A Joyful Advent with the Ensemble Opera Diversa

18 December 2017, 17:00
A Joyful Advent with the Ensemble Opera Diversa

The programme of the third Sunday of Advent from the orchestra of the Ensemble Opera Diversa with the help of their sister body – the choir Ensemble Versus – was marked by modern contemporary creations. In the Convent of the Merciful Brethren they performed the works O antifony for baritone and strings and the Magnificat and choir and strings from the ensemble’s court composer Ondřej Kyas and the Sonata da chiesa by the composer Jaroslav Štastný-Pokorný, written under his artistic pseudonym of Peter Graham. The soloist for the evening was the baritone Roman Hoza, while the performance was conducted by Gabriela Tardonová. The concert was broadcast live by Czech Radio Vltava and other stations in the Euroradio network. In this way the music was heard by listeners in Spain, Saarland, Estonia, Sweden, Portugal, Hessen, Denmark, Greece, Iceland, Slovenia and it was broadcast by the BBC.

From time to time we leave a concert happy, satisfied without being sure why. You smile into the lapel of your coat, while all around it is freezing, musing and lost in thought and feeling cheerful for no apparent reason; at the same time you have forgotten to do up the rest of your buttons on your coat, to put on your gloves and pull your cap down over your ears. It is still running through your head. “So”, you say to yourself, “and what was there about it? They played well, that’s true, but then so did that orchestra last time in Besední dům. Hmmm, what can it be?” And you shake your head, not having come up with any worthwhile explanation. And before you can resolve it, you are sleeping contentedly. But we should bring this thought experiment to a successful conclusion. Why was this concert by Ensemble Opera Diversa and Ensemble Versus such a success?

If a work is not a source of entertainment then rarely does anyone emerge unscathed from the interpretive battle between composer, orchestra and conductor. I begin to hear the clash of arms and the armies of the Wagnerians, Mahlerians and other supporters of decent, serious composers. “What do you mean, entertainment?! This is a serious business!” But I am not however fighting on that front – I speak not of our entertainment but of that of the interpreters.

The listener can tell when an orchestra is playing with gusto. There is nothing sadder than a technically flawless orchestra interpreting a work that clearly gets on their nerves. From bored, slightly disgusted faces there is still professionalism, but also lethargy, disinterest or even indifference, apathy and passivity. And conversely – we can see the difference between musicians who play a piece without any great interest and those who cannot wait to get on stage and perform something fresh and original for the audience! The Ensemble Opera Diversa and Ensemble Versus evoked exactly this feeling. 

The new work by Ondřej Kyas O antifony made up of four parts appropriately set the tone for the evening. It is a serious piece full of extended musical passages built mainly on contrasting dynamics and varying musical factors. Ondřej Kyas achieved a natural synthesis of modern and traditional musical approaches while preserving accessibility and a clarity of communication. The baritone Roman Hoza, who has already worked with the ensemble in the past, was an excellent choice. Hoza’s sense for gentle shifts in expression according to musical factors is as if predestined for a work of such inner spirituality. Dynamics, intonation, expression, vocal colouring – all were without the smallest fault. The conductor Gabriela Tardonová provided firm support from the orchestra and ensured dynamically varied intonation and precise execution. It's nice to see that conductor, unlike many others, has not followed the trend towards dramatic orchestra management, often drawing more attention to the conductor than to the music itself. The work finally faded away into complete silence with the gentle tremolo of solo strings.

The Sonata da Chiesa by Peter Graham is chronologically the oldest of the works in the evening. The piece was written twenty years ago in 1997. As its name suggests, it was inspired by the Baroque sonata, but its musical language shifts however from the Baroque through to modern compositional approaches. Although the greatest attention was on the premiere of the work by Ondřej Kyas, for me personally the most interesting work of the evening was the composition by Peter Graham. Although in the programme the piece was not formally divided, essentially it is made up of four parts. It is primarily interesting for the colourful development of the given motif. The second movement rather immediately evoked a folk-like mood – with a certain playful malicious pleasure we can claim that, that it is a kind of “off-key Czardas” in three-four time. The third and fourth parts established a rather more serious mood.

The Magnificat by Ondřej Kyas was a good choice for the end of the programme. The great cast and undeniable sweetness of the music was a welcome antithesis to the pensive contemplation of the preceding pieces. After the introduction from the male part of the choir Kyas’ tonally balanced music took flight. The premises of the Convent of the Merciful Brethren provided superb acoustics, allowing listeners to hear everything and ensuring that individual voices were pure and clear. Of all the pieces performed in the evening it was the Magnificat that had the most traditional and playful musical language. I am sure that there can have been few faces that did not light up with the closing humorous and entertaining Amen.

And so the concert ended. I still feel that the applause was not sufficient. Not only did the orchestra and choir perform without the smallest of errors, with perfect intonation, rhythmic clarity and dynamic colourfulness – but on top of that they managed to smile as well. It could be heard that Kyas’ works form the face and soul of the ensemble. Ensemble Opera Diversa and Ensemble Versus work with a colourful palette across the centuries. And no one can doubt that they play with joy. This joy is inevitably reflected in the final tone of the music more than anyone will admit. I still feel that the applause was not sufficient.

Photo by Filip Dufka

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