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Mr Zuska's Solo for Three

Petr Zuska had a 4 million Czech crown problem.

Artistic Director and Choreographer Zuska was planning an “Americana” premiere of legendary US choreography for Prague’s National Theatre. Then he discovered that his already tight 2010 budget had been instantly chopped by an additional 4 million Czech crowns.

“And you can’t save that amount by cutting back on ballet shoes,” he points out.

Fortunately, although preliminary arrangements had already been made, no contracts for Americana had been signed. But the powerfully-built, steely-blue-eyed choreographer had only two days to come up with a replacement.

Něco špatného je pro něco dobrého

as the Czechs say. Even something bad is good for something.

And out of this worst-possible moment came something good, Mr Zuska’s ballet, Svěcení Jara, premiering this month.

“Last February I had the premiere of my choreography for [Stravinsky's] The Rite of Spring, in Australia, and two months later my choreography for Mahler’s Symphony in D Major was presented in Shanghai,” Mr Zuska tells Opus Osm. But Czech audiences had had no opportunity to see either piece.

  • Watch a selection of Mr Zuska’s choreographies. Click “Too,” above.

In addition, he still had to solve the budget cutback. So he then added three duets — Deja Vu, Lyricka, and Empty Title — he’d created for international galas, making a center section bookended by the two other pieces.

Thus, Svěcení Jara was created …

Mr Zuska's choreography, A Little Extreme

proving the verity of the old Czech proverb.

Svěcení Jara, also translated as The Rite of Spring, premieres at The National Theatre Nov 11-12, with repeat performances on Nov 14, 18, and 27, and again Feb 1-2 and June 19. In addition to Mahler and Stravinsky, the music includes Chopin, plus Elvis Costello, folk ballads, and more.

Even before the curtain goes up, the program is bringing triple rewards. First, Czech audiences now can see Mr Zuska’s pieces previously presented only in Australia and China. Second, the program requires many dancers, so the whole company is involved.

And third? Mr Zuska’s solution saved an additional million crowns, he says.

Necessity is the mother of invention … oo

Artistic Director Zuska Offers Something for Everyone

Under Zuska’s leadership, the National Theatre Ballet ensemble has proceeded in several directions, staging:

  • current works of the classical repertoire (Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, Giselle, La Sylphide/Napoli)
  • neoclassical ballets (John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew and Onegin; Youri Vàmos’s Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker – A Christmas Carol, Othello; George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky, Pas de Deux)
  • and modern Czech and foreign works (choreographies by Jiří Kylián, Itzik Galili, Conny Janssen, Mats Ek, Nacho Duato, Jan Kodet, Stijn Celis, L. Vaculík, and others)

About Petr Zuska
A graduate of the Dance Department of the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague, Mr Zuska had danced with the Prague Chamber Ballet (1989-92), and since 1990 he has choreographed many productions here and abroad.

In 1992 Mr Zuska joined the National Theatre Ballet, dancing many solo roles. In 1998 he went to the Munich Ballet Theater, directed by Philip Taylor, and danced solos in choreographies by Philip Taylor, Jirí Kylián, and Rui Horta. The Ballet Theater Augsburg was his home in 1999, where he also devoted himself to choreography. In 2000 he became a regular soloist in Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal.

Besides his choreographic work he performs as a soloist in the National Theatre company’s contemporary repertoire, and the Theatre’s repertoire includes his earlier choreographies of Les Bras de Mer and Maria’s Dream.

Selected Choreographies and Awards
Out of the Depths, Adagietto (1994 Czech Literary Fund Prize)
Small Gallows (1994 Czech Literary Fund Prize)
Seul (1995)
In the Mist (1996)
Sonata (1999)
Triple Self (1999 Prix Dom Perignon for Young Choreographers), Ballet Theater Augsburg
Ways (2001), Semperoper, Dresden
Maria’s Dream (2002)
Clear Invisible (2002), Latvian National Opera, Riga
Les Bras de Mer (2002), in the repertoire of the Royal Danish Theater Ballet and Ballet Kirov
The Last Photo …? (2004), Ballet Augsburg
Ibbur, or Prague Mystery (2005)
Requiem (2006)
A Little Extreme (2006), Dusseldorf Ballet
Déjà Vu (2007)
Solo for Three (2007; diploma award, Competition of Contemporary Dance Creation 2008)
Lyrical (2008)
Empty Title (2009)
Symphony No. 1 in D Major (2010)
Svěcení Jara (2010)

The bolt slides back from the other side of the small, dark wooden door in the huge stone church. The door opens, and you run up the dark, narrow stairs towards a patch of yellow light. Already you hear them — the men singing unfamiliar, protracted syllables in unison in a minor key. There must be 40 of them.

Suddenly you’re in the cavernous darkness, a cool, shadowy sanctuary lit from above by only one multi-tiered chandelier and from below only by several pencil-sized candles. Flat, golden icons glimmer from the shadows.

And then you see them: not 40 men, only seven, dressed in jeans and jackets to stay warm in the unheated Prague church during this late October rehearsal. They’re part of the Greek male choir Psaltikis Diakoni, preparing for the International Festival of Orthodox Music 2010. They encircle choral master Ioannis Tsounis, a kind of black-haired, dark-eyed, black-bearded Santa. He chants, or sings, with his eyes closed, his hands occasionally floating, palms up, to inspire the chanters around him.

This is the Orthodox Sts Cyril and Methodius Church, a monastery-like refuge from the pounding traffic running alongside that little wooden back door. Saints Cyril and Methodius are honored with the Czech national holiday every July 5 for bringing the oldest known Slavic alphabet to the Czech lands in the year 863.

And the music is even older, explains His Excellency Konstantinos Kokosis, the Greek Ambassador to the Czech Republic. He’s briefly popped in to this rehearsal, on his way to a meeting in the eastern part of the country. “This Festival is quite important,” he explains, “because it provides another way to have the Greek Orthodox or Byzantine choir and the hymns listened to, which is quite different from the way the Western Catholic Church has developed.”

Western European music developed and evolved with individual composers such as Bach, and the religious music form using a large chorus and orchestra known as the oratorio. But in Byzantine lands after the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century “everything had just stopped,” the Ambassador says. However, the great monks (or saints) such as Basil, Gregory, and John flourished despite the Ottoman conquest, and the Greek Orthodox tradition survived. Many of the chants still used in the Church today are 1,000 years old.

Choral Master Ioannis Tsounis (l) reviews notations with Dr Christou

Ambassador Kokosis admits that Byzantine or Greek Orthodox chants “are quite different for the Western ear.” One voice chants while the surrounding singers provide only one drone note, the bass voice. Additionally, the chants include some intervals, or notes, which don’t exist in the Western scale. The result creates a supremely calming, ethereal, or meditative feeling in many Western listeners. But for the chanters themselves, it’s more than that. The composers were literally saints. “They are the Holy Spirit, the experience of the Holy Spirit,” says the Greek choral master Ioannis Tsounis, as Dr Marios Christou, the Festival founder, translates.

The members of Psaltikis Diakoni have slipped on their long, black robes and continue their rehearsal. It seems to help them focus on their purpose, which is not to entertain an audience with song, but to attain a spiritual connection through chant.

Mixed Voices

As serious and thoughtful as Mr Tsounis is, his counterpart Marios Charalambous is a bit different. The young, bouncy school teacher and renowned protopsaltist (a kind of chanter of psalms) is rehearsing his role for the upcoming festival with four members of Philokallia, the Prague-based female choir founded and directed by Dr Christou.

Dr Christou directs members of Philokallia, with Mr Charalambous (center)

“I’m very excited to sing with Philokallia,” the young Cypriot says. Normally in the Greek Orthodox tradition, men’s and women’s voices are never mixed. He explains that the Church “considered it bad” for women to sing there; and he acknowledges that the monophonic bass tones sound different when women sing the parts. “I wanted to hear a man sing with women. But now that I’ve heard it, I think it’s very nice.”

Suzana Šejtková is one of the four members of Philokallia performing in the festival. “When we sing Orthodox music, people become touched and feel special,” she explains. “People pray different ways,” the young woman observes, “some with the words, and others with singing.” She and her friends — some professional singers, some amateurs — sing in the church choir here every Sunday because “we feel like we belong to some community.” But, she adds, “No one in Philokallia is religious — except Dr Christou.”

The International Festival of Orthodox Music 2010 was held in late October and featured four evenings of variations on Byzantine chant, from traditional forms to romantic and postmodern composers’ interpretations. The festival’s aim was to show the diversity of Orthodox music and to highlight the fact that “Orthodox music is an integral part of European culture and classical music, too,” according to Dr Christou. He also wants to “address the absence of any musical festivals or ensembles focusing on this type of music.”

Meanwhile, Mr Charalambous, who started learning to chant in his native Cyrprus at the age of 10, says that he’s thankful for the opportunity to present some of the culture of his country to a new, Prague audience, and for the opportunity to help produce “something magic.”

And indeed, something magic was produced at the festival. Dr Christou says, after the first evening’s concert, “Everything worked, and the atmosphere was nice.” Although this is the first public concert in Prague of Byzantine music, “the church was full and people liked it. We look forward to holding the Festival again around this time next year.” oo

– Baia Dzagnidze contributed to this article

If you missed Philokallia and the Festival, you can hear them in concert on Wed., Dec 1 at The Rudolfinum, according to Dr Christou. It’s part of a program honoring the 200th anniversary of The Prague Conservatory. The program will also include music composed by Czech rock star Michal Pavlíček.


VIP: Historic building, modern methods

The music is cued, the massive, wall-to-wall mirrors are polished, and the faculty is on its toes, poised to welcome students to a new, English-instruction ballet school in Prague.

VIP International School of Ballet, also known as the International Ballet School, starts classes on Sep 21. Its facilities nestle in part of the National Theatre Ballet school’s 14th-century complex.

The school is the first ballet school operating exclusively in English, the school manager explains, because today most choreographers and ballet masters work in English. Jana Malisová adds that all of VIP’s faculty are ballet masters at the National Theatre. “All our pedagogues are former or current ballet soloists, not just from the chorus, and they are very good teachers,” she explains.

They include the school’s director Veronika Iblová, a graduate of the Prague Conservatory, former soloist of the Ballet at the Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava, soloist at the Gyori Ballet, Hungary, and since 1994, ballet master for Prague’s National Theatre Ballet.

Admission to the school is by interview, and instruction is tailored for children aged 4-18 in three age groups. The hour-long classes are held twice weekly starting at 4 pm, with occasional Saturday classes when students may meet leading foreign personalities on the world ballet scene or attend rehearsals of the National Ballet Theatre, according to Ms Malisová.


“It’s torture, really,” Ms Iblová sighs, first twisting her jaw and then breaking into a smile. “Ballet is torture.” Now 45, she danced Swan Lake at age 19; she retains the agility of a dancer half her age and the energy of a teenager. She uses that energy to make many little jokes, about torture and otherwise, when instructing student Katie Wood, 14.

Katie Wood, 14, 'discovers her muscles' under the careful tutoring of VIP's Iblová

At this moment, Katie is bent over on her hands and knees on the hard studio dance floor, cued for further instruction, or for the music. Whichever comes first.

She’s wearing regulation pale pink tights, pastel blue leotard, and a rather serious expression. After all, she is the sole “torture victim” at this private lesson in the middle of the spacious, modern studio.

Ms Iblová presses a few points on Katie’s spine, offers a few quick words of instruction, gives a little laugh, and pats Katie lightly on the back. Katie laughs, too, and the music starts. And the young teen slowly, elegantly stretches her palms forward across the floor, pulls inward, rises upward, arching her back, and tilts her chin back towards the ceiling.

Suddenly, she is a ballerina.


Ms Iblová watches carefully. Despite appearances, Katie isn’t really dancing, she’s practicing Ms Iblova’s “Bodyform” instruction method. It draws upon gymnastics as a starting point to strengthen and shape the feet, hips, center, and spine.

“My Bodyform method changes the shape of the body,” director Iblová explains. “It develops support from here” — she puts her palms on her mid-section — “and I can do everything if I have this support.” She stands on one foot and in a nanosecond, waves her shoulders, arms, neck, and head in a supple, almost spineless motion — without falling a millimeter.

“We’re forming the body,” she says.”It’s an artificial thing, and it takes a long time to reach the moment you can play on your body. Like a concert master can play Mozart on the violin. Today there are many [dance] styles, and you have to use your body like a violin player can play many styles of music.”

Ms Iblová says her students can practice Bodyform exercises every morning as homework, to tune the body for ballet.

Tough but Nice

But what does Katie, practicing the same stretch over and over for more than half an hour, think of this method?

“I love it!” she says. She started ballet lessons at age 5, back home in New Hampshire, and before moving to Prague with her parents last week, had been dancing three hours a day, five days a week.

But her American instructors required their students to “keep ramrod straight” without moving the spine. Now, after only her second lesson with Ms Iblová, Katie admits she’s already “found all the muscles” in her back. “I can feel something changing,” she says.

Her new teacher directs Katie to the barre for some more traditional ballet moves. “And one and two and stretch and plié and …” Ms Iblová gently counts.

“I love it — it’s so different here,” Katie says, smiling. Does she mean at VIP, or in Prague?

“Both!” she laughs. “I love this building from the 14th century, and I like this teaching method better.

“It’s tough,” she admits. “–But in a nice way.” oo

* Related Story: VIP says it’s the first English-speaking ballet school in Prague. Is English in the classics important? Click on Education in the top menu bar.


Antonín Dvořák III applauds the winners

Eight young winning composers from around the world, and all under the age of 34, accepted prizes for their entries in the First Annual International Antonín Dvořák Composition Competition Aug 2 at The Rudolfinum, Prague.

Entrants were invited from 73 nations, narrowed down to 24 finalists. Ironically, only one Czech composer was among the winners.

Jiří Kabát, 26, of Prague, earned one of two Third Prizes in the Senior Category for his “Zalm 42″ for soprano, choir, and organ.

The new competition offered prizes totaling more than 100,000 Czech crowns, and certificates.

It aims to discover talented young composers from around the world, honor Dvořák’s memory and achievements, and support young composers’ career activities. Co-founders are Antonín Dvořák III and Choi Young-Chul, director of Seouloratorio, Korea.

Indeed, Dvořák would be impressed with the talent and the cooperation available in this new world.

Jiří Kabát: A Waltz on Organ

Jiří Kabát

Mr Kabát’s winning composition contains six variations on a theme from Dvořák’s Waltz in A Major. Written for organ, it also features a chorale to St Anthony, Dvořák’s patron saint, and some of the variations also combine both theme and chorale.

The young composer, a graduate of Prague Conservatory and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Glasgow, began playing the violin at age 5 and later switched to viola. He is a member of the Dolezal Quartet and is also continuing his composition studies at the Conservatory.

“Because I make my living as a viola player I don’t hesitate to get inspiration, picking up tips and tricks, from what I hear and play,” he told Opus Osm. “But I have to admit since I’ve become interested in composition, more and more I can’t stand to write in Prague. Although my flat is nice and calm, there is still some noise.”

  • Watch a performance by Jiří Kabát. Click on “Too” in the top menu bar.

Dvořák famously received much inspiration from nature, and Mr Kabát is following this bit of the Dvořák tradition as well. “If there is a major part of some piece I have to finish,” he says, “I usually run to my parents’ cottage ‘in the middle of nowhere’ 170 km from Prague, and there I can write nice and quick.” Mr Kabát adds that his “amazing fiancée” supports his efforts.

Meanwhile, Back in the Battle …

Even though the International Antonín Dvořák Composition Competition is in its infancy, “Judging, beginning from the first round of competition, was never easy,” Director Choi says. “This was due to the large number of works submitted, in addition to the overall exceptional ability of the contestants.

“In the final round, the competition was so intense that the average scores of the upper four contestants were all within 0.3 points of a perfect score,” he explains. Nikolay Popov, Russia, won first prize in the Junior Category for his Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia, and Olivier Gagnon, Canada, took first in the Senior Category for his Les Adieux d’un Musicien piano solo. Mr Gagnon also won special prizes for a variation and for free composition.

A Common Language

Competition Co-founder and Director Choi sees Dvořák as the last among the modern composers to inherit both the musical tradition of the past, and to present a path for the future of music, he explains.

“Antonín Dvořák’s music has now become beloved by people the world over, not just Czech citizens,” he says. “Antonín Dvořák is not only a composer respected the world over, but his music holds value as a common language for all people.”

At the end of the concert, Director Choi turned to the audience, and without a microphone, bowed and confessed to the full house of enthusiastic listeners, “I love Antonín Dvořák’s music, and I love the Czech Republic.” He tells Opus Osm the reason for his impromptu remarks, “The composer Antonín Dvořák has left me many lessons in terms of music, faith, and humanity. In particular, Dvořák’s love for both his country and people, as expressed in his music, began to change my life and shape my view of my nation and people as well, thereby determining my own musical direction.

“Therefore, I love the Czech Republic which has given birth to him and the Czech people who respect him so much.”

The Importance of Support

Director Choi emphasizes the importance of support for the Competition thusly: “I bow my head in gratitude to all those who helped make this event possible, especially the Czech Foreign Ministry, and Czech Cultural Ministry, the Korean Embassy in the Czech Republic, as well as many Czech citizens including the descendants of the great composer Antonín Dvořák.

“I also would like to thank the Antonín Dvořák Society, Antonín Dvořák Museum (Prague, Vysoka), Prague Conservatory, AMU, Seouloratorio, Hankuk Univ. of Foreign Studies and Dvořák Academy for their support in this first ever competition, as well as Hyundai, Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. Ltd, Sungwoo Hightech, Lee Brothers & Co. Ltd, Moon Chang Shipbuilding Dockyard, Hyundai Filter Co. Ltd and Bohae Brewery Co. Ltd for their cooperation.”

The Director comments on the Competition, “Not everyone can be satisfied from the start, but I believe that the more one does something, the closer you will eventually make it to the goal. I have no doubt that this competition will produce many composers capable of carrying on the legacy of the great composer Antonín Dvořák.”

No doubt, the audience in Prague will look forward to next year’s competition and its awards ceremony concert, as well. oo

The Judging Committee

Director, Choi Young Chul;

Deputy Director, Aleš Kaňka, Prague Conservatory, performer

Chairman, Junior Group (ages 18-23), Pavel Trojan, Prague Conservatory, composer

Chairman, Senior Group (ages 24-33), Ladislav Kubík, Florida State University, composer

Judge, Alexey L. Larin, Gnessin Academy of Music, composer

Judge, Eduard Douša, Prague Conservatory, composer

Related Story

The Korean Connection: Is there a connection between Czech and Korean music? You might be surprised. Click on ‘Curtain’ to learn more.

The Author of This Article Comments: The audience enthusiasm and warmth at the Awards concert was palpable, in both the audience and the performers. What do you think is essential for a successful awards ceremony?

Correspondence between two sisters, on proper etiquette at classical concerts. Although written c. 1852, the advice dispensed here is still amazingly relevant today.

Flatonia’s Hat

Dearest Apollinaria,

I grieve to inform you of the fate of your exquisite designer hat, shaped like a cherry tree in bloom, which I’d borrowed. It succumbed last night to the foul intrigues of a person duty- and honor-bound to protect it: a cloakroom attendant. As a result I have broken with Livngstonia’s Music Theory teacher, Professor Stachelgruber.

I will start at the beginning.

As you know, I borrowed The Hat to attend the High School Choir’s performance of “The Mikado” with the Professor. We checked our coats, walking stick, and parasol – four items in all — in the cloak room without incident until the attendant demanded that I relinquish my hat!

I laughed, of course, asking her if I should not check my Dior evening gown as well. I turned to enter the high school gym only to find the way barred by the principal, a quintessential “Texas Big Hair Woman” who said she had paid good money to see The Mikado and not the back of my hat.

Well, I could not let such a slur go unanswered. Citing the ancient right of our sex to retain its headgear in public, I pointed out that her ridiculous hairdo towered over my hat by at least six inches.

The principal then declared she would remove my hat by force. I feinted to the left and, accidentally I swear, grabbed her coif, which, to my horror, came away in my hand – ‘twas a hairpiece of terrifying proportions.

Bellowing like an enraged ox, the woman viciously attacked The Hat. Wrenching it from my head, she deposited it with the cloakroom attendant, who smugly handed me a ticket, which I understandably tore up.

Even as a child, Flatonia was dissatisfied with small headgear.

By now the gendarmes had arrived, so I held the ox at bay with a stray hat pin, while the Professor collected our coats from the attendant. But when he demanded that she return the hat, she refused, as he could not produce a ticket and saucily told us to wait until everyone else had claimed their coats.

I was on the point of launching a renewed attack at the wretch, when the professor physically removed me from the cloakroom.

It was then that I broke with him. Not, as you may think, because he threw me over his shoulder and carried me through the foyer like a sack of potatoes, but because he tipped the cloakroom attendant five dollars on the way out.

In the course of our discussion in the taxi, I opined that he should have only tipped the woman four dollars, as she had failed to return my hat, and added that he was a pusillanimous snake with the loyalty of a ringworm. The Professor countered that the amount he tipped whom was his own business and brusquely disembarked from the cab, leaving me to foot the bill alone!

Now, Sister, I appeal to your overblown sense of propriety: four or five dollars? Be just and try to forget that my future rides on the verdict.

Sans beau et chapeau,
Flatonia Texas

Dearest Flatonia,

How many times did Maman predict that your immoderation – dare I say recklessness? — in the matter of hats would bring you to grief? Yes, wearing a hat indoors is a time honored privilege of our sex. And yet, as dear Maman also used to say, “With great privilege comes great responsibility.”

Apollinaria Novatna dispenses timely advice.

I cannot help but think, my dear, that, had you worn a smaller headpiece, the entire kerfuffle could have been avoided.

To your question: generally, cloak room attendants are tipped. The only exceptions are: Japan, New Zealand, or any country where tips are considered insults, when a sign states tips are not desired (attendants could lose their jobs for accepting), or when there is a cloak room fee.

As none of the above apply to last night’s extempore, a tip was in order.

The amount varies: in the US, a dollar per item is customary, here in Prague a twenty-crown piece is sufficient. I watch the people in front of me to avoid appearing gauche.

Does the attendant deserve a tip for the hat?

Yes, and here’s why. She did her job: guarding the item until she received the correct ticket from its owner. (This rule is adhered to religiously by cloak room attendants the world over, for good reason.) It is not her fault that you could not produce one.

Yet I cannot entirely absolve her of blame in this fracas. As it was the principal who deposited the hat, she should have received the ticket, tipped, and handed it to you who, in lieu of shredding it, should have reimbursed her for the tip.

The Professor, poor soul, was only trying to do what was right — though I gently encourage him to tip the attendant when depositing the garments, not in the general melee of collecting them.

In any case, my dear, I would judge the epithet “pusillanimous” misguided in reference to any man who attends a public event with you. I urge you to invite him to tea forthwith.

Your devoted Sister,
Apollinaria Novakova

PS: Grieve not for The Hat – she was a fake.

Dearest Apollonia,

A fake? I must have the name of your milliner!

The State School Authority acknowledged my complaint and returned both the hat and the dollar, which I remitted to Professor Stachelgruber – at tea. The sweet man apologized for failing to protect my property. As he gave me a real Mariette Bird of Paradise headpiece as a peace offering, I forgave him.

Hugs and kisses,
Flatonia Texas

Opus Osm etiquette expert Apollinaria Novatna (born circa 1852 and still going strong) explains the rules for feeling comfortable in classical society, with just a bit of a twinkle in her eye. Who says manners and classical performances have to be stilted or boring?

Dearest Apollinaria,
Forgive me, my dear, for bringing up such an indelicate subject as digestion.

Not long ago, I was invited to attend a concert of Arnold Schoenberg’s Drei Klavierstucke at the Round Top Opera Hall by our niece Livingstonia’s Music Theory Professor. Aware of my tendency to drift off and snore loudly after a full meal, I turned down the Professor’s invitation to dine at the Crazy Chicken Diner prior to the concert.

Our Miss Apollinaria

When I took my seat in the center of the third row, I had a pleasant feeling of emptiness, which lasted throughout the second Klavierstuck.

Helas, as the conductor lifted his baton in preparation for the third Stuck, the pleasant feeling turned into a gnawing, churning, aching, and utterly miserable hunger and my stomach issued its complaint with an interminable, pitiful, high-pitched, yowling, squealing, bawling wail of misery!

I managed to maintain the proper decorum, which sadly, cannot be said for the other people in the hall. The conductor dropped his baton, turned to the audience and said, “[For pity’s sake], will someone put that [blessed] coyote out of its misery?” Gentlemen crushed their programmes, ladies fainted, the lead violinist burst into tears, and a small stampede commenced toward the exits.

There was only one thing thing a lady could do in such circumstances: I turned to the Professor sitting next to me, and fixed him with a whithering glare, which was instantly duplicated by my neighbors. The Professor, it pains me to say, ignored the barrage of disapproval and coolly perused his programme until the furore died down and the sweetly discordant strains of the third Stuck recommenced.

But my stomach would have none of it. It continued its pathetic petition for nourishment so plaintively that even the Professor was not immune to its cry. Without even waiting for a crescendo, he literally fled down the row of spectators (thankfully, with his back toward the stage). What was I to do but follow, with many an apologetic smile along the way?

We had almost gained the end of the row to the aisle when the conductor, with a violent slash of his baton, interrupted the orchestra, and announced that he would recommence the concert from the beginning as soon as “that caterwaulin’ critter had been fed.”

It is this that perplexes me: weren’t we taught that speaking aloud at a concert of classical music is an unforgivable gaffe? Does this commandment extend to the conductor as well?

As ever, your admiring sister,
Flatonia Texas

Dearest Flatonia,

Apollinaria (l) and her sister Flatonia (now Mrs Flatonia Texas) as children

Ah some things don’t change! Recall, dear sister, the happy days of the nursery. “You could set your watch by Flatonia’s stomach,” Gastonia and I would fondly rib you. “It tells time better than she can!” How we laughed!

Regarding your question, despite many hours of painstaking research, I have not been able to find a satisfactory answer. Having polled numerous conductors, the general consensus is that they can do whatever they [“blessed”] well please.

I crave, however, to discuss with you the wisdom of your other decisions. Whatever possessed you, dear sister, to attend a Schoenberg concert? Even as a child you would prefer to go to bed without dinner to escape attending a performance of his music. No doubt memories of those times incurred your recent gastric insurrection.

Fortunately, most such incidents are avoidable.

“Know thy stomach” is your duty and obligation. If hunger causes it to rumble, eat a light meal prior to the concert. If, conversely, your stomach tends to gurgle happily after a hearty meal, save it for later, and sate yourself with a few light crackers, presumably to be unwrapped and consumed prior to the concert.

But why stop at sausages?

(Apropos, a lady of my acquaintance could not go for twenty minutes without indulging in some form of nourishment and so resolved this quandary in her own ingenious fashion. When dressing for a concert, she would button a long, thin sausage into each mutton-chop sleeve. During the concert, when she felt the urge to eat, she had but to lift her kerchief to her nose….)

Alas, when our stomach takes us unawares, then leave we must. After all, the primary purpose of concert attendance is to savor the music and this experience is erased completely if your neighbor’s – or indeed your own — stomach is conducting a concert of its own.

There is no choice but to gracefully depart. The key word is ”gracefully” – not at a dead run, as the Professor did, but with the back toward the stage and quietly nodding and distributing apologetic smiles as you proceed. Strive to do so between movements, which are the proper time to shuffle, cough, wriggle, or discreetly scratch.

In dire circumstances, do not wait to expire in your seat. Leave immediately. In this I can but applaud the Professor’s “brash” behavior. Apropos, was the poor man too put out at having to leave the concert early?

As ever, your loving Apollinaria

Dearest Apollinaria,
The Professor was not miffed in the least – au contraire. On the morrow, he appeared at my door bearing two dozen red roses, claiming to be completely mortified at not having fed me properly prior to the event.
He invited me to attend another concert next week, but only if I went to dinner with him first. I warned him of my predisposition to snoozing – mayhap snoring – after a large repast and he said, with a wink, that he looks forward to the sound. What do you think he meant by that?
Your loving sister,

Opus Osm etiquette expert Apollinaria Novatna (born circa 1852 and still going strong) explains the rules for feeling comfortable in classical society, with just a bit of a twinkle in her eye. Who says manners and classical performances have to be stilted or boring?

Our Miss Apollinaria

My dearest Apollinaria,

There are things to be borne with grace and things to be not, and munching potato chips at a classical music concert (opera, ballet, or play) is definitely to be not.

I was recently subjected to an insufferable chorus of munching, chomping, and crunching, emanating from the seat next to me during the Largo from Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

To be sure, the interpretation, rendered by our niece Livingstonia at her elementary school recital, was not of great artistic merit. Nonetheless, as it was she who was pounding away at the piano with formidable vigor which fully made up for any lack of identifiable melody, I felt justified in admonishing my neighbor to desist.

However, when I leaned over to quietly voice my plea, said neighbor, a child of five, took my admonition as a request and offered me the bag of potato chips.

I realize now that my next decision was not quite fortunate. Wishing to put an end to the racket, I took the entire bag of potato chips from the child and made to put it into my own purse, at which point the creature let out a furious roar, whilst appealing to its mother to intercede.

Dvořák’s Largo came to an abrupt halt and all eyes turned upon the distraught child clamoring for its silly potato chips, now in my hands. Her indignant mother demanded an explanation. Several members of the audience demanded that “I go buy my own potato chips.”

At this awkward moment Livingstonia launched into a spirited rendition of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” The audience forgot the ongoing spat and commenced clapping and stomping its feet in time to the merry tune.

Though stomping and clapping at a classical music concert is not exactly bon ton, I admit I was quite grateful for the distraction, which afforded me the chance to discreetly withdraw from the room.

Afterward, Livingstonia thanked me profoundly for my intercession. It seems she had forgotten the notes for the ending of the Largo, and for the last five minutes, had been playing the theme. Indeed, she has since been approached by several of her fellow students with the request to “hire me out” for future performances.

I have promised to consider it, as the returns are interesting. Do you think, dear Sister, that such a project can be undertaken without risk of a grave breach of etiquette?

Further, I crave your opinion on a matter of conscience: should I return the bag of chips to the child?

Your devoted sister,

Flatonia Texas

Dearest Flatonia,

Cheers to Livingstonia for her enterprising spirit! But prior to addressing her genial scheme, I would opine on the events at the school recital.

The bulk of the blame clearly rests with the mother. Those children who are more apt to voice boredom or frustration than adults have no place at performances. Let us be generous

Let us be generous, however, and presume that the mother had no choice but to bring the urchin, naively hoping to distract it with a bag of potato chips, when a quiet teddy bear would have done the trick just as well.

Apollinaria (l) and her younger sister Flatonia (now Mrs Flatonia Texas) as children

The adage notwithstanding, there is nothing more difficult than taking candy from a baby. It is to be undertaken with the utmost tact and cajolery — certainly not in the middle of Dvořák’s Largo. No surprise you had to slink out under cover of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” (Apropos, do not condemn the audience for clapping and stomping: at times etiquette must bend to pure joie-de-vivre.)

Next time, address your complaints to the mother – not to the innocent child. If that fails, appeal to the ushers, whose duty it is to intercede. It was also incorrect to publicly admonish the lady, as talking at concerts is strictly forbidden.

As for returning the bag, I advise against it, as the child may actually have been offering it as a gift.

I applaud Livingstonia’s enterprising spirit, but I agree that her scheme puts you at in grave danger of committing a gaffe. Ergo, I would negotiate a greater cut.

Your loving Sister,


Effective Communication and Listening

“If we were all determined to play the first violin we should never have an ensemble. Therefore, respect every musician in his proper place.” - Robert Schuman

Effective communication is the key to success and is made of many qualities: speaking, observing, watching, sensing, understanding, paying attention, and most importantly, listening.

Let us identify some of the essential tools to effective teamwork within a music ensemble.

Listening and paying attention, understanding. Listening is an art and is the first essential tool. It is not only listening to the words spoken, but also to the manner, tone, body language. Listening within the team in music is also achieved through eye contact.

An important part of listening is silence, too. Silence gives us the time to think and process what is being said around us. By paying attention to our colleagues we not only listen, but learn and understand more about the person and the work being done.

Talking to each other. Another essential tool is learning to talk to each other. One must accept criticism, find ways of commenting on each other, point out if one is late or not playing correctly. Keeping the tone positive and constructive and giving immediate praise if someone is working well is needed. One values the other’s opinion.

Watching, observing, sensing each other. It is surprising how we tend to be in our little worlds, turned away from the others in the group without realizing it. Musicians very easily tend to hide behind their music stands. When I work with business teams, using teambuilding exercises through music, the participants often are surprised how initially they were turned away from each other and how by establishing constant eye contact, team performance improves.

I believe the most valuable lesson we can learn from music is that each of us in a team has something special to give, and that we must become aware and have joy in other people’s achievements and strengths, too. The result can only be a successful, winning, and empowering team.

– Biljana Pelic, www.musicandleadership.com,
is a professional violinist offering teambuilding workshops for managers

Essential Tips for Working Together

Today in the era of globalization, communication between people is of the highest priority in management, for today and for the future. We search to understand the qualities of teamwork and look to all resources to find how to enhance communication at our workplace as well as in our personal lives.

Executives and musicians face common issues at their workplace, in dealing with teamwork, change, achieving performance value, competing to succeed. The world of music provides many examples of people working together to create great things in time of change. In that way we can consider music a valuable metaphor to understand leadership and teamwork.

For me as a musician, from very early childhood playing with other musicians was the most natural thing. My first collaboration was with my sister, a pianist, 3 years older than I. My first lesson was that I was not the leader and my sister the accompanist who would obediently listen to me, but that we were equals working together to perform our very best for our teachers, family, and friends. We had to learn how to match our tone (our ideas) and at the same time be able to lead or quickly switch to accompany the other.

One of the first essential tools one had to learn as a musician were good manners: when one player gets lost, the others have to stop or give immediate support to continue, not just carry on because they can and they know where they are. And then they have to be ready to restart playing at any time.

Ms Pelič sees many links between teamwork in business and in the orchestra

These first lessons set up the principles by which all my further collaboration with other musicians up to this day is based on, whether it is playing together with my pianist, or a guitar player, or with a larger chamber music ensemble.

The ultimate goal of teamwork from the music perspective is to achieve an “upper, outer voice,” a corporate personality that is more than the sum of its parts. Steve Jobs used the Beatles, a quartet, as a model for business: they were “four guys who kept each other’s negative tendencies in check, they balanced each other, and the the total was greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s how I see business.”

When a music group starts to work, the initial A is played at the beginning to “tune” in the ensemble/team. It expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork, and relationship. In giving the A “the tone,” the manager and employee become a team for accomplishing the extraordinary. When I come to think of it, my long-time music partners and I constantly have a silent dialogue taking place during our rehearsals.

Looking further into a music team, each member knows his part, is highly trained in his skills, and is responsible for delivering his best. You must know how you fit within the whole, what your role is in the picture. Flexibility is needed as various situations can arise where there will be the need to improvise, cover up for someone, restart, and play on.

Depending on the music score (business plan), you have to be ready at any time to take over leadership, pass it on, or share it. It is a constant give and take situation.

Working extensively together, you learn each other’s moves and in that way create the platform for a successful and empowering team. oo

– Biljana Pelic, www.musicandleadership.com,
is a professional violinist offering teambuilding workshops for managers

Accessories are perhaps in some ways a better investment that the outfits themselves. They can be re-used time and again for totally different occasions, and at different times of the year. Another advantage is that you can use the right accessories to make an outfit look more or less dressed up to suit the event.

Hairpieces, hats, and shoes seem to be disproportionately expensive and go out of fashion before you’ve had much time to wear them. I’d advise looking for something that isn’t too fashionable, or simply not spending much money. Hats and hair decorations aren’t usually necessary, but if you can find something inexpensive in a high street shop it can enhance your look or make a plain outfit more exotic.

Perhaps the most versatile accessories are scarves and jewellery. Unless it’s very avant-garde or fashionable, you can still wear a dressy piece of jewellery years or decades after you first bought it. It doesn’t take up much wardrobe space and even if it does ‘date’ there’s always a chance that a ‘retro’ look will come back into fashion.

Scarves can also have several lives. As it ages, fades, and the threads get pulled out, you can down grade a silk or cashmere scarf to everyday wear in a way you just couldn’t get away with with a ball gown or evening dress!

For concerts and formal events, wide, pashmina style scarves are a staple and can also be quite versatile – a decorative accessory in a hot concert room and a practical one outdoors. A smart scarf is also an easy way to dress up an everyday coat. You can find silk or cashmere scarves in a variety of shops and some fairs and markets.

If you’re going to something very smart or extravagant, you might buy evening gloves (very tight, elbow-length gloves, usually black or white silk or nylon) and fans. Fans are a slightly unusual addition to your outfit and you can use them to decorate your room afterwards.

Bags and purses are pretty much a necessity and fortunately most high street shops will sell pleasant evening bags. Clutch bags look elegant but are a pain to carry round. A small bag with a strap you can hang over your shoulder is the most practical option and a clasp or zip will help prevent anything falling out or being stolen.

If you buy a plain silk or velvet bag you could possibly accessorise it with brooches, or maybe use a ribbon as a strap, and change the look for different events. Look for rich materials, like you would when buying a dress or scarf – silk, satin (or imitations), velvet, and soft leather are all suitable. Second hand shops sometimes have vintage versions, if you fancy something a bit different.

Smart coats aren’t usually necessary – you usually leave them in a cloak room anyway. If you have one, a jacket or a woolen coat (rather than a hoody or puffer jacket) will look elegant, especially with a hat, scarf, and gloves. More importantly, a cardigan or woolen shawl is a must at this time of year, unless you have a very warm dress. Short cardigans, that reach to the bottom of your ribs, automatically look dressy, but longer ones might be warmer. Look out for soft materials and colours that match your costume. oo

Black Tie: Dressy, but Comfortable

Black tie events include dinners, smart concerts, opening nights, and parties. But this dress code can vary slightly.

Full black-tie — long evening gown for women, and trousers with silk seams, a Homburg hat, waistcoat, and dinner jacket for men — doesn’t seem to be worn that often. I assume the full version is worn only at very formal affairs, maybe army dinners and aristocratic weddings, usually by middle-aged men who know what to expect. Men under 25 can almost always get away with an everyday black suit and a black bow tie.

Indeed, a common dress code variation seems to be “black tie/lounge suit,” basically the suit and tie for men and an elegant knee- or calf-length dress for women.

Black Tie for Men

For most men, black tie is far more comfortable than white tie. For the most formal occasions, you can wear a waistcoat or cummerbund (a silk sash around your waist), and a black Homburg. A buttonhole (i.e., a flower in the buttonhole of your jacket) or handkerchief in your top breast pocket are usually appropriate and can lighten up your costume.

However, a smart black suit, white shirt, and black bow tie will often be appropriate. Depending on your budget and how formal the event is, the suit may feature trousers with a single silk or piped seam, a dress shirt, and a dinner jacket. Usually, you can buy or hire an entire outfit, and the shop can advise you on exactly what you should wear.

Black Tie for Women

For women, dresses are expected and should come to the calf or just above the knee (a mini-dress is too short). Almost any colour is fine, but darker or softer colours tend to look more elegant.

Most dresses will be made of rich materials like silk or velvet, but an elegant dress in something less expensive will be fine. Jersey cotton is usually comfortable, chiffon is light, feminine, and cool if the party is in the summer.

In the winter, cashmere or lambswool are potential alternatives, but maybe it’s best to keep these materials to cardigans and shawls, which will come in handy in many an unheated church or castle concert venue. Sleeves are usually short or just cover the shoulders.

Stylish, decorative, or business style jackets, and the short cardigans that reach just below your ribs, are also fine, as long as they’re smart.

Clutch bags or evening bags with straps are usual, along with pumps or court or high-heeled shoes. Most ‘high end’ high street shops will have something appropriate.

What you do with your hair is also relaxed. Feathers or flowers are fine if you want to really dress up; otherwise, anything except a scruffy old hair elastic will do. Loose, well-brushed hair always look elegant and doesn’t take up too much time, and you can try tying a pony tail up with a silk scarf, for a look that’s dressed up.

A Thorny Question

Just as with white tie, though, it will usually say on the invitation if you need to wear black tie and whether it is optional or not. It can be a thorny question: Turn up to a black tie event organised by students and you might look silly if you wear the full regalia. Turn up to a black tie event organised by a member of the royal family, and you might look silly if you don’t.

A useful tip is to search the internet or concert hall website for photographs of the same event the previous year, so you know what to expect. A smart suit or evening-type dress will often be appropriate even it isn’t strictly black tie – just look out for the word ‘optional’ on the invitation! oo

When you take a walk one evening in the center of Prague, you will notice that the city is step by step wrapping itself up into Christmas decorations: colorful lights, chandelier-type displays, garlands, huge ribbons, and many more adornments. And a Czech Christmas without Jakub Jan Ryba’s Mass “Hey Master!” (in Czech “Hej mistře!”) is unimaginable. It is known mostly as “Hey, Master!” because it starts with these words. Despite being anchored in the traditional Latin Mass, the lyrics of Jakub Jan Ryba’s Mass portray a Czech village where a farm worker wakes up his master, telling about an extraordinary holy light. The master is a slightly gloomy at first but afterwards he gets up to have a glance and sees the Star of Bethlehem. Despite the religious theme, the Mass has a pastoral character; instead of describing the actual birthplace of Jesus as it is in the Bible, this Jesus is born somewhere in a snow-covered place in Central Bohemia. Jakub Jan Ryba was born in 1765 in the village of Přeštice near Plzeň in West Bohemia, to the family of a schoolteacher. He was taught music by his own father, and when his uncle saw Jakub’s talent, he took Jakub to Prague for a better education. During his studies he sang in a Gregorian choir, played in a quartet, and composed his first pieces. Probably, living in Prague was the best period of his life. He dreamt of becoming a famous composer, but his father’s illness required him to move back to the village and take care of the family. Despite that fact, it didn’t stop him from continuing to develop and to compose. In 1788 he started to work as a schoolteacher in the small town of Rožmitál, where he was to spend the rest of his life. During his entire working life, he composed over 1,400 pieces — religious as well as secular. His works includes thirty masses and an enormous amount of songs composed to Czech folk lyrics, plus arias, sonatas, quartets, concertos, and symphonies. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see the admiration of his work, and he suffered from several conflicts, including clashes with the priest and authorities in Rožmitál. Besides this, he couldn’t handle the pressure of providing for his large family of nine children, and on April 8, 1815 he committed suicide after the morning Mass. Fortunately, his masterpiece “Hey, Master!” has not followed the same frustrated pathway as its creator. On the contrary, it continues its life and is gaining popularity and admiration year by year. There is no Christmas in the Czech Republic without performing this classic pastoral Mass. The original composition was composed in A major, but after years it was transformed and is performed today in G major. The Mass includes typical short melodic motifs developed from folk music and colorful rhythms. But the work was as abused in its own way as much as the life of the composer: Because of its folk nature and simplicity, it was marginalized as Catholic liturgy. Because Ryba didn’t leave clear instructions, latter musicians have sometimes disagreed on the order (or even inclusion) of some of its sections. Ryba was such an accomplished composer that for many years one of his works was actually attributed to Haydn. On the other hand, politics helped the Mass survive and even become a national symbol. During the communist era, authorities realized the Czech people needed some bit of their own nation’s culture to identify as its own. The Mass was chosen as representative, and since then it has been performed every year, nationwide. You can find several performances in Prague by checking the Events Calendar, and also by going to the Home page of this issue. oo The music consists of nine parts: 1. Kyrie – “Hej, mistře, vstaň bystře!” (“Hey Master, get up quickly!”) 2. Gloria – celebrating the birth of Jesus 3. Graduale – shepherds and folk people going to Bethlehem 4. Credo – the pilgrimage 5. Offertorium – offering gifts to God 6. Sanctus – angelic chant 7. Benedictus – soprano solo dedicated to the birth of the Redeemer 8. Agnus Dei – prayer for the safety of all inhabitants 9. Communio – colossal choral hymn of praise.

– Mary Matz contributed to this article

From our October, 2010 issue
White tie events are rare – they usually include balls, opening nights at prestigious concert halls, and very formal dinners. If an event is white tie, it will say so on the invitation or ticket, so you aren’t caught out. It will often tell you whether the dress code is compulsory (rare) or optional.

At the most traditional concert venues, business attire or business casual is normally expected; but at big events such as galas and New Year’s Eve performances, white tie is the way to go.

This poshest, most formal category of costume can also be the most fun. It’s almost impossible to turn up over-dressed, and you can experiment with the most lavish and adventurous clothes you can find.

White Tie for Men

Many male friends seem to enjoy the dressing-up element and often go to the trouble of finding top hats, white gloves, and flowers for their button holes.

One student I know brought, in addition to the gloves and top hat, a monocle and long cane of the sort I’d only ever seen in old photographs. A friend of mine likes to bring a hip flask (empty) to important events – it belonged to a 19th-century explorer who was a relative of his.

On the other hand, they were attending a student ball where a bit of fancy dress is allowed.

So if you’re going to something very, very formal be careful not to go over the top; stick to the less adventurous accessories (white scarf and gloves, a flower for your button hole, a top hat, and maybe a cummerbund – a silk sash tied around the waist). If white tie is optional, you probably won’t be the only man in black tie.

White tie for men includes:

Black trousers, with silk piping along the seams

A black tail coat

A white shirt with a ‘butterfly’ collar and cuff links

A white cotton waistcoat (vest)

Black shoes

White Tie for Women

This always involves a full length dress (but beware of dresses that actually touch the floor – they can get torn or muddy), sleeveless, and with bare shoulders. Materials tend to be rich – silk and velvet are popular, though no one will notice if it’s not the real thing.

You can wear absolutely any colour, though soft, pale, or dark colours tend to look more glamorous than prints, and can be easier to accessorize. There’s also less risk of you ‘clashing’ with your friends if you’re in a group.

Styles can vary a lot, too. High street shops can offer stylish, up-to-date versions, or you can go for something more classic that won’t date easily.

Corsets and very full skirts can look lovely but are potentially uncomfortable, especially if dinner is included in the plans.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to a ball gown or evening dress, you can consider hiring a one. Another option is to buy a second-hand dress and have it altered to fit. If you’re bent on something more useful, a full length sun-dress or maxi dress with some elegant accessories will look fine, and you can wear it again for less formal occasions.

Accessories can include clutch bags, hairpieces, fans, gloves, and shawls. Hats aren’t usually necessary.

Tips from the Stars

Model yourself on photos of stars at the Oscars and look as glamourous as you can. You can take your inspiration from anywhere. Feather boas and strings of beads from the 1920s can add swing to your outfit – funnily enough, you can probably buy these from a fancy dress shop!

Shawls can match and complement your dress and are a good idea in all but the warmest climates. In winter you could consider buying or hiring a cloak in wool or velvet. It’s more elegant than a coat and you won’t look eccentric if you keep it on inside.

And speaking of comfort, consider wearing ballet pumps or kitten heels. Stilettos will be painful by 3 am, and make it almost impossible to walk on cobblestones. They can also be deceptively comfortable — until they leave the shop.

One woman at the last white tie event I went to wore soft, flat leather boots under a long, flowing silk gown. Speaking from experience, one of the easiest and least advisable things to forget is comfort – apparently irrelevant when you’re getting dressed, and all-important four or five hours in. oo

From our October 2010 issue

Think “Dvořák,” and “Korea” probably does not spring to mind in the same moment.

But there are several surprising connections between the Czech Republic and Korea, Korean and Czech music, and the increasing number of enthusiastic students and visitors hopping halfway across the globe to learn about both musical cultures.

Director Choi Young Chul, co-founder of the International Antonín Dvořák Composition Competition, held in Prague, and founder of Seouloratorio Choir and Orchestra and Dvořák Academy, Korea, explains more.

Opus Osm: Director Choi, please tell us a few words about the training which Korean students have in Czech classical music. Is it a new topic for them? Do all students learn a bit about Czech music? And are more Czech students learning about Korean music?

Director Choi: Korean students are exposed to Czech national music early on. However, the study of traditional Czech music is limited to dances or a few folk songs by Czech composers. Recently, a small number of schools have begun teaching classes on Czech songs and language.

I don’t believe that Czech students have any real opportunity to come into contact with Korean music. Dvořák Academy and I are forming plans to gradually expand Czech students’ understanding of traditional Korean music through hands-on experience with traditional instruments and folk songs.

Sun-Mi Kim in an excerpt from Dvořák’s Te Deum

Opus Osm: What kinds of opportunities for exchanges between Korean and Czech musicians exist today? What would you like to see in the future?

Director Choi: It is still limited, but there is exchange going on in terms of choirs and symphonies, as well as opera and individual performers. Though there are still no clear support policies, exchange is occurring between a few businesses and individuals. In the near future, I expect that more active exchange will occur, following industrially supported wide-scale cultural exchange and governmental support programs.

Opus Osm: Is there a special relationship (historical or contemporary) between Koreans and Czechs?

Director Choi: Official diplomatic relations between Korea and the Czech Republic were only established 20 years ago. However, the direct participation of Czechoslovakian troops in the Korean independence movement over 90 years ago could be said to have been the start of a friendly relationship between the two nations.

Since the establishment of official relations, diplomatic and economic exchange has occurred actively, while cultural and educational exchange has been gradually gaining momentum as well.

For the past few years now, the Korea-Czech friendship foundation and the Czech-Korea friendship foundation have been standing at the forefront of advancing friendly relations between our two nations.

* Watch soprano Sun-Mi Kim, baritone Toshimi Mori, the Seouloratorio Choir, Vox Pragae Choir, and the Karlovy Vary Orchestra under the direction of Young-Chul Choi in a short excerpt Aug 2 from Dvořák’s Te Deum. Click on “Too” in the top menu bar.

Opus Osm: Would you kindly give a few ideas of how Czech (and international) readers can find Korean classical music and learn about Korean musicians — your recommendations?

Director Choi: It requires both the effort of civilians in addition to governmental support. Performance exchanges, exhibitions, seminars, workshops, and translated materials can be of assistance.

Ultimately, the establishment of a Korean Cultural Foundation in the Czech Republic should be considered to support such activities. The establishment of a Korean Music Department at a Czech musical institution would also be a great possibility to consider.

In addition, multi-faceted efforts are needed so that the Czech readers are provided with an opportunity to come into contact with traditional Korean music. If such goals are presented to the Korean Cultural Administration or some international exchange foundation (Korea Foundation) I believe they will actively cooperate. oo

The Author of This Article Comments: Music connections between Korea and the Czech Republic are something I had never thought of before. What are your experiences? Do you see some additional connections between the two cultures? Please post your comments here.

From our October 2010 issue
One can easily sympathize with the occasional Czech person who snarls, “English! English! Everyone demands that we learn English. Why don’t they all just learn Czech?”

The use of English as the lingua franca in today’s global world is simply a matter of convenience. Logically, everything works more smoothly when everyone can share just one language, more or less efficiently.

It may be surprising to learn that musicians and dancers interviewed for this issue of Opus Osm often spontaneously commented on the need for English as the common language in their field.

Young-Chul Choi

“It’s never easy for foreigners of a specific language group to express songs in another nation’s language,” says Seouloratorio director Young-Chul Choi. “Therefore, first of all, it is important for the performers themselves to learn proper diction and vocalization directly and systematically from a native speaker.” He spoke following his appearance as director and conductor at the International Antonín Dvořák Composition Competition Aug 2 in Prague.

He adds that it’s also necessary for singers to select lyrics “which can be expressed in song by all persons,” with the exception of folk or national songs. He classifies as “urgent” the need for establishment of an internationally recognized system of pronunciation transcription (for instance, based upon Latin letters). “This implies the necessity for cooperation between not only individual performers and composers, but also between whole cultural spheres,” he says.

I’d heard only a few Czech singers, but was always impressed with the quality of

Dona Vaughn

the voice,” says Dona Vaughn of The Manhattan School of Music. She spoke at the American Center, Prague, earlier this summer at the conclusion of her week-long voice workshop for opera.

“There is incredible world-class talent in Czech singers. My concern is that they are not adequately prepared for competition throughout the world.” In addition to lacking some technical training, “there is a definite problem with languages. Poor pronunciation is OK for a while, but it will always catch up with a singer.” She recommends the study of Italian first, followed by English as a second choice.

VIP Ballet School’s classes are designed for the many foreigners living in Prague as well as Czech students. So a common language for all students is essential, the school’s manager Jana Malisová points out.

“Many choreographers, ballet masters, and so on come here from other countries, and the basic language is English,” she says. It can be clearly seen that students

Jana Malisová

who don’t understand the common language “don’t understand the instructions right away, they can’t do the steps correctly because they didn’t understand.” These students must wait half a beat and watch others before they know precisely what to do, clearly handicapping not only their performance but also their confidence and enjoyment.

But language acquisition is a two-way street. Many visitors come to the Czech Republic determined to pick up the local language “in a few weeks,” but are daunted by its complexity. Fortunately, in the last few years more local language schools have added Czech for Foreigners to their curricula, and have learned to adapt their teaching methods to the special needs of learners from outside the Slavic family of languages.

Someday, there may even be special classes in both Czech and English languages tailored specifically for musicians, dancers, choreographers, lighting directors, conductors, and others involved in the arts. Until then, the language-impaired can still rely on music and dance as their international language. oo

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