Monday, June 27, 2001: Parallel Worlds

Composer Jan Jirásek takes a bow at his Smetana Litomyšl concert

The Smetana Litomyšl International Opera Festival is continuing until July 4th. There’s still time to catch a concert, even though about 90 percent of the tickets for many performances have been sold for months, according to Barbora Krejčí, public relations assistant.

But if you don’t have your tickets yet, don’t despair. There may still be a few pockets of available seats at the Renaissance Litomyšl castle concerts designed for audiences of 1,000 or more. And many smaller concerts take place in more intimate venues, for listeners who enjoy more challenging pieces. So check the festival’s website for ticket availability.

We caught a performance of Parallel Worlds (Mondi Paralleli) and the introduction of its Czech composer, Jan Jirásek, on June 18 at the Chapter Church, a short stroll from the castle. Opus Osm asked Mr Jirásek a few questions about his piece, after the performance.

“Every performance of a piece is different,” he agrees, “and the Czech Soloists Consort choir did a great job today,” he says. He admits, “And Parallel Worlds is not an easy piece.”

Litomyšl's charming city streets

The choral cycle, based on fundamentals of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and the Koran, began as only one short piece, the sixth part. It’s an interesting combination — parallel worlds, indeed — for a Czech composer born in 1955 under the Socialist regime. The tall, gentle composer studied music at the Janáček Academy of Music, Brno, and from 1983-89 worked as a music editor and producer at Czechoslovak Radio Prague. Only after 1989 did he work as a composer in residence at five US colleges, his compositions began to be performed internationally, and he started writing film scores and recording CDs. His Kyrie was included on The World Festival of Sacred Music Europe CD, launched in Germany by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1999.

Mr Jirásek’s extensive teaching experience in the US includes time at the University of Colorado – Boulder, a major Buddhism center in the US. “It was the source of my inspiration” for this piece, Mr Jirásek explains. “I wanted to combine Buddhist mantras with music and the liturgical fragments. They react to each other in a psychological way.”

The final form of Parallel Worlds was completed two years ago. Earlier, someone had heard the premiere of just the sixth part but said that “’that part should be expanded,’” Mr Jirásek tells Opus Osm. “It was easy- and it was difficult- to expand. The most difficult part was creating the lyrics that combine the fragments of Christian liturgical text with the mantras and the Koran.”

Mr Jirásek has recently released his Missa Propria on BMG, and points to his Renaissance of Humanity CD as a favorite accomplishment, which also includes works by composers as diverse as Arvo Part and Hildegard von Bingen. The Parallel Worlds composer plans another CD release, as well as a new film score, in the fall. — oo

– Mary Matz

You can hear a short excerpt from Parallel Worlds by clicking on the video below. Featured: Czech Soloists Consort under the direction of Jan Míšek.

Photo Credits: Top, and video: Miroslav Setnička; Litomyšl, Mary Matz

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