Thursday, April 7, 2011: Principal-Composer

Pavel Trojan, composer ... and school principal

How do you compose classical music when your day job is being the school principal — of The Prague Conservatory?

It happened during the cold, communist ’70s.

At the end of the school year there were entrance exams for students applying to The Prague Conservatory’s composition department. Passing through the corridor, Prof Ilja Hurník heard somebody playing a tune in one of the classrooms.

“It was raw, offensive, like nothing I’d heard,” the renown composer and teacher tells Opus Osm. “I couldn’t resist and went in: ‘Excuse me, what are you playing? Who is it by?’

Prof Ilja Hurník

“A very good-looking boy replied: ‘I was only improvising.’

“‘He will be accepted,’ I told myself. ‘Definitely.’”

But he wasn’t. The regime’s authorities couldn’t reconcile ideology with the fact that the young boy’s father was an important theologian.

A year later Pavel Trojan applied again, but with the same result.

It wasn’t until the third time, when the totalitarian regime had softened a bit, that he was accepted.

Pavel Trojan’s career is closely intertwined with that of school. After graduation from the Conservatory in 1982, he continued his education at the Academy of Performing Arts (HAMU) in Prague and soon after returned to his first Alma Mater as a teacher, in 1986. Following the Velvet Revolution of 1989 he was one of the people to rebuild the institution, working first as its deputy director, and since December 2004 as its principal.

Besides managing school affairs, Mr Trojan teaches composition and music theory. In fact, composition is his second life. He has created more than 60 compositions, including chamber music, an opera, and a mass, Missa Solemnis. Most recently his Piano Trio in C Moll Op. 2 was performed at The Rudolfinum as part of the concert celebrating the 200th anniversary of the school.

Being principal of The Prague Conservatory means managing 200 teachers and 600 students

Visiting the principal’s office usually creates a certain uneasiness in people. Not so much at the Prague Conservatory. The halls buzz with music – a little concert is in progress in each classroom – and you might even overhear a rehearsal coming from the echoey walls of a bathroom. In addition, the school’s principal gives off a creative energy. He sat down with Opus Osm to talk about his daily work and share his passion for composition.

Inspiration for a classical composition might come from both the outside and the inside world of the composer, he explains in a soft voice. “Usually the composition starts off from a musical idea. It doesn’t matter where a composer is. It can be at the piano, at the table, falling asleep on the train.”

Sometimes even a children’s book will do as a source for music, as in the case of Mr. Trojan’s opera-musical for children, which he wrote for the Children’s Opera of Jiřina Marková at the National Theatre. The opera is based on the book Bylo Nás Pět (There Were Five of Us) about boys’ adventures during the 1930s in Czechoslovakia.

The Prague Conservatory is planning to stage this piece in its new concert hall to commemorate the writer’s 120th anniversary of his birth, so this is Mr Trojan’s next big project for 2012.

The composer compares his art to that of an architect building a cathedral

“A composition forms and grows from itself, but you have to help it,” he continues. “The most crucial part of composing is to have the entire structure in your head. Don’t let go of it before you know how it ends.”

He finds a parallel between the work of a composer and an architect: “A composer has to make sure the structure holds and has the right proportions. Basically, he is like an architect, building a cathedral.”

Equally important is the character of the composer. Mr Trojan admits that he leans towards traditional classical music and doesn’t dismiss the music of his predecessors. “I’m seeking continuity. I still like melody,” he admits.

Prof Hurník confirms Mr Trojan’s self-assessment. “He stood out in my class,” the retired professor says, “confident but not conceited, innovative but not wanting to shock at every cost, anchored in tradition, but in a tradition that is evolving and going to new horizons. A composer with imagination but also a sense for a clear, firm form. I have been following his career since his graduation, when his style matured.”

Another insight into the composer’s works comes from the Conservatory’s deputy director Aleš Kaňka. “I’ve heard many of Pavel Trojan’s compositions, for orchestra, for the stage, chamber music. The music is always intelligent and sophisticated. I would say the music is becoming more accessible to the audience in recent years, such as the Piano Trio, which premiered last month and really excited the audience in The Rudolfinum.”

“Every teacher must come to terms with the fact that he will lose the sight of his students after they graduate,” Mr Trojan’s former teacher Prof Hurník explains. “Not so with Pavel Trojan. He has stayed close to me in his composition and his pedagogical art . . . and his nature.” oo

– Zuzana Sklenková

Click here for an excerpt from one of
Pavel Trojan’s latest compositions Pavel Trojan sample

Juggling Two Jobs

When talking about his duties as the principal of a major music and drama school, Pavel Trojan says that his job is very similar to those of other secondary school principals, with its positive and negative aspects; the only difference is the size of the institution. “The Conservatory is a big school; there are almost 600 students. Since traditionally we teach on an individual basis, we employ 200 teachers. That’s a lot of responsibility. Plus, The Prague Conservatory includes a lot of facilities, for instance the research library,” he explains.

Just this year the school has grown even more, adding a new theatre and concert hall to its list of facilities. Aleš Kaňka, deputy director of the Conservatory, says he values the principal’s dedication and contributions, commenting, “In just a couple of years as director, Pavel Trojan has managed to carry out many projects which will affect the running of The Conservatory for many years to come.”

Photo Credits: All photos of Pavel Trojan, Miroslav Setnička; Ilja Hurník, website

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