Every May, thousands of music lovers from around the world flock to the Czech capital for the Czech Republic's biggest and most renowned classical music festival - the Prague Spring. 2006 will be no exception, featuring some of the world's leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists at impressive venues like Prague's Rudolfinum, the Bertramka, or the Municipal House. Tickets went on sale this week.
"What will be new, or maybe even a little strange, is the beginning of the festival itself because it starts on May 11. In the past, it has become tradition to start the festival on May 12, which is the anniversary of Smetana's death and was to symbolise continuity of Czech music. But in 2006 we will start a day earlier to commemorate the very first concert of the festival in 1946 that was performed on May 11. The programme is a replica of the original one and we will hear the Overture in C major by Josef Bohuslav Foerster, the Stations of the Cross by Otakar Ostrcil, and Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No.7."
What do you think will be the highlight of the festival?
"One of the special highlights is the performance by the Vienna Philharmonic, which is one of the best or maybe even the best of the symphonic bodies in the world. We are pleased to have them at the festival with conductor Zubin Mehter and we are also very happy that their performance will include compositions by Mozart and Mahler because these two composers symbolise the cultural connection between Austria and the Czech lands."
I understand you will also be presenting more Slovak performances in light of next year's Year of Slovak Music project...
"We feel that the time has come to concentrate on presentations of individual musical cultures. Our first choice was Slovakia for many reasons of course. Czech and Slovak cultures have been closely connected for 200 years or even longer because there are reminiscences from the eighth and ninth centuries, our languages are similar, we have grown together for decades, and the Czech and Slovak cultures belong to one another. So we want to present it as a symbol. Since important Slovak anniversaries are during all the years that end with a six, we decided to make it in 2006."
Next year, the Prague Spring will extend beyond the borders of the Czech capital to the former Jewish ghetto Terezin, where in the years 1941 to 1945, 150 000 European Jews were held, most of whom did not survive the war. While inside the ghetto, 150 prisoners managed to put together 16 performances of Verdi's "Requiem" under fellow prisoner, Raphael Schachter. Inspired by this extraordinary achievement, which helped to preserve at least a semblance of normal life under appalling conditions, US conductor Murry Sidlin decided to blend Verdi' s masterpiece with images of Terezin and narratives from surviving members of the Terezin chorus to produce a work he calls "Defiant Requiem: Verdi in Terezin". Jan Munk is the director of the Terezin Memorial, which co-organised the performance, which will be free of charge at Terezin's Municipal Riding School on May 21:
"It was a very moving story from Terezin. Memories of survivors who took part in the music life in Terezin are presented. The concert commemorates the ordinary people who prepared the concert and were trained by Rafael Schachter."
Tickets to the Prague Spring went on sale at the beginning of the week and are selling out fast. But, you can still make reservations on the internet - visit the festival's official web site: www.festival.cz or the network that distributes the tickets for the festival: www.ticketpro.cz. And, for the first time in the festival's history, tickets bought online can be printed out with the bar codes on home computers.
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