For the first time in history, a concert by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra will reach an audience of thousands in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This weekend the philharmonic’s concert at Prague’s Rudolfinum will be broadcast live in around thirty Czech and Slovak cinemas.
From the New World symphony, probably the best known piece by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, will be performed at Prague’s Rudolfinum concert hall this Saturday under the baton of conductor Jiří Bělohlávek. Along with the concert hall audience, thousands of viewers will also be watching the concert on-line in HD in cinemas and theatre houses around the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Philharmonic has launched the project in cooperation with the Aerofilms distribution company, which has been licensing Metropolitan Opera screenings for several years now.
I asked the head of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, David Mareček, how the idea for the project emerged:
“One reason was that ninety percent of our seats are sold out, so we wanted to reach a wider audience with the cinema transmissions. And we were also approached by Aero Films. But the original idea was ours. We wanted to reach audiences in other cities and towns across the Czech Republic, because not everybody is able to come to Prague to attend a concert. We thought this might be an opportunity for them to experience it and maybe to come to Rudolfinum in the future.”
The first concert will be Dvořák’s From the New World. Why did you make this choice? Is it because of Dvořák’s popularity?
“It is partly because of Dvořák’s huge popularity. We wanted the first concert to be something everybody knows and everybody is familiar with. There was also one historic reason: the very first concert of Czech Philharmonic on January 4 1896 was conducted by Antonín Dvořák and the New World Symphony was part of the programme. So symbolically we thought we should start with the very piece that was played by the Czech Philharmonic at their first concert.”
What other pieces will be on the programme?
“We will start with Taras Bulba, a famous rhapsody by Leoš Janáček, which is another important piece of Czech music. Then we will play Mendelsohn violin concerto, also very popular. The soloist will be Josef Špaček, a concert master of the Czech Philharmonic. So that is the first project.
“During the second concert in December we will play the first series of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances and in the second part we will play the Czech Christmas Mass by Jakub Jan Ryba’s, which is very well known and many people listen to it during Christmas celebrations.
Will it be just a concert recording or do you offer something extra?
“We always try to offer something extra and that is true especially for these cinema transmissions. This time we want to make it a bit wider and much livelier, if you want. The people will experience what happens immediately before and after the concert. They will see the players, the chief conductor and the soloists preparing to go on stage.
"They will be able to see the soloist immediately after he finishes playing and there will be a short interview right after he leaves the stage and many other small things from backstage. They will be with the musicians around the concert and they will be virtually present in the audience during the performance itself.”
Do you plan to continue with the project?
“We would love to continue with the project but it depends on whether we have enough audience in the cinemas, because we have never done anything like this before. We will wait for the result of these first two projects and if we are able to attract a big enough audience then we definitely want to continue and to do other concerts in the 2015 and 2016 season.
“Actually this will be our anniversary season, 120 years. This is why we launched the project now, to find out how it works, to see what we can improve on for the 120th season. So yes, we hope that we can do it on a regular basis.”
How difficult is it technically? How long do preparations take?
“It is difficult, just like any TV broadcasting. Perhaps it is more difficult, because you need a state-of-the-art sound in the cinemas. And if we want to show the people more stuff from backstage we have to combine the cameras smoothly. So the preparation is quite long technically and also theoretically and the director started to prepare for it about two months ago.
“But the physical preparation will be very short. In the morning on the day of the broadcast the team will install the necessary equipment in Rudolfinum and try out everything during a dress rehearsal. And the live broadcast will start at a quarter to three.”
The Czech Philharmonic has teamed up with the Aerofilms distribution company, which has been running projections from the Metropolitan Opera in the Czech Republic. They were the first in Eastern Europe to start with satellite transmissions back in 2008, in their cinema Aero in Prague. The project met with great enthusiasm and dozens of cinemas across the country have since joined in.
The most successful screening from the Metropolitan Opera so-far was Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák, watched by around 11,000 people. Aerofilms have also made history with a live broadcast of a play by the legendary Jára Cimrman Theatre, which was attended by more than 10,000 viewers. And they are also about to start a series of live screenings of the Royal British Ballet performances.
“We did have some cooperation with the Czech Phiharmonic and basically while talking to them the idea came up to develop that cooperation further and we started working on it and it has been more than a year and we are really happy that it is happening.”
“First we had to make sure that we have the technological partners, that we do have the right content and that Czech cinemas are interested. Of course such project is heavy on financial resources so we need to make sure that everybody understands what it involves.
“If you ask about the content, of course we had the Czech Philharmonic to make suggestions, because it is their key knowledge. On our part, we as distributors and people who are in touch with cinemas just had to make sure that the content was as attractive as possible so that we don’t stay abandoned by the audiences.”
Were Czech cinemas interested in the project?
“Yes, I am happy to say. The interest was amazing. We have now about thirty cinemas on board, and it is not only Czech cinemas, there are also Slovak cinemas and for the future we also expect other countries to join in. The whole event cinema industry is a growing phenomenon and we are happy that what is happening in the UK and everywhere else is also happening in the Czech Republic.
“The new, I do not want to say revolutionary, but the very new and fresh idea about this particular content is that it is Czech national content going to Czech cinemas. We really hope that it works because I think that finding interesting local content and bringing it to audiences in their home cinemas is a future for us as well.”
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