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What Really Goes on Before the Curtain Goes Up? (December issue)

by Mary Matz

Major Players:
Good People to Know in Czech Music

Miriam Němcová, Conductor, Prague Conservatory Symphony Orchestra

The French horn player is wearing running shoes and a hoodie. The harpist is in jeans. And the conductor is on her mobile. Welcome to Tuesday morning at the Prague Conservatory Symphony Orchestra.

Conductor Miriam Němcová raises her hands and the music flows. “Pozor! Dva … čtyři, jo? (Pay attention! Two … four, right?)” she calls out, counting the beat. It’s Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto in A Minor. “Pomalu! (Slowly!)” she warns. Her hands float gently in the air, and unconsciously the fingers on her left hand type the notes on an invisible vertical keyboard. Or maybe it’s air guitar for conductors.

Mrs Němcová conducts - and connects with - students at Prague Conservatory

It’s not surprising for this 50-year-old leader, who seems nearly as youthful as her orchestra. Since 1995 she’s been a professor of conducting at the Conservatory, where she herself graduated in conducting and composition.

She also founded the Praga Sinfonietta Orchestra (specializing in works by Czech composers) and the mixed-voice choir Vox Pragae (acapella, cantatas, oratorios). Oh, and in her spare time, she also conducts film scores for world-renowned Barrandov Film Studios just across the river.

“It’s good to work with her,” says Conservatory student Eva Otradovská, who’s playing the oboe today. “She has a lot of energy.”

“I’m enjoying it,” agrees Tereza Krátká, bassoon. “She has a lot of patience.”

Wait. How can Mrs Němcová have both energy and patience?

The students laugh, interrupting each other, “It’s good…” “It’s energy …” “It’s energy, but not the angry kind,” they say.

“I cannot shout,” Mrs Němcová tells Opus Osm at the break. “I don’t like an atmosphere of fear. I like music, people, musicians. I want a good relationship with students and orchestra players.”

Maybe that comes from being taught first by her well-known mother/opera singer Dagmar Rosíková (now 85) and from a childhood singing in choirs and playing the piano at St James Basilica. She finished her official studies by composing a cantata for orchestra and choir “about 200 years ago,” she laughs.

Starting from that cross-training foundation has served her well, especially when she conducts a choir and a symphony orchestra — or both together. “Many choir conductors say it’s difficult to switch to leading an orchestra,” she says, “but I say no. A few weeks ago I conducted a choir with no problem; changing was a pleasure.”

Conducting is conducting, she says, once you understand the art of leading a group. But that’s not to say that a conducting career is easy. She discovered that a woman must struggle to find her place in a field dominated by a tradition of male conductors. “A woman [conductor] must be better than a man,” she advises. “There must be some strategy and struggle” before you can “find your place.”

But the serene, self-confident Němcová says that there is one thing she’s not calm about: opera. (She has worked as a director or conductor for Chamber Opera Prague, Salda Theater, Liberec, and the Prague State Opera.) “I’m choleric about opera,” she confesses of her love for the art. “You can’t be calm in opera.” oo

Professor Němcová conducts the classic Christmas Mass by Jakub Jan Ryba at 4:30 pm Dec 24 at the Church of Our Lady before Týn, Old Town Square; and at 5 pm Dec 25 at Píska Brana, Prague Castle.

Photo Credits: Mary Matz


  1. Patricia Okaya
    Posted December 15, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Mary! I’m overwhelmed by the content, clever, interesting work that you have done on Opus Osm. I wish I was there to enjoy all the events and places that you write about. Congratulations! Patsy Okaya

  2. Mary
    Posted December 15, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Thanks! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! Even if you can’t be here with us in Prague, you can still enjoy bits of the performances, thanks to modern technology & computers. At least that’s something!

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