A Better Kind of White Power

The Čhavorenge Romany children's choir had the audience rockin' in the Rudolfinum. Read how.

The Čhavorenge Romany children’s choir had the audience rockin’ in the Rudolfinum. Read how.

Music has the power to unite and to inspire, as the Čhavorenge Choir of Romany children, dressed in gleaming white, proved recently.

What does nationalism and power mean in 2015 – in the Czech Republic or Ukraine or anywhere?

The various answers came at a Nov 17 Students’ Day concert.

It was held in the Rudolfinum and featured the Czech Philharmonic Students’ Orchestra and several student choirs from several parts of the country.

Celebrating 25 Years of Freedom

Kubelik, Old Town Sq

Kubelík conducts on Old Town Square, 1990

Twenty-five years ago, the first free elections were held, later celebrated with an open-air concert at Old Town Square conducted by Rafael Kubelík with the Czech Philharmonic.

This time we are back in the concert hall, the orchestra is half female, the 7th democratic election is over, our first president is no longer here, but the emotions are still with us.

The Velvet Revolution jubilee concert started solemnly and nobly here in The Rudolfinum. It was broadcast to radio listeners, glossed by commentators from the classic radio station. Contributions came from recordings of Václav Havel and live from the stage by the Cardinal and Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka. The audience was probably unintentionally following the slogan of this day, “Thank you that we can.”


Nazi invasion, Wenceslas Square, 1939

In this concert today’s students paid tribute to the students from 1989 who took part in the velvet-calm political change and to students from 1939 who faced the rough drama of Nazi beatings after their peaceful protests. The concert hall was crowded particularly with former students from 1989, but the stage belonged to the young members of the Orchestral Academy of the Czech Philharmonic and to the massive white-shirted choir that flooded the gallery above the orchestra, filling the last spot.

From the beginning, attention alternated among the performance of the Romany children’s choir Čhavorenge (Children) and several choirs from East Bohemia – Corale and Vox Coloris, the south Moravian Barbastella – and the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir.

The grand overture Egmont, Opus 84 by Beethoven recalled the struggle for independence in a symbolic way, the battle against oppression in the 16th century. Next followed the passionate and emotional symphonic rhapsody Taras Bulba by Janáček. Even though this piece concentrates on a story of the Cossacks struggling against the Polish nobility, its finished version was dedicated by the composer to the armed guards of the Czechoslovak nation, in 1921.

After the concert, in the bathroom some students from the choir were overheard evaluating this piece as “awfully modern and painful to listen to.” We suppose that they didn’t know that this composition was heavily honoured and cheered during its premiére nearly a century ago.

Marko Ivanovič

Marko Ivanovič conducts the concert’s young orchestra

The classic melancholic celebration of the Czech lands followed – Smetana’s symphonic poem From the Czech Woods and Fields. Czech listeners have heard this bit many times on radio and TV; nevertheless, here its live interpretation obtained new dimensions and unexpectedly livened up under the vivid conducting by the originally Yugoslavian conductor and composer Marko Ivanovič.

The co-conductor, teacher, and choirmaster Ida Kelarová together with the 160-member, massed choir gradually set the whole audience, at first a bit stiff, in motion and song with their Romany folk songs. After the closing hymn Gaudeamus Igitur by Brahms, listeners demanded an encore performance of the Romany songs.

Čhavorenge children's choir

Čhavorenge children’s choir is led by choirmaster Iva Kelarová (r)

It was obvious that such emotional performances are not so common in The Rudolphinum. Therefore we can be very grateful to the Czech Philharmonic which goes on breaking down walls between different music genres – and different generations.

– Hana Blažková, Opus Osm writer

Photo Credits: Top, middle, bottom: Czech Philharmonic; Kubelík, Nazis on Wenceslas Square, YouTube (see links)

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