The need for a new symphonic and cantate concert hall in Brno is first mentioned in a dictionary of music by Pazdírek in 1929. Since that time this issue has come to the surface in more frequent intervals, fuelled by the existence and needs of the philharmonic orchestra, by the growth and requirements of the symphonic audience and also by the expectations of foreign visitors of Janáček’s city. There were different stages of realization of projects at Žerotínovo square (currently Bílý dům), Joliot Curie square (what is now the last section of Šumavská street with the commercial high rises), Obránců míru street (currently the ombudsman’s palace on Údolní street) and – at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s – the undeveloped area between Besední and Veselá street. The quiet struggle, which has taken place for this especially lucrative and exceptionally advantageous place for a philharmonic orchestra, has recently come to a promising outcome.
Looking at the daily schedule of Zdeněk Pololáník, one cannot tell that he will be eighty in October. Just last Sunday, he performed at a mass in the morning, inspected the performance of his opera Noc plná světla: transparent none repeat scroll in Olomouc in the afternoon and played at a concert in Besední dům in Brno in the evening. His music is well known to concert visitors and movie fans; some of his songs are sung at churches. This year’s Brno Organ Festival is devoted to his jubilee. We met in the village of Ostrovačice where he works and plays the organ at the local church.
Talking to music veterans about music is entertaining and painful at the same time. You learn things you had no idea about but, at the same time, you don’t know where to start and how to wrap up. The topics covered are growing and you feel like it would be a shame to shape the interview. An interview with the legend of Czech jazz Jan Dalecký confirmed this one hundred percent. If the name confuses you, he was formerly known as Jan Beránek. I did ask about the change, by the way.
This week Janáček Theatre in Brno will see the farewell performance by the prima ballerina of the Brno National Theatre Jana Přibylová. It is going to be her night, with the support of her fans and colleagues. However, she says she should bow for them. We discussed the end of her career, new beginnings and a dancer’s free time. We talked about how unfair it is that dancers’ careers are so short or the fact that she has never really left Brno. As we were leaving the café in the theatre building, there was a big photo of her teacher and mentor Kateřina Gratzerová.
At the end of this week a new organ will be consecrated in the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (the so-called Jesuit church). It is an organ dedicated to Brno. The audience will be able to listen to it for the first time on 29 June. A few days later, it will be incorporated into another important event – a concert by Alena Veselá on the occasion of her 91st birthday. We met in Slavia café, on neutral ground between the Faculty of Music of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing arts and the Besední dům concert hall. We discussed the organ, the concert hall in Brno and cultural grants.
The biggest problems are those we find closest to us. This applies to cities just as it does to people. The area between the streets Cejl and Francouzská is widely considered to be the most dangerous and the most problematic part of Brno. It is, in fact, a small area which one can cover on foot within just twenty minutes. Or thirty, if one walks really slowly. In our eyes, it has gradually become a major problem we refer to as the Brno Bronx. Many Roma live there and if you go there at night you may never walk again. Why do people think so? What are the local people like and why does this part of Brno host the Ghettofest festival? I sought answers from the co-organiser of the festival Alica Heráková.
Ten years ago a Pan-European project entitled České sny (Czech Dreams) was born. It was based on the ideas of the International Music Festival of thirteen cities, bringing superb musical performances outside established cultural centres. The creators’ idea was to introduce concerts with unified dramaturgy in selected Czech towns and villages and their respective European twin towns. This year’s domestic part of Czech Dreams will be launched on 22 May, moving abroad on 4 July, when the symbolic flag of the festival will be handed over from Břeclav to Trnava. The manager of the festival Zdenka Kachlová discusses the development of Czech Dreams and its future.
The first impulse for the interview with the basso Richard Novák was this year’s Easter Festival of Sacred Music. We started and finished the interview with it. Try talking about this year with a man who has been a singer for sixty years. Richard Novák will be 83 this year but he still has it. And if based on the following words he may sound a bit conceited, be aware he is telling it like it is.
We met in an apartment where Jaromír Nečas has lived since 1946. The music writer and director, folklorist and teacher who discovered world music by accident recently celebrated his 92nd birthday. At the age of six, he was hospitalised in Uherské Hradiště with bone marrow irritation and the prognosis was so bleak he even received his last rites. His fellow patients, a poacher from Znorovy and a winemaker from Petrov would pass glasses of wine back and forth across the bed with the sick boy. Occasionally they would offer him some wine. He claims that was what eventually saved him. By the way, a bottle of traminer was present at our interview. Actually, it was not really an interview but rather story telling or a series of associations which I bumped forward every now and then. We were surrounded by a piano, a few folk instruments and mountains of sheet music and books.
Guitarist Peter Bernstein will arrive at this year's JazzFestBrno Festival in a trio with Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart. The New York Times referred to them in the 1990s as the best organ trio, and the player level as well as the inventiveness of the ensemble is still as high. Together, they released eight albums and one DVD. Peter Bernstein is among the musicians who were in the "front line" of contemporary jazz in the 1990s. Joshua Redman, Diana Krall, Jimmy Cobb, Joe Lovano and, of course, members of the trio that we will hear in Brno in April were among his colleagues. Our conversation also mainly focused on his "home" band, even though I did not forget to ask about Brad Mehldau, with whom Peter Bernstein often played.
Barbara Maria Willi is an excellent cembalist, organist and educator. She is one of the dramaturges of the Concentus Moraviae festival and she is also working on her own series of old music. There are many things we could talk about, which is why we agreed at the beginning that we shall talk about two of them. First, the 11th Barbara Maria Willi uvádí (Barbara Maria Willi Presents…) scheduled for next week. And second, the expansion of the Department of Organ and Historic Interpretation at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (JAMU).
A very interesting building is growing before our eyes on Veveří (street). Once completed, it will be known as Sono Center, a club with superb acoustic properties. The concert hall will be located in a sphere placed between two semicircular concrete blocks. The two blocks will house facilities for musicians, as well as a hotel and a restaurant. We sat down with the dramaturge of Sono Centre Dan Giač and the investor of this project Jiří Štopl to discuss the upcoming programme, the ideal line-up or the very reason why Štopl decided to build the center, as he is also the co-owner of the Sono Records studio. The two gentlemen did not have time to do this interview together but they were okay with my postproduction mixing.
Singer Vojtěch Dyk and the Brno B-Side Band, led by Josef Buchta, have had just completed a short dream tour. Last week, they had five joint concerts with American Kurt Elling, Grammy winner, rightly regarded as one of the best jazz singers of today. The following interviews took place in the Janáček Theatre on Wednesday, 4th of December. The orchestra had played a sold-out concert at the Mahen Theatre on Tuesday and it had just finished an afternoon rehearsal in the Janáček Theatre. About two hours were left until the next sold-out concert…
The Brno-based Vox Iuvenalis choir will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. Formerly a high school choir, it has become one of the best amateur choirs, winning several international competitions. Most importantly, its current members thorougly enjoy singing just like their predecessors did twenty years ago. Today it is managed under the auspices of the Brno University of Technology. Jan Ocetek has been with the choir since it was founded. We sat down with him to talk about the choir and its unusual projects.
One of the most important soloists of the Moravian Autumn festival this year is Gábor Boldoczki. We could hear him with the Prague Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra in the Czech Republic; however, he will play in Brno for the first time. This excellent trumpet player with a repertoire ranging from Baroque until the present day will come with pianist Gergely Bogányi. Gábor Boldoczki was a concert partner of soprano singer Edita Gruber and he also performs with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks or the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, he also records for Sony BMG. We were speaking about his career and his planned concert in Brno.
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.