Tuesday, August 2, 2011: United Choirs

The Czech National Symphony Orchestra and United Choirs of Proms in concert July 16

Filling the Hall with United Choirs

On July 16, Smetana Hall in Prague’s Municipal House played host to the United Choirs of Proms, one of the many concerts in this summer’s Prague Proms International Music Festival. Sharing the bill this evening were works by Leonard Bernstein and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Initially the stage, with its few floral arrangements and an enormous organ, seemed rather forlorn.

Then the American and European “United Choirs” started filing in: the United Choral Artists and Hartwick College Alumni Choir from New York; Tallahassee Community Choir, Florida; Pepperdine University Choir, California; the Idaho-Washington Concert Chorale; Spartanburg Festival Chorus, South Carolina; and from Europe, Russian Tebe Poem and the Czech Republic’s Bohemiachor. They were followed by Czech National Symphony Orchestra instrumentalists for percussion, harp and organ, and one of America’s leading choral directors, Anton Armstrong.

Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms soon filled the Hall. In accordance with Bernstein’s notes to this liturgical work, the part for countertenor was sung by a young boy soprano (this evening, Tobiáš Franta), “as if sung by the boy David himself.” When the choirs quieted, the organ thundered dramatically. Crescendo pummeled crescendo and then somehow it was over.

A very pregnant pause of complete silence came in its wake as Dr. Armstrong turned to face the hall full of people. Finally, the sound of a single person clapping turned into a cascade of applause.

After the intermission, Dr Armstrong joined the rest of us in the balcony, so we asked him a few questions for Opus Osm.

Conductor Armstrong: Smetana Hall

What does Dr. Armstrong think of Prague? This is his second trip to the city. On a previous trip he was assisting with American spirituals. “Prague is a beautiful city,” he says. And what about the current venue – Smetana Hall in The Municipal House, one of Prague’s most significant Art Nouveau buildings and a national cultural landmark? “It sings easily. In some halls you have to fight,” he says.

Next, the choirs were joined by the rest of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Soloists Marcia Porter (soprano, USA), Kateřina Jalovcová (alto, Czech Republic), Keith Jones (tenor, USA) and Ondrej Mráz (bass, Czech Republic) figured prominently in this portion of the performance, Mozart’s Requiem, directed by Dr André J Thomas.

This time at the performance’s conclusion Conductor Thomas, unlike his colleague Dr Armstrong, met with a completely different reaction. He was immediately overwhelmed by unending applause: once, twice, three times, four times, and more.

And an evening that had started out with a rather forlorn, empty stage ended up as an entire concert hall filled with choirs, orchestra, glorious music and endless applause. – oo

– Hana Škrdlová

Photo Credits: Frank Trollman

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