Sailing Troubled Waters

Opus Osm

Libor Novaček in a masterful performance Dec 15 at The Rudolfinum

If you’re not a professional musician, you might think a concert stage that holds only a single musician and a big black Steinway could mean you’re in for a little rough going.

But pianist Libor Novaček Jr, proved his seasoned interpretive skills in FOK’s World Piano concert Dec 15 at the Rudolfinum. He led us safely through the many changeable moods of Beethoven’s Sonata No 3, sailed beautifully through the seven Fantasies of Brahms’ Opus 116, and concluded with an impressive, sensitive presentation of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The prolonged applause and “bravos!” of the enthusiastic audience proved they knew they’d just heard a world-class performance.

A graduate of London’s Guildhall School of Music, Mr Novaček has attracted the notice of major music critics, and performs in concerts and festivals around the world. In fact, our initial interview was delayed because he was “driving back with his dog from a concert tour of Spain,” Mr Novaček’s father, violist Libor Sr, told Opus Osm.

So the image of a concert pianist driving home across kilometers of Europe with his dog probably gives you a different impression than the one created when a tuxedoed pianist formally walks onto the bare stage. But once his music begins, Mr Novaček is not so much playing the piano as asking essential questions of the music, listening carefully to the answers, and sharing them with his attentive audience.

A House Filled with Music
Perhaps the fear of formality is one reason so many young people seem to steer clear of classical concerts these days. So we wanted to know how this particular boy grew up to become a musician.

“There was always music in the house,” Mr Novaček begins, “either my dad practicing his viola or my mother listening to the then-forbidden classical radio stations from Germany and Austria. I started with singing and then took up the piano really just for fun, to meet other kids of the same age.”

The acclaimed pianist admits he had first thought of becoming a veterinarian or a lawyer, “but at age 13 I had to choose, and music somehow was the most natural and easiest decision,” he says.

“My routine was established by my mother, who made sure that every day I was in front of the piano at 17:00 sharp and did my practicing. She also often sat with me, helping me practice. It was all very natural. Instead of any kind of forcing me to do things, my family only encouraged and supported me in both good and bad times.” Interestingly, he has never played the piano with his violist father as a duo; they’ve only performed as part of a small chamber orchestra.

But isn’t it a Czech stereotype that the Czech people are all natural musicians? “This is unfortunately not valid anymore,” Mr Novaček replies. Like an ice floe in rising seawater, “Classical music is rapidly disappearing from the face of the earth. And the so-called ‘Czech musicianship’ is also getting diluted, because performing artists are studying abroad and experiencing very varied musical schools and traditions – which enriches their playing and musical thinking.”

A Young Pianist Concerned about Youth

Opus Osm

Mr Novaček questions whether Czechs' musical heritage will be handed down to future generations.

The young musician predicts choppy seas ahead for today’s parents. “Unfortunately, the current life style and traditional values of many young people have shifted to the point where the superficial things in life gain over something with a huge tradition and real value, such as music, the theatre, etc.,” he notes. “In the last few years I have been noticing a very rapid decline in interest in classical music; especially, I’m missing young people listening and attending concerts.

“So my message is,” he pleads, “please bring your children to concerts. Explain to them a little about how to behave, and what they will be listening to. This is the only way to secure a future generation of music lovers!”

He concludes, “Most current concert-goers confess that it was their parents or grandparents who took them to concerts for the first time — and that is how they discovered the world of classical music.” — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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