Michal Grombiřík: For the first time ever in our country, it is possible to study jazz music as a dulcimer player

19 May 2021, 1:00
Michal Grombiřík: For the first time ever in our country, it is possible to study jazz music as a dulcimer player

On this very day (19 May) an event will start in Valašské Meziříčí which all the dulcimer players from almost all over the world have been looking forward to for two years. It is the 14th International Dulcimer Festival, which has been held in this town every odd year since 1995. This year, it is sure to be rather modest due to the pandemic situation; the organizers are going to stream some of the concerts, while others will be broadcast on the Czech Radio stations Vltava and Brno. This year, Michal Grombiřík, a dulcimer player, became the first ever such musician admitted to the Jazz Music Interpretation Department of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (JAMU). What is the path from a traditional folk song, through classical music to jazz music, and what exactly is Michal going to do at the aforementioned dulcimer festival? We covered all these topics in our conversation.

Michal, like most of the dulcimer players, you started with playing in a folk music ensemble. What was your journey from folklore to jazz music, actually?

First of all, I need to say that I am not a jazz dulcimer player. That said, at least at the stage I am in now, that is not what I can call it. I try to direct myself this way. I started in a children’s dulcimer music in Hodonín when I was about ten or so. Like maybe any other dulcimer players. While I was never a member of any ensemble, I have performed in a couple of folk music bands.

In fact, I started to discover jazz slowly in the second or third year when I was a conservatory student. I actually can’t remember the very beginning; it happened rather gradually.

Were you inspired by any particular artist?

Marcel Comendant was certainly a key person. He inspired me through recordings initially. I listened to his work with the PaCoRa Trio. I was absolutely fascinated by it, and I did not understand what they were playing whatsoever. But in some way I felt that it was really honest, good and thoughtful how they played. On this basis, I also became more interested in the jazz tradition.

Did you use it back then in your playing?

It happened gradually. We founded the Midnight Coffee Session band in Brno in 2009. There, we gradually started to add some jazz standards to folklore music, one step at a time. But in fact, I did not take it too seriously until my final exam, when I played one jazz standard as an additional piece. That was the first time I started dealing with it a little more honestly.

And then I started to go to Slovakia to attend courses held by Marcel Comendant himself. At that time, thanks to getting in touch with him, I started to devote myself to jazz music a little more, but still, in fact, marginally. In the meantime, I devoted myself to folklore a lot, in addition to, naturally, classical music, contemporary music. This is how inconsistent it was and how interrupted it was for some time. It was only three years ago that I decided that this was actually the road that attracted me. I had absorbed jazz music sufficiently through listening and told myself jazz was the right thing for me. So I made a deal with Marcel and went to his place periodically for private sessions for about a year. It was there where the direct relationship with the interpretation of jazz music was established.

Was it back then you decided to study jazz interpretation at university?

I thought a lot about where to go to study because I was really influenced by both folklore and classical music. I was unable to find a way myself. I had a lot of work and I didn’t have any internal drive. I thought I needed a mentor to guide me. I was considering schools in Berlin or Katowice. It was not possible to study it in our country, at any jazz department in Prague or Brno. Courses were opened only for big band instruments. But in the end, the opportunity was given a green light in both Prague and Brno’s JAMU. So then my jazz journey really began.

Had the conditions in the academies changed somehow, so that they began to admit players of other instruments?

As part of their new accreditation, they decided to open one available course where one could apply for a different instrument, upon consultation.

I read about it and wrote to Vilém Spilka right away. He replied that I should come and bring my dulcimer. So I decided at some point in November that I would try it; there was an admission exam in February and they admitted me.

Let's talk about this year’s dulcimer festival in Valašské Meziříčí, which starts this week. In what way will you be involved this year?

grombirik_michal_foto_Jiri_Lubojacky _01

I am going to attend this year’s festival as an accompanying teacher because my two students from the primary art school in Velké Pavlovice will be trying to compete this year for the first time. After the COVID situation and after the whole system has been disrupted, this is a rather interesting process. Their motivation has completely diminished. Out of nothing, one is supposed to fire up their desire to compete. I think that this year, it will be quite different for everyone in this respect unlike the previous years.

So you won’t play this year?

On Friday, Daniel Skála will present new dulcimer school literature. It’s called “Cimbalovánky” (loosely translated as “Colouring with Dulcimers”). It is a very innovative involvement with improvisation, among other things, and all of an atonal nature. In essence, a completely new approach to a dulcimer school. So Gabriela Tannert and I should play something from the textbook out there.

On Sunday morning, I will perform the final concert with my pet project.

It is a band that came into being last year. I dreamed it up a little because I always played like a sideband, the guy in the background. That’s why I was tempted to have my own project, to start expressing myself with music. That’s how I got this down, which was before the COVID situation started, actually. Matěj Štefík on drums, Robin Lefner on violin and mandolin, Honza Galia on double-bass and trombone, Tereza Kropíková singing and myself as a dulcimer player. It is not any ground-breaking idea. It involves author processing of traditional folk songs into a specific format. I started to do these arrangements according to what’s closest to me as a musician.

So is it all about your arrangements?

In addition to two modifications, they are mine. Now we have an hour’s repertoire. I give everyone their space, but so far it’s in the beginning stages.

Will it be your first concert?

There was already one in Hodonín. We had some festivals arranged and then, of course, it all was interrupted. So, a second concert after a long time.

What music can listeners look forward to in your presentation?

Folk songs are the basis, but there are strong jazz influences; it is built on a strong groove. It is simply a fusion of jazz, groove and electronics against the background of folk songs. But we don’t have a band name yet. So if one of your readers were to come up with something, they can write to me.

The dulcimer community is quite specific and seems coherent. Are there events other than the festival behind that?

There are certainly dulcimer courses. We’re trying to get children from everywhere to enrol to prevent the very same kids attending over and over, which perhaps is paying off, step by step. In the past, they were done by Jarda Kneisl and Růžena Děcká. Now Dan Skála and I are doing everything in what is something as a tandem. We’re trying to invite the best instructors we know. Among these, we are trying to include others who are not dulcimer players. Last year, it was pianist Jiří Hrubý and, formerly, composer Jana Vöröšová. It’s about getting an opinion and perspective of someone from the outside, so that the dulcimer community won’t become closed-in.

We will be improvising a lot, we will be teaching the kids to listen, there will be a creative approach to the music and arts in general. Let’s hope that everything goes well. The kids leave the courses excited, unleashed through listening. Even if they lose some of it during their holidays, their teachers will have a lot to build on in primary art schools.

grombirik_michal_foto_Jiri_Lubojacky _02

And what else are you preparing for the summer?

I will now focus mainly on the band that I mentioned. While most of things have been cancelled for the holidays, I’m preparing other things. And I, as an artist, plan only for courses that take place within the Ostrava Days of New Music (Ostravské dny nové hudby), an intense, two-week course with guests from abroad, and then a festival for a week focused on contemporary music. I’m going there as a course participant, to get inspired, to gather some experience.

In August, I have one more thing, a minor cooperation with the Music Marathon. And we’re also going to hold concerts with ConTRIOlogy, a trio of players. We are just finishing a small project of freely improvised compositions by Leoš Janáček and plan to introduce it at the end of the summer. Well, and then I am going to enter the Faculty of Music at JAMU.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for your studies. Would you like to add something to that at the end?

It is the first time we can study jazz music with a dulcimer. It is definitely an interesting milestone for the instrument. It has a strong presence in folklore, classical music, mainly contemporary music, but in fact it has almost no representation in jazz here. I will try to cut off from the folklore because, while interaction is fine, what I would like to achieve is to strictly separate the two genres. I am, of course, limited by this instrument, but I would like to do so at least in my head.

Photograph: Jiří Lubojacký



No comment added yet..

Brno musicians are talented in various genres, and they’re generally long-lived and vital individuals. This was resoundingly clear during the jubilee celebration of Mojmír Bártek, a teacher, composer, arranger, and above all a virtuoso trombone player. The jubilee concert, dubbed Mojda Bártek 80, was prepared by his friends under the direction of B-Side Band trumpeter and bandleader Josef Buchta. Despite the birthday boy’s open and (sometimes emotional) enjoyment of the two and a half hour program, he still remained an active participant of the entire musical production except for brief moments of rest. He performed as the author of many compositions, but above all as a player, trombone in hand and fully committed.  more

On Thursday 24 March, a Brno audience experienced a truly special evening. Director Břetislav Rychlík and his wife prepared a concert on the music stage of the Brno Municipal Theatre in support of Ukrainian artists who fled their country to escape the war. The evening was entitled “Common Roots” and sought to closer acquaint the audience with the similarities between the folk cultures of Ukraine and Moravia. During the evening's program, I could feel the general musical parallels in particular. Exceptional artists are able to pass such beauty onwards anywhere in the world.  more

The original programme of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra’s third subscription concert, as part of the Philharmonic Orchestra series in Theatre II, promised to continue the originally scheduled Dvořák-Brahms dramaturgy line as interpreted by Elisabeth Leonská. However, of the intended programme for the evening of Dvořák & Brahms II, only Dvořák’s Symphony No. 4 remained. Because Elisabeth Leonská fell ill for the concerts on the 25th and 26th of February at The National Theatre Brno - Janáček Theatre, her place was filled by pianist Alexander Ullman with a performance of The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor by Edvard Hagerup Grieg. The orchestra was led by head conductor of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra Dennis Russell Davies.  more

The long-delayed premiere of the composition The Basement Sketches by composer Michal Nejtek, whose performance was planned for June 2020 and which was commissioned by the Brno Philharmonic, was finally performed on Thursday 25 November at the Community Hall (Besední dům) venue. Together with the Cellar Sketches, the Variations on a Theme by Haydn in B flat major, Op. 56a by Johannes Brahms and Cello Concerto Op. 22 by Samuel Barber were played. In addition to Brno Philharmonic players, cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Nikol Bóková also performed. The dramaturgically varied evening, consisting of three distinctly different musical pieces of work and period contexts, was led by the ensemble’s chief conductor Dennis Russell Daviesmore

On Monday 22 November, the second concert of the Brno Contemporary Orchestra’s festive tenth season, entitled Kamenné mantry (Stone Mantras), presented compositions by Fausto Romitelli, Michal Rataj, Miloslav Ištvan and the recently deceased (well known to Brno audiences) Lithuanian composer Bronius Kutavičius. In addition to the orchestra itself, there were also soprano singer Irena Troupová, marimba player Martin Opršál and reciter Pavel Zajíc, who replaced Otakar Blaha in the programme. The concert, organised in cooperation with the Moravian Museum, was conducted by the artistic director of the ensemble Pavel Šnajdrmore

The work by the British composer Benjamin Britten forms an essential part of contemporary opera production. Worldwide, he is even the most frequently staged author born in the 20th century.  Peter Grimes, with a libretto by Montagu Slater based on a poem by George Crabbe, became the opera that set the course for Britten's next musical-dramatic works. And it is with the title Peter Grimes that the Brno National Theatre has opened the opera part of the 2021/2022 season. The story of a rough and tumble fisherman, whose two young apprentices die soon after each other and who as a result sails out to sea, where he sinks his boat and himself with it, had its Czechoslovak premiere in Brno in June 1947. Almost 75 years after, the story of a fishing village, resentment, cruelty and gossip is now coming to life again in the Janáček Theatre, directed by David Radok and with a musical score by Marko Ivanović. The title role was played by tenor Joachim Bäckström and the widowed teacher Ellen Orford, who found affection in Grimes, was portrayed by soprano Jana Šrejma Kačírková. This is not the first time that these two have met on stage together – it was with Mark Ivanović and David Radok that they had previously joined forces for the play Juliette / Lidský hlas (Juliette/The Human Voice). Jana Hrochová (Auntie), Andrea Široká (Niece), Tereza Kyzlinková (Niece), Svatopluk Sem (Balstrode), Jitka Sapara-Fischerová (Mrs. Nabob Sedley), Jan Št'áva (Swallow), Vít Nosek (Bob Boles), Petr Levíček (Horace Adams), David Nykl (Hobson), Jiří Hájek (Ned Keene) and Ivo Šiler (Dr. Crabbe) were also featured, along with the others.  more

Under the “cipher” 29/2 (reads as “Twenty-ninth February”) there is a band that was created for a bit of fun. They used compositional techniques that should not work in songwriting at all. It has united musicians who, by definition, perhaps can never understand each other. And yet the result is an album of very strong songs that, despite all the experimentalism, makes sense and works as a whole.  more

Yesterday, Visitors to the Brno City Theatre experienced the Czech premiere of the Broadway musical hit Pretty Woman. Directed by Stanislav Moša, this theatrical adaptation of the famous blockbuster highlighted the strengths of the movie. Until the break, the viewer is mostly laughing royally and having fun in this tale of a modern Cinderella, and then in the second half the impressiveness and lyricism of the whole title is especially pronounced.  more

For two consecutive Saturdays, visitors to the Olomoucké barokní slavnosti (Olomouc Baroque Festival) had the opportunity to listen to works by lesser-known composers whose music not only in many respects far surpassed the standard of the time, but whose fates were also closely linked to Olomouc.  more

One of the biggest attractions of this year's Olomouc Baroque Festival was the performance of the oratorio David by the Austrian composer Karl Ditters. It was the perfect opportunity to do so, after all – this year the work celebrates 250 years since its creation. Ditters composed the oratorio to a text by Ignazio Pinto in 1771 and in the same year it had its premiere at the castle of Bishop Philipp Gotthard Schaffgotsch of Wrocław on the Jánský Vrch (John´s Hill) near Javorník. In the musical production of violinist and artistic director of Volantes Orchestra Veronika Manová and conductor Ema Mikešová the oratorio was first performed in concert in Brno at the Church of St. Johns (4 August), then on 7 August in Podzámecká zahrada – a garden of the Archbishop’s Chateau in Kroměříž, and, finally, on 12–14 August in the Ambit and Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary on the Svatý Kopeček (Holy Hill) near Olomouc. The event of 12 August was the performance I visited. In addition to Volantes Orchestra, there were members of other ensembles – Arte dei Suonatori (PL), Il Cuore Barocco (SK), Musica Aeterna (HU) and Societas Incognitorum (CZ). In this aspect, this is another event from the series of concerts organised under the auspices of the festival which bring together musical ensembles from the Visegrad Four. However, there are also performers from other countries – Slovenia, Northern Macedonia and Great Britain. The solo roles were performed by: Doubravka Součková (David), Aco Bišćević (Saul, King of Israel), Helena Hozová (Jonathan, son of Saul), Jiří Miroslav Procházka (Abner, warlord) and Aneta Petrasová (Eliab, David’s brother). The concert was directed by Rocc; the choreography was designed by Sanja Nešković Peršin and costumes were rendered by Borjan Litovski.  more

Traditions, costumes, songs and often special food. This is the basis of folk culture, which is strongly rooted in Moravia. Interest in it has been growing recently – the Czech Republic is taking it as one of the bases of its promotion for domestic and foreign tourists. What is folklore actually about? Are young people coming back to it? And what makes it interesting? We interviewed Marie Hvozdecká, a music editor focusing on folklore at Czech Radio and also a long-time programmer of the folklore scene at the Brno Music Marathon Festival. As she says, “having an interest in folk music is a good thing. However, in order to remake it into a new form, one must know its origin and meaning, otherwise it becomes a mockery.”  more

The Brno Music Marathon Festival will include a world music scene for the first time this year. In addition to the award-winning Bosnian singer-songwriter Damir Imamović and the female vocal group Kata from the exotic Faroe Islands, the group Spilar from Belgium will perform in the Biskupský dvůr venue on Saturday 14 August. Its first album Stormweere reached number eight on the World Music Charts Europe, the official partner of the scene and compiled by leading radio music writers from across Europe, last November. We interviewed Maarten Decombel, one of the founders of the group.  more

American singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla is claiming her Haitian roots. She lives in Louisiana and connects the traditional musical genres of the U.S. South with the culture of the island where her ancestors came from. On Tuesday, 27 July, we will be able to hear her voice and songs live at the festival of Folkové prázdniny (Folk Holidays) in Náměšt' nad Oslavou.  more

You will read in the media about the impact of coronavirus on the level of teaching in compulsory schools. There is less talk of art schools. Yet a quarter of a million children attend primary art schools (PAS). What do these bring to us and to children? What makes them special? I put these and not only these questions to Pavel Borský, cellist of Indigo Quartet (a string ensemble), programmer of the musical scene of the Brno Music Marathon Festival, teacher at the Faculty of Theatre of JAMU and at V. Kaprálové PAS Brno as well as regional coordinator of the ZUŠ Open festival. As he himself pointed out, the exact impact of distance learning on art school students is yet to be seen, but the online environment has taught many children how to communicate better using modern technology.  more

How challenging is it to make it as a composer in this day and age? And does it require more than just musical knowledge and talent? We had a conversation with a renowned composer of many genres, a pianist and comedian in his own way. This is what Zdeněk Král is – a native of Nový Bor and the programmer of the Brno Music Marathon Festival, he has already performed at the show three times, and this year he added a whole dramaturgy of one stage called Humour in Music to his performance. As he himself says, “I want to show that even in the field of so-called classical music there can be room for humour and comedy.”  more


The management of the Brno Philharmonic announces a vacancy for the position of Secretary of Artistic Operations. The possible start date is mid-August 2022.  more

The Czech Radio Endowment Fund and Czech Radio – Radiožurnál, in cooperation with the Endowment Fund of the Brno-born Magdalena Kožená, are launching a non-financial collection named after the favorite Czech musical “Kdyby tisíc klarinetů”, or “If a Thousand Clarinets”. The collection is intended for all child musicians for whom the purchase of a musical instrument is beyond the means of their family budget. The collection works on the principle of connecting donors and volunteers on the platform www.kdybytisicklarinetu.cz.  more

The next-to-last premiere of the 2021/22 season is Mozart's “The Magic Flute”. It will be directed by Miroslav Krobot. This unconventional presentation of the opera promises the audience a journey into space. The musical staging is led by Pavel Šnajdr. Title roles will be played by Jiří Sulženko, David Szendiuch, Petr Nekoranec, Daniel Matoušek, Martina Masaryková, Doubravka Součková, Jana Šrejma Kačírková, Andrea Široká, and others. Scenography by Andrej Ďurík.  more

Eight years after the release of their album Šero, which received both the Anděl and Apollo music awards, the Orff Brothers will release their new Song for Stefanie Sauer. You can hear it in concert in Brno, where the band will start their spring tour.  more

The Brno Philharmonic is holding a benefit concert for Ukraine this week. Proceeds from the entrance fee will go to the Vesna Women's Educational Association, which is now helping Ukrainian refugees. The evening will include Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor From the New World, conducted by Leoš Svárovský.  more

The City of Brno has announced that an agreement has been reached with the owner of the International Hotel, HIB DEVELOPMENT, a. s. If the agreement is fulfilled, the construction of the Janáček Cultural Centre (JKC) will not be a compromise, but will fulfil the vision of having a top concert hall in Brno and gaining a new high-quality public space in the historic city centre. The interrelated key documents, i.e. the exchange agreement, the artwork purchase agreement, and the cooperation agreement, were recommended for approval by the Brno City Council today.  more

The international festival Groove Brno is celebrating its 15th birthday at Metro Music Bar and Sono Centrum with musical guests such as the Oakland ensemble Tower of Power, the New York group Spyro Gyra, and the Grammy-nominated band from Boston, Lettuce.  more

The series of musical/discourse events known as HLUK, which is put on by the musical platform AlterEcho, is finishing out its third edition in the club Bajkazyl Brno. For the musical section, the pair of Prague electronic musicians Bariel & TMA will perform a live set, as will the originally Russian experimental producer rlung and the ambient project Vision of 1994.  more

This year marks the 1100th anniversary of the death of St. Ludmila, an important personality of Czech history and patroness of the Czech lands. To mark the occasion, the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno is preparing a concert at the venue of the Community Hall (Besední dům), featuring an oratorio by composer Petr Fiala, The Baptism of Saint Ludmila, set to a text by poet Zuzana Nováková-Renčová. Together with the Choir and the Czech Virtuosi orchestra, actress Simona Postlerová will perform.  more

Tomorrow there will be the public habilitation lecture of Vladimír Maňas entitled Nicolaus Zangius: musician of the late Renaissance. Maňas’ book on Nicolaus Zangius and a recording of his compositions was published by Munipress and is available online.  more