The city of Prague has been at the forefront of classical music at least since Mozart uttered the famous words "Meine Prager verstehen mich" ("My Praguers understand me") and premiered his works here. The Czech metropolis continues to celebrate its lofty music heritage today with the annual Prague Spring festival, one of the largest and best known classical music festivals in Central Europe, which commences on Tuesday, as every year with a performance of Bedřich Smetana’s My Country.
As the training ground of Czech composers like Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana and a major venue for premieres of the work of Beethoven and Mozart, the history of Prague is intertwined with that of classical music. The major annual recognition of that point of pride is the Prague Spring International Music Festival. Founded in 1946 on the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Czech Philharmonic, the festival is now in its 64th year, and opens annually on May 12th, marking the date of the death of Bedřich Smetana. Prague Spring’s spokeswoman Dr. Alena Svobodová told me about what makes it a special event different from the frequent classical music events held in Prague and around the country.
“It is actually the biggest festival. It takes 25 days altogether, which is a long time - when we start today you have to think that in 3 weeks we will still be here. We prepare sometimes up to five concerts for every day, so it is very big. And because it is quite popular and it has lasted for so many years already, our guests like to come, and so I must say that the quality of our guests – conductors, soloists singers and so on – is mostly very high. Another reason why it is so popular is also that we have good sponsors. So we can actually still afford to really have the highest quality.”
While the festival has long had a tradition of continuing Prague’s musical development by promoting younger performers - this year showcasing the Gustav Mahler Jungendorchester for example - more attention has been paid of late to acquiring younger visitors, and to this end recent years have seen a large degree of diversification, embracing more modern work. That trend continues this year, with a series of jazz and swing concerts including the Czech line-up Rhythm Desperados, and a special multimedia concert of original music by Howard Short based on the Lord of the Rings. I asked Dr. Svobodová whether she finds classical music today as struggling to keep up with modern taste.
“We started this part of the festival approximately ten years ago and we have more and more projects like that. The reason is perhaps that the world is developing, society is changing, and we try to get younger visitors also. So that could be one reason, otherwise I can’t say that the interest in classical music is lower but I think when the offer is larger then that is always good.”
This year will see nearly 60 concerts and theatrical performances packed
into 25 days, with highlights including the universally acclaimed Peruvian
tenor Juan Diego Flórez and the no-less famed German violin virtuoso
Anne-Sophie Mutter. Events will be taking place throughout the city’s
many illustrious venues until the closing concert on June 3rd in
Municipal House, where Israeli conductor Eliahu Inbal will be leading the
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Antonín Dvořák’s 8th Symphony.