Ameropa is the name of a unique music project which takes place here in Prague every year. A classical music festival and summer school in one, Ameropa offers music students, as well as professional and amateur musicians, the opportunity to study and perform chamber music in some of the most attractive concert locations in the Czech capital. This is the Year of Czech Music, the 100th anniversary of the death of composer Antonin Dvorak, and Ameropa is also taking part in the celebrations, including Dvorak's music in most of its concerts.
Current artistic director of Ameropa Vadim Mazo originally comes from Belarus but has been living in the United States for a long time. Before explaining the name of the festival, Mr Mazo describes the origins of the Ameropa.
"I was lucky to be here in the early nineties and I felt very strongly that this is the place where music is the part of communication - a language between people from different countries, especially between Americans and Europeans. That is why we started in a very modest way so called 'Tichy festival' and after a while we started to collaborate seriously with my colleagues from The Czech Republic and established the new name 'Ameropa' which expresses a musical bridge between Americans and Europeans. Now we have people from more than 16 countries, this year we almost got somebody from Africa. So I am afraid that Ameropa is a good name but does not express the wide spectrum. We have people from Asia as well, of course, but none from Antarctica yet."
Vadim Mazo is a multi-talented musician, and gets involved in many different aspects of Ameropa's courses.
"I teach here practically every possible thing I can teach, except the wind instruments. But I teach music, I am violinist, violist and conductor, I do special projects within Ameropa like this year Mozart's original version of his fourth piano concerto which is written in piano quintet, so I collaborate a lot with my colleagues, like with professor Word from California. But I also enjoy teaching violin, performing on violin and viola and as opportunity comes I conduct and coach."
Ameropa's managing director is Jiri Havlik, a horn player with the famous Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. He too has influenced the evolution of the festival.
"Well, Ameropa profiles itself somehow already 11 years. Originally, it was partially private meeting of a few American students - music lovers (music amateurs) who came every year to Prague and enjoyed the combination of listening to chamber music and admiring the beauties of our capital."
Who attends Ameropa? Are there more students of musical schools or more amateurs?
"There are about 80% or 90% of students from musical universities or specialised musical schools, but of course the music lovers (amateurs) are still present, and they always make a special part that somehow enriches the atmosphere of the entire courses."
Jiri Havlik as a horn teacher believes that Ameropa is not only a regular music school and festival - it has more to offer, perhaps because his instrument has such a long tradition in this country.
"We are of course proud of the Czech horn school; we can say there is a special Czech approach to this instrument. This great tradition is longer than 300 years beginning even before Jan Vaclav Stich Punto who was a famous Czech horn virtuoso and composer."
Getting back to the Ameropa summer school, its teachers as well as students come from all over the world. As practising musicians they are not only teaching but performing as well. Johan von Iersel, a cello player from the Netherlands, explained why he had come, as one of his colleagues warmed up in the background.
"We are here with a string quartet. My girlfriend Emi was invited for this festival and she suggested to come with the quartet instead of her alone. We are playing in ensembles, also together with the students. We played with the teachers together, we had a few concerts here. Yesterday, we held a workshop about playing in an orchestra and playing chamber music at the same time; how to deal with it etc."
Emi Ohi Resnick was born in the United States but is currently living in Amsterdam. She told me she used to be extremely busy, running a chamber music group in New York and being a concert master with the Netherlands Chamber Music Orchestra.
"I just stopped that in last September because I wanted to explore also other possibilities. I am teaching in a conservatory in Holland and mixing solo and chamber music work and little bit of orchestra as well."
Based on your experience from this event, do you think it is comparable to some other events that combine performing and teaching at the same time?
"I would say that the Prague Mozart Academy was little bit similar, though it was a bit longer. There is also a festival in the United States called 'Apple Hill' in Vermont and that's very similar in terms of teachers playing with students in groups and also with amateurs, and there is also this positive atmosphere. This festival here is little more international, because of the strong representation of Japan, America, the Czech Republic and other countries. Usually when a festival is based somewhere, most of the students come from that area. But this is interesting because you can share different languages, different cultures..."
Of course, I did not talk only to music teachers and renowned musicians. I asked a few Ameropa students for their impressions as well:
"I come from San Jose, California. I play the flute. I am a graduate student and I came because the flute instructor invited me to come and study with him. But also my flute teacher told me to come to Europe to open my eyes, to see how music is played in Europe as opposed to the United States. Also, to find out where classical music comes from. Prague is very well known for being a centre of classical music and a birthplace of a lot of good music. So she thought it would be most beneficial for me to come to Prague to see the place and get to know the people and the city and hear the live music performed."
"I come from Japan and I play the piano. I like Dvorak, Brahms, Beethoven, but I like Dvorak the most. Dvorak is not played in Japan as much as here. Here I've heard him many times, and I find it fantastic."
"I come from Indiana, United States. I play violin and also viola while I am here. I am paid to play here and there, but I am still a student. I appreciate being able to get together with people from other countries. They have such different ideas about the way things should work, and I've felt it's been very enlightening. The events in the United States have a number of benefits too, but they are not very comparable."
The variety of Ameropa participants is certainly much wider than a brief poll can describe. And they are not only learning how to listen to and play music. What's more interesting: music becomes a communication tool between people of different languages, cultures, and ages.