‘Hearing’ a Film

Opus Osm

Ensemble Intercontemporain performs a range of works May 19, including one based on a contemporary film.

Have you seen the delicate and pleasantly quiet movie, My Life without Me (2003)? And would you like to hear it – if it was music?

You have a probably once-in-a-lifetime chance, at the May 19 Czech premiere of the composition of the same name by Miroslav Srnka (b. 1975), an internationally active Czech composer.

Mr. Srnka studied both musicology (now a regular guest at his alma mater, Charles University, involved in the development of critical editions of Dvořák, Janáček, and Martinů) and composition (at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts, with Milan Slavický).

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Miroslav Srnka

He is the author of several dozen compositions (devoted to voice, solo instruments, chamber, and philharmonic orchestras) commissioned by renowned European orchestras, opera houses, and festivals. Just a few are RSO ORF Vienna, Philharmonisches Orchester Heidelberg, Semperoper Dresden, Bavarian State Opera Munich, Munich Chamber Orchestra, Ensemble Modern, and Festival Musiques Demesurées.

Mr Srnka’s composition My Life without Me was written for Ensemble Intercontemporain which, since its founding in 1976 by Pierre Boulez, has supported creation of more than 500 musical works. Its world premiere took place in Paris in 2008.

From Film to the Concert Hall
The film by Isabel Coixet tells the story of Ann, a young woman from a modest background, mother of two young daughters. At the ripe age of 23 she is diagnosed with an inoperable ovarian tumor, leaving her some two or three months of life.

She takes the surprising decision not to share this shocking news with her beloved and loving family, but to spend the rest of her short life doing things she regards as important, or things she has not managed yet. These situations in the movie take place mostly in dialogues with the circle of her closest people, but Miroslav Srnka focuses just on Ann’s part of the conversations, creating a vocal/orchestral work.Opus Osm

Only the main character is sung, by the American soprano Claron McFadden, one of the most versatile singers of her generation. She straddles genres from the early Baroque repertoire to opera to jazz.

Mrs McFadden will be alone on the stage, supported only by the orchestra (for this occasion divided into three sections, probably to embody different levels of her – and generally human – life), leading several monologues.

To me it seems a good rendition of the solitude of a dying person: In spite of being surrounded by loving people to whom you direct your thoughts and words, this burden is always carried alone.

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Conductor Hanus

Do you remember the scenes in the movie when Ann is recording tapes with wishes for her daughters’ future birthdays, leaving messages and advice for her husband and lover, or addressing her mother? Those, showing her alone, are probably the most powerful scenes, and I believe they could inspire the composer’s conception. However much still alive, Ann is already speaking from the other shore, where nobody can go with her.

Contemporary classical music often has interesting inspirational sources and My Life without Me is definitely a very remarkable and promising one. — oo

– Lucie Rohanová

The Prague Spring concert My Life without Me will be presented May 19 at 8 pm at the Prague Conservatory, with Tomáš Hanus conducting. A former assistant to Jiří Bělohlávek at his Janáček performances at Prague’s National Theatre, today Mr Hanus conducts with Bayerische Staatsoper, Staatskappelle Dresden, and the Polish National Opera.

Photo Credits: Photos from websites of Ensemble Intercontemporain, Miroslav Srnka, and Tomáš Hanus; watch image:Bigfoto

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