Tuesday, November 15,2011:Czech Desert

Many Czechs love to visit Arizona's Grand Canyon, while many Tucson concert-goers enjoy Czech music.

The Czech Desert Connection

It’s no surprise that people all over the world listen to Czech classical music, finding fans and lovers in the most unexpected places. And it’s not only the music that wins the affection of music lovers. A very special relationship has sprung up between Jiří Gemrot – the Czech contemporary composer and composition teacher at the Prague Conservatory – and the American town of Tucson.

The town in southern Arizona, sitting in a desert valley lined with mountain peaks, might seem an ideal setting for westerns, but Tucson has also its dedicated classical music supporters and audience.

The Arizona Friends of Chamber Music (AFCM), a non-profit organization, runs a unique commissioning program for new compositions from all around the world, and organizes music events. The sponsorship of new chamber music isn’t an anonymous, lump donation. Instead, each member of the audience, even couples and groups, have a chance to personally select a composer or piece they want to support.

Tucson's western suburbs differ slightly from Prague's.

That’s how Mr. Gemrot found his way to Arizona. He found his listeners in the Arizona audience. “The cooperation with AFCM began 10 years ago when I was commissioned to compose a piano quintet,” Mr Gemrot remembers. “The piece got a lot of positive reception during its premiere in Tucson and the contacts have continued up till now.” He has created other compositions: Clarinet Quintet, Bass Quintet, and Piano Sonata for Four Hands. He emphasizes the crucial role of Ms Joan Jacobson, who took to his music and sponsored most of the works.

Customarily, the new works are performed for the first time in Arizona by the Pražák String Quartet during a music festival. But since the ensemble’s busy schedule didn’t allow a tour to Arizona this season, the AFCM agreed that Mr. Gemrot’s latest commission, String Quartet No 2, can premiere in Prague at 7:30 pm on Nov 16, before its American premiere.

The venue befits the occasion, as the piece, part of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Music series, is scheduled to be played at The Rudolfinum concert hall, which Mr Gemrot describes to Opus Osm “as the unofficial music Olympus, a place with wonderful acoustics, where an educated, demanding, and perceptive audience comes.”

And the festive premiere will be topped by the attendance of Ms Jacobson, who is coming all the way from Tucson to listen to the music of her favourite.

Besides the premiere of the new work by Mr Gemrot, listeners can hear the works of Mozart and Tedesco performed by the Pražák String Quartet and its guest, Israeli classical guitarist Liat Cohen. – oo

– Zuzana Sklenková

Photo Credits: Top: PDPhoto.org; bottom: Jeff Dean


  1. Joan Jacobson
    Posted December 1, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    What a terrific string quartet from Jiří Gemrot! I think it is his best composition to date and I was so happy to be able to come to Prague to hear it, much sooner than its future premiere in Tucson. The Pražák Quartet gave a stunning performance of a piece which must be a challenge to play, but is a great pleasure to listen to.

    Congratulations to all five very talented musicians!

  2. Zuzana Sklenkova
    Posted December 3, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    It was a wonderful concert indeed, with the string quartet as a centrepiece. We will be happy to cover more of Jiří Gemrot’s music in the future.

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