme of the 2016 Janáček Brno Festival.
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.
Due to the impact of extraordinary measures taken because of the Covid-19 pandemic on stakeholders of the cultural and creative industries in Brno, Brno leaders and the Department of Culture of the Brno City Municipality are working intensively on a set of precautions for minimizing the damages. At the same time, communication is conducted on all levels of public administration, predominantly in collaboration with the Institut umění – Divadelní ústav [Arts and Theatre Institute], which is mapping the situation on the nationwide level. Until 22 March 2020 you can help assess the current situation by means of an online survey (the link is provided below). Further steps will be taken according to the results of the survey.
The fourth subscription evening prepared by the Brno Philharmonic for the chief conductor's series called Philharmonic at Stadion and Janáček Theatre is an exceptional dramaturgical feat. The programme entitled "Pictures at an Exhibition", based on Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's initial composition, combines additional works originated in and inspired by painting: The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca by Bohuslav Martinů, and Mathis der Maler, a symphony by Paul Hindemith. Sounding painting is accompanied by unique, music-illustrated visualisations of Cori O’Lan in collaboration with Ars Electronica. This week's difficult situation, not only for cultural institutions, was managed by the Brno Philharmonic promptly and with a great acclaim. Much like Cirk La Putyka on the day before, the Philharmonic decided not to cancel the performance at the Janáček Theatre and to broadcast the music and visualisations on 12 March from the Besední dům live on the web and on social networks.
The story of fateful love of the beautiful courtesan Marguerite and her sweetheart Armand, as we know it from the autobiographical prose The Lady of the Camellias by Alexander Dumas Jr., need not be largely introduced. One of the most famous novels of the 19th century has already been subject to a number of remakes, and now the National Theatre Brno ballet ensemble also came up with a new modern concept of this story of pain, passion and self-sacrifice.
Last year, after several years of stagnation, Brno's folklore enthusiasts woke up again and began organizing gatherings with dulcimer music, folklore parties, etc. at several different venues. This is certainly gratifying. However, motivation, experiences and concepts differ. One of them is We <3 folklore in the Metro music bar.
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.
The Czech Ensemble Baroque is once again organising the Summer School of Baroque Music in Holešov, which focuses on authentic interpretation of early music. The 18th season bears the subtitle The Spiritual versus Secular in the Works of J. S. Bach; the guest for this season is the world-famous countertenor Andreas Scholl. The registration deadline is 1 June 2020.
Today, April 30, is International Jazz Day. In response to the current coronavirus crisis, UNESCO music cities, among which Brno is also included, will celebrate this day with a live online streaming of a concert. This event, to be held as part of the Enjoy Jazz festival, will provide support to freelance artists. The concert will be transmitted live from the Ella & Louis Jazz Club in Mannheim, which also holds the title of UNESCO City of Music. Performers include artists such as Nicole Metzger, Juliana Blumenschein, Bernhard Vanecek, Alexandra Lehmler and Olaf Schönborn, TC Debus, Claus Kiesselbach and other local artists. Spectators all around the world can support the artists by purchasing online tickets before the concert or even during the viewing of it.
The Brno-based music project Bartleby brings together the Czech Slam poetry champion Ondřej Hrabal (aka TKCR, rap) and double bassist Jakub Nožička (ex-Ponk). Their joint album features guests such as Michal Grombiřík, Michal Procházka, Matěj Štefík and Marek Kotača. The final mix and mastering of the album named #happiness was done in the studio of Jiří Topol Novotný.