Wed, November 9, 2011:The How & Why of It

Where do the notes come from? Read on ...

The How and Why of It

When you go to a concert, the program is already well-prepared in advance for you. But how does a composer begin to write? How does a festival organizer decide whom to invite to perform?

We decided to investigate, and so we asked three people who should know: the very accomplished composer/teacher/performers, Hanuš Bartoň, Jiří Gemrot, and Marios Christou. Mr Christou is also the founder and organizer of the International Festival of Orthodox Music.

“This June I had the pleasure to hear from Mr Christou, who is a former student of mine,” Mr Gemrot tells Opus Osm. “He asked if I would be interested in writing a composition for this Festival.” Mr Christou also approached his former composition analysis teacher Mr Bartoň with the same challenge, and that’s how the pieces were added to the Festival.

Jiří Gemrot

Mr Bartoň is the head of the Prague Academy (HAMU) composition department and is active in piano concerts and recording. Mr Gemrot is the music director in chief at Czech Radio and also teaches composition at the Prague Conservatory.

“Both composers are very good musicians,” Mr Christou explains. “And I liked the contrast between their two styles,” he says. He had given the liturgical text “It Is Truly Meet” to Mr Gemrot to write, and “Cherubic Hymn” to Mr Bartoň.

Marios Christou

Why this combination?

“It just happened this way,” Mr Christou says. “God arranged it this way – it came up naturally,” he smiles.

He explains that “Cherubic Hymn” is meditative and quiet, meant to represent angels singing directly to God. In contrast, “It Is Truly Meet [to Magnify You, Saint Mary]” is an animated hymn of praise.

Hanuš Bartoň

“Although it was my first meeting with a spiritual theme,” Mr Bartoň says, “I found a lot of deeply inspiring moments in the content of this Orthodox prayer. The form of it became the leading principle for the formal solution of the piece.”

He adds, “I wanted to follow the sense of these parts of the text and to express something similar by musical means.” The first part of the music “responds to my image of cherubs,” he reveals.

“When I read through the text,” Mr Gemrot says, “I already heard the melody that would go with it.” He says he tried to use certain musical expressions common specifically in Orthodox music. These include the pedal point, or single “drone” note sustained for a long time, and parallel fifths, a melody note with another note five tones above or below it, which supports the piece’s characteristic Orthodox sound.

Although the Festival for this year is over, you can still hear live music by both Mr Bartoň and Mr Gemrot. The MoEns ensemble will perform Mr Bartoň’s new piece Marcia Funebre for electric guitar and chamber ensemble Nov 24 at 7:30 pm at the Lichtenstein Palace, along with new compositions by Martin Marek, Miroslav Pudlák, Vladimír Bokes and others. The premieres will also be unveiled the day before in Brno.

Mr Gemrot’s String Quartet will be premiered at the Rudolfinum, by the Prague Quartet on Nov 16 at 7:30 pm in a concert presented by the Czech Chamber Music Society. – oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top, and Hanuš Bartoň: Miroslav Setnička; Jiří Gemrot: website; Marios Christou: same

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