Did You Say ‘American’ Spring?

Opus Osm

Spillville, Iowa about the time Dvořák landed there in 1893. Today's American Spring Festival seeks to strengthen Czech-American connections.

Classical festivals of all sizes and flavors are springing up now that Spring has returned to the Czech Republic. But do you know about one of the newer ones, The American Spring?

This International Dvořák Society festival takes classical music performances and presentations “on the road,” bringing American and Czech performers not only to Prague, but mainly to the small towns and villages across the Republic. That includes cities like Brno, towns like Kroměříž, and even villages like Pňov-Předhradí (which, frankly, isn’t even on my map).

This year’s festival, the 8th, started Apr 9 with a gala Prague Castle concert by The Band of the Castle Guards and Police of the Czech Republic, and Czech-American pianist Jitka Fowler-Franková. The two works by Grieg and a symphony by contemporary Spanish composer Theodoro Apacirio Barberan brought the audience to its feet demanding encores, according to the Society’s director, Jiřina Rybáčková.

Opus Osm

Diana Fanning

The festival continues with a piano concert May 7 by Diana Fanning of Middlebury, Vermont, USA, as part of the Society’s regular free Prague concerts on the first Tuesday of each month, October-April.

That’s followed by concerts by finalists from international piano competitions such as the Gina Bachauer Young Artists Competition and the American Pianists Association. Other concerts, through July 4, will feature vocalists, a choir, two American youth symphonies, and Czech and American musicians on guitar, organ, or piano. Most of the concerts are free or at low cost.

‘My Father, George Voskovec’
If you’re interested in learning about an important slice of Czech culture, be sure to catch an especially intriguing program, “My Father, George Voskovec,” June 7 in Horažd’ovice and June 21 in Dobříš. Director Libuše Rudinská will screen and discuss her documentary about the famous, inter-war era actor.

If you don’t know the name, Mrs Rybáčková explains, “Voskovec and his partner Jan Werich, known as V+W, had their own theatre, called The Liberated Theatre, where they did political satire and musical comedies. Their ‘court composer’ Jaroslav Ježek [for whom the music conservatory is named] was strongly influenced by jazz. The songs by V+W have been sung by generations of Czechs and continue to be popular.”

The International Dvořák Society and its Festival
Established in 2006 by the International Dvořák Society, The American Spring Festival brings concerts and presentations not only to Prague, but to dozens of medium and small communities throughout the Czech Republic. Cooperating with other cultural and academic institutions, its aim is to enrich the cultural life outside Czech’s largest cities, and, through personal encounters between American guests and Czech audiences, to strengthen the two countries’ ties.So far, the young festival has already presented more than 280 concerts and programs in about 50 cities, towns, and villages, presenting nearly a hundred performers from the US, Canada, and the Czech Republic, according to the Society. This year, concerts will be added to the towns of Horažd’ovice, Dobříš, Kroměříž, Slaný, Mníšek pod Brdy, and Opava.

The International Dvořák Society was founded by world-renown Czech pianist Radoslav Kvapil in 1999. Among other accomplishments, Mr Kvapil has recorded the entire piano corpus of Dvořák and Janáček.

She continues, “After the Germans took over in 1938, the trio emigrated to the US. Ježek died there. Both V+W returned to Czechoslovakia, but when the communists came to power in 1948, Voskovec emigrated to the US once more. He became a respected dramatic actor, mostly in New York, and also appeared in many films and TV movies,” she tells Opus Osm.

“He doesn’t have much in common with Dvořák,” Mrs Rybačková admits, “except that he, like Dvořák, represents a link between the two countries. And since our mission is not only to play Dvořák’s works, but also to honor his spiritual legacy, we feel that showing the documentary of the American half of Voskovec’s life is very fitting for our festival.

“Our festival is noted for its informality and friendly atmosphere,” she adds, “offering the visiting musicians and presenters some unique opportunities to visit beautiful, historic Czech towns and villages, while bringing unique cultural events to the residents.”

And the visiting Americans, as well as the residents who can probably sing along with the V+W tunes, will appreciate the rare chance to meet and share their respective cultures during this unique festival. –oo

– Mary Matz

The next American Spring concert, featuring pianist Diana Fanning, will be Tues, May 7 at 2:30 pm, at the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, Korunní 60, Prague. For other American Spring Festival concerts, check the Opus Osm “third column” of weekly events, on any article page.

Photo Credits: Top: Spillville Museum; bottom: Diana Fanning website

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