Tuesday, March 29, 2011: When Music Can Heal

On Sunday evening, crowds of people streamed into the Municipal House for an unusual performance. The Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK) gave a sold-out, benefit concert for victims of the recent disasters in Japan. Next Sunday evening, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a similar concert, at the Spanish Hall at Prague Castle.

The Philharmonic was in mid-tour of the country when the disasters struck, and members had to scramble to obtain delayed flights back to the Czech Republic.

Japan has also been a concert destination for the Prague Symphony since the mid-1980s. In January of last year the orchestra visited more than ten cities on its Japanese tour, among them the port of Sendai, heavily damaged by the deadly tsunami. The Philharmonic had been scheduled to perform there this time as well.

Both concerts have been formulated with the same ideas: FOK proceeds will go to the Japanese Red Cross; the Philharmonic’s, to the ADRA non-profit charity distribution organization. Fees for all performers in both concerts have been waived, along with venue fees for the FOK performance at the Municipal House. The Philharmonic’s concert will be recorded for a CD and DVD, and the proceeds will be donated to the affected areas of Japan.

Czech classical music is very popular in Japan. Czech orchestras frequently sell out big 2000-seat concert halls when on tour there, according to officials.

Jewels for Japan
It’s no surprise that the choice for the program at both concerts includes works by Dvořák. The Philharmonic will perform Dvořák’s New World Symphony under the baton of renowned conductor Ion Marin. The FOK orchestra, led by Maestro Jiří Kout, chose two jewels of Czech classical music: selections from Smetana’s My Country — the symphonic poems Vyšehrad, Vltava, and Šárka; and Dvořák’s New World Symphony as well.

What might be less known is that these pieces have been played many times at very crucial points throughout Czech history.

For instance, Smetana’s My Country was performed by major Czech ensembles at times of national crises, such as during the German occupation after 1939, and at the moment of the Soviet invasion in 1968.

To Czech people the tunes of Vltava and Vyšehrad are like a call to arms, holding the nation together. To the audience at last Sunday’s concert, it was a message of hope and encouragement being sent along with the financial aid.

“By attending next Sunday’s concert, the audience can express its support for a nation where Czech music has found a second home, and whose fate lies at the heart of all Czech musicians,” notes the website of the Czech Philharmonic. oo

– Zuzana Sklenková. Mary Matz contributed to this article.

Photo Credits: BigFoto

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