This summer, the ensemble of the Janáček Opera at the National Theatre Brno is again putting on traditional open-air performances in the courtyard of Špilberk Castle. For the first time their summertime schedule shall include performances at the open-air stage of the Amphitheatre in Mikulov. Well-known works are planned, such as Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Bizet’s Carmen, Verdi’s La traviata and a new production of Puccini’s La bohème.
Zdenek Merta – a composer, producer, pianist and singer – has a new CD out on the occasion of his 70th birthday entitled Zdenek Merta u klavíru (Zdenek Merta at the Piano), which reviews his career to date. Guest artists on the recordings include musician Ondřej Pivec, the concert master of the Czech Philharmonic Jiří Vodička, oboist Vilém Veverka and singer & actor Vojtěch Dyk.
JazzFestBrno, an international jazz festival, has announced the name of its first guest for next year. British artist Jacob Collier, a social-media sensation who has risen to prominence videos made in his from his bedroom, is to come to Brno. The festival shall be the only event at which the 26-year-old multi-instrumentalist and singer is to perform in the Czech Republic.
The Brno musician Radim Hanousek is behind the interactive website Malujeme hudbu (We’re Painting Music). The aim of his project is to develop children’s creativity even during the coronavirus crisis. Professional musicians and artists such as Nikol Bóková, Michal Wróblewski and Natalie Perkof got involved in this online help for quarantined children.
The Janáček Opera gave a guest performance with success as part of year 45 of the prestigious international Hong Kong Arts Festival with Janáček’s Makropulos Affair earlier in 2017. This time, the Brno opera ensemble is returning to the Hong Kong festival’s stage. Due to the pandemic situation, the festival management decided that foreign ensembles would be participating online – through recordings and live streams.
Anyone who knows the B-Side Band, especially through performing international hit songs with the singer Vojtěch Dyk, or last year’s album Folk Swing, may be surprised by their unique take on a production of Jaromír Hnilička’s Missa Jazz. In fact, the big band’s history is tightly interwoven with the composer’s legendary Jazz Mass.
Hajcman, a tramp-swing group with its roots in Brno, released their expected debut album Jednou to bude (It Will Come to Pass). The band’s name, derived from the Czech word for a supporting steel frame in coal mining, is a reference to cave exploring, the hobby of the group’s leader Martin Škrobák, whose first band was called Stalaktit (Stalactite). While the album largely showcases the talents of the tramping legend, it does feature a sample of the band’s work in the form of two songs by Martin, hinting at the direction of the band’s future album of author's songs. It’s Jaroslav Velinský aka Kapitán Kid who is the author of the most of the debut’s collection of songs, the result of over a decade’s effort. An old friend of Martin’s, as well as a fellow musician and inspiration to him, the tramping music king Kapitán Kid had planned to record some “blasts from the past” in 2005 with his previous outfit the Banjo Gang, as described in the sleeve notes and associated songbook. Joint recording sessions with Martin and his friends took place subsequently, but Velinský’s best-known tramping songs from the CD Tempo di kůň (Tempo de Horse; released in 2007) were eventually preferred. This is how these tracks came to be short-listed, with the blessing of Kapitán Kid himself, and recorded just a few years after the songwriter’s death, making it essentially a tribute to him.
While concert halls and opera houses are rather on the empty side, seven hotels in the city have seen a lot more activity thanks to the Brno Contemporary Orchestra – a chamber music group led by Pavel Šnajdr and the arts platform Terén – Pole performativního umění (Terrain – Fields for the Performing Arts). Every night of the week, from 15 to 21 March, fans of modern artificial music had the opportunity to visit one of the hotels via YouTube. Not only was the atmosphere of the empty rooms and corridors absorbing, but also the drama in combination with unusual the visual stimuli. Please, do not disturb, as the series was named by its creators - the Brno Contemporary Orchestra and Terén, featured more than just standard recordings of concerts. Indeed, a narrative thread ran through every evening’s experience, which was directly or subtly connected with the musicians or the space itself.
The coronavirus crisis of 2020 (and 2021) has had such an impact on the form of the musical market that researchers, with hindsight, will probably ask whether there are any recordings released at that time and not affected by it. Robert Křesťan and Druhá tráva (Second Grass) wanted to work on a double album containing cover versions of songs by his favourites and new own works next to each other. The British producer Eddie Stevens became a part of this ambitious project but the interrupted opportunity of travelling between the Czech Republic and London also stopped work on the 2CD. The band decided not to wait for the easing and released the Díl první (Part One) separately. This is not the exact form of the initially intended first disc. “Releasing cover versions only without any apparent relationship between them and the original works seemed inadequate to us and the production style of Eddie Stevens is individual and unifying in a specific way to such an extent that we decided to release a mix of the two on the first medium and delay the second part,” explains Křesťan. Therefore, we have Díl první in front of us, but this is not any half-hearted recording or unfinished work. In spite of the Act of God, Druhá tráva has succeeded in recording one of the strongest Czech discs of 2020.
With the current epidemiologic situation and the impossibility of live concerts, many large and small ensembles have been using the time to prepare new media. One of them is the Brno Philharmonic, which has extended its range to include its own edition of CD recordings with this bold motto: “Music you can hardly buy anywhere else”. Although it might seem that this is, primarily, a successful slogan created by the Marketing Department this brief description is not merely empty words. The first pair of CDs released at the end of 2020 offered the unfairly forgotten oratorio Lenora (Lenore) by Antonín Rejcha (heard at concerts on 5, 6 and 7 February, 2020). The philharmonic orchestra also recorded a programme with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Zlonické zvony (The Bells of Zlonice) and the composition entitled Bagatelles, Op. 47, (Maličkosti (Trivia)) both adapted (and in the case of Bagatelles also with richer instrumentation) by the chief conductor of the Brno Philharmonic, Dennis Russell Davies. And this is the album which will be the object of our evaluation.
One older - not quite typical – Květy´s album began with the words: "The quietest band in the world so as not to disturb the neighbours." The newest album, called a bit mysteriously Květy Květy (Flowers Flowers) begins with this text: “We are heading into the dark at the highest speed.” Can one deduce anything from the fact that the band around Martin E. Kyšperský in the slowest year, at the time of the lockdown, came up with the fastest and perhaps the most energetic album in their career? Or is it more important that, despite all the pressure that emanates from Květy Květy (Flowers Flowers) as a collective work, it is actually a very solitary and intimate record?
The poetic title Květy nevadnoucí (Flowers Never Fading) hides the most recent publishing achievement of Jiří Plocek. This compilation CD celebrates a quarter of a century since the establishment of the Moravian folklore series in his GNOSIS BRNO publishing house, which released fourteen albums created between 1995 and 2005. And they are not just ordinary albums. Jiří Plocek's enthusiasm and feeling for song is indisputable, but there is much more coming from the recordings – for example, it is the enthusiasm of the singers themselves, which Jiří Plocek fuelled during the recording sessions, while letting them play and sing according to their own will and mood. I must also emphasise the choice of performers themselves. The names have really become iconic by now – František Okénka, Zdeněk Kašpar, Karel Rajmic, Vlasta Grycová, Jiřina Miklošková and many others. Unfortunately, some of them have already departed from this world. Others, which we hear on the album as gifted children, are already rising to become another generations of singers – which is the case of Tomáš Beníček. I'm intentionally mentioning the singers, but the album itself also has a high musical quality. However, all the songs are performed by exceptional performers. This also gives them uniqueness in the spirit of a living folk tradition.
After almost thirty years, Brno has replaced the German capital Berlin as the main centre of the European panel of radio music publicists World Music Charts Europe (WMCE). From Berlin public radio, where the founder of this platform, Johannes Theurer, worked until 30 November 2020, the centre of WMCE's activities is moving to the Brno headquarters of Radio Proglas. Milan Tesař, one of its two current Czech members and head of the music section of Proglas, became the new secretary of the panel starting from 1 December.
Two years after the monothematic album Bleděmodré město (Pale Blue City), for which the Brno-based group Nevermore & Kosmonaut received a nomination for the genre-specific Anděl Award, the band released a new album with a mysterious name XCR-9. The subheading Písně do rakety (Songs for a Space Shuttle) reveal more. While on the last album we walked through the streets of the city of Brno together with Michal Šimíček and his band, this time the singer-songwriter, who has been using the nickname Kosmonaut for years, is taking us on a fictitious journey into space.
Tiché lodi ('Silent Ships') is not a band, but a project of the guitarist and singer René Müller, who lives in Brno. While he recorded his previous album Časy vody ('Times of Water' – 2015) working together with Roman Cipísek Cerman, his former colleague from the band Hynkovy zámky ('Hynek's Locks'), Müller is now appearing all by himself on the new album – as writer of the music and lyrics, guitarist and singer, or – in his case more precisely – narrator.