Students on Stage-with The Czech Philharmonic!


Following their concert with the Czech Philharmonic, students crowd around conductor Jiří Bělohlávek for autographs.

How do 12-year old cellists, barely the size of their instruments, get to play on the most prestigious musical stage in the Czech Republic, under the lead of Maestro Jiří Bělohlávek himself?

This was no dress-up game – the cellists were some of the many students from Czech primary schools of the arts who participated in a real concert with the Czech Philharmonic in the famed Rudolfinum June 21. It was the second concert of this kind, this one dedicated to the celebration of the European Day of Music.

Players from 30 Schools
The music ensemble that took the stage was hardly modest. Over 80 students from 30 music academies spanning five regions of the country performed their very best that night. They executed movements both complex and rich as they tackled two masterworks of Czech classical music, Smetana’s Šárka and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major.horns

Both girls and boys, in evening dresses or slacks, ranging in age from the impossibly young to older teens, pulled their bows and blew their horns by turns delicately and then forcefully, but always harmoniously.

Peppered among the young players were musicians drawn from the Czech Philharmonic, who led their respective sections of the orchestra, guiding their young colleagues through the more difficult steps.

But the mentoring was always kind and patient. As one young violin player confided, “I am grateful to my mentor Mr. K who doesn’t mind pointing out for the 150th time that [apparently] I was playing on the wrong side of the bow.”

Watch Jiří Bělohlávek conduct a similar student rehearsal from last year. His instructions are in Czech, but the meaning and results are universal:

A Learning Experience for Students … and their Mentors
A generational meet-up over music is not only a great learning experience for the youngsters, but an opportunity for the older generation to pass down the craft they’ve accumulated over decades of practice and performance.

The concert also celebrates the unique network of primary arts schools (Základní Umělecké Školy) and the work of music teachers who accomplish extraordinary results with their students.

Ladislav Cigler

Ladislav Cigler

The pieces they performed are challenging in Czech classical music. Each piece required a half-year of preparation, during which the students practiced with their local teachers in their town and later with in regional sessions in Moravia and Silesia. The young musicians then prepared intensively in Prague prior to the performance with the Czech Philharmonic.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing, either. Several of the students confessed they weren’t sure of being up to the challenge: “At one point, I thought, ‘There is no way I am going to learn to play this, even if they made my hands out of gold,’ ” one girl said later.

Education First … Experimentation Later (Maybe)
So who is the driving force behind this special, intergenerational project? Besides the Czech Philharmonic, the credit goes to the association of primary arts schools, which contacts the schools, manages the preparation, and nominates Ladislav Cigler for the rehearsals. Mr Cigler, head and conductor of the Prague Youth Philharmonic, is involved in multiple student projects. He believes that education, rather than innovation, should be the primary goal when it comes to young players.

″I love Dvořák, Smetana, Cigler, and Bělohlávek.” “The Czech Philharmonic musicians are just normal people.” “It was really hard work, but definitely worth it.”
– Young performers’ comments, on the Habrmanova arts school website, Hradec Králové

For this reason, he stresses the importance of selecting the right material for a youth performance: “The music piece that we choose needs to be clearly written, there can be no ambiguity about which notes have to be played – no experiments,” he says, “– this is education.”

During the Rudolfinum performance, Mr. Cigler conducted Smetana’s Šárka, while Jiří Bělohlávek conducted the main showpiece, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8.

Appearance by a Very Special Guest

Antonín Dvořák III

Antonín Dvořák III

Aside from talented mix of older and young performers and conductors, an unusual visitor appeared, the grandson of Mr. Dvořák himself. He stood for a brief, but funny, 5 minute interview before the performance of his grandfather’s symphony.

Sitting among the many parents in the audience that night, one couldn’t help but share their pride. Their kids were really good! Maybe for next time the players should think about preparing a short encore, because they will surely get to play it.

– Zuzana Sklenková, Opus Osm assistant editor/writer,
with guest writer Joshua Mensch

Photo Credits: Photos, video: Petra Hajská, The Czech Philharmonic

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