70th Prague Spring & World War II
The 70th edition of the world-famous Prague Spring International Music Festival May 12-June 3 brings a delicate, healing musical touch to the theme of World War II.
Roman Bělor, the Festival director, explains that orchestras from some cities that suffered devastation during the war – Hamburg, Saint Petersburg (Leningrad), and Liverpool – will give guest performances. And, “We will be commemorating Dmitri Shostakovich as figure who exemplifies the struggle of a genius and a creative spirit against both [world war] spectres of the 20th century.”
Contemporary German composer Heiner Goebbels is rehearsing his Czech premiere of Songs of Wars I Have Seen… with The Berg Orchestra, and also participates in this May 25 performance.
Watch a short video introducing another of Heiner Goebbels’ work:
The Prague Spring International Music Festival traditionally opens with Smetana’s My Country, and so Director Bělor concludes, “With regard to the modern consciousness of the Czech nation in a free Europe, I regard the first post-war performance of Bedřich Smetana’s My Country by a German orchestra [NDR SinfonierOrchester Hamburg, May 12] in Prague as an historic event.”
The St. Petersburg Philharmonic led by Jurij Těmirkanov performs May 16-17. Shostakovich’s sad, emotive Symphony No 5 in D Minor, Opus 47 from the uneasy pre-war Russia controlled by Stalin, is followed the next day by Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Opus 60, the “Leningrad,“ which mirrors the tense atmosphere in the besieged town.The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, conducted by Vasilij Petrenko, closes the festival.
Charismatic soprano Lisa Larsson performs June 2 the suite from Janaček’s opera From the House of the Dead. (Coincidentally, the entire opera premieres at The National Theatre May 14 and 16, providing a good companion piece.) Then the Liverpool orchestra brings us the final Prague Spring concert, June 3, performing Dvořák’s Symphony No 7 in D Minor.
Cosmopolitan Orchestras with Distinctive Sound and Style
Among the orchestra delicacies definitely belongs the Italian Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under the leadership of Sir Antonio Pappano. They are in Prague for the first time and bring along tempting compositions from Verdi, Tchaikovsky, and Sibelius May 28.
The very young but very respected Budapest Festival Orchestra with lively conductor / composer Iván Fischer is not in Prague for the first time. They perform May 29 together with the remarkable Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires who is highly respected for her interpretations of the piano music of W.A. Mozart.
The Czech Philharmonic for this once plays under Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste, known for his passion for the Romantic repertoire. The major attraction of this May 22 concert is the Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Credited as an Austrian composer and the forefather of film music, Korngold was actually born in Brno and later settled in the USA to escape Nazi persecution. His classic music for the film Robin Hood is also presented, by the Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK) May 26.
You can watch a video of some of Korngold’s iconic theme music for Robin Hood:
Festival Premieres and Debuts
Prague Spring is spiced with several premieres; two are operas. The young Lʾubica Čekovská from Slovakia offers Dorian Gray in English, staged in the National Theatre May 19. Filoktétes (May 23) from ancient Greek mythology, is by one of the most important names in Czech contemporary culture, Jan Klusák. The composer is quoted as giving himself the opera as a present for his 80th birthday.
Prague Spring commissioned the world premiere of the audio-visual Lime Works Sinfonietta by Petr Wajsar (also with The Berg Orchestra May 25). This fantasy based on lots of percussions and strings arose from visiting the large Devil’s Stairs formation near Prague. The composer promises lots of sound surprises and at the same time assures us that they won’t damage our hearing.
Numerous future world stars have made their debut at the Prague Spring Festival, and this spring there are several occasions to see young artists. Czech conductor Marek Šedivý leads the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra May 31.
Talented Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka, who has sung in Covent Garden and debuted this year at The Met, introduces four young singer debutants and performs with them May 23. The concert partner is Chateau Liteň, which honors the celebrated Czech soprano who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1940.
And finally, Prague Spring International Music Competition will announce the winners from over 400 entrants in the international flute and clarinet categories, May 13 and 14 respectively.
– Hana Blažková, Opus Osm writer
Photo Credits: Top: Prague Spring website; videos, YouTube; Liverpool children, Liverpool records office; bottom, Wikipedia.