2018 Prague Spring promises “feast of stars” and celebration of Czechoslovakia centenary

Photo: Petr Veber

Final preparations are underway for the Prague Spring music festival, which begins on Saturday evening with the traditional rendition of Smetana’s My Country at the Municipal House. As always, it will showcase a plethora of major names in classical music. But this year there will also be a special focus on the centenary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. Pavel Trojan, the festival’s spokesperson, told me more.

Rudolfinum concert hall in Prague | Photo: Petr Veber,  Czech Radio
“There will be performances of music by Czech and Slovak composers whose works were received to acclaim on stages around the world in the last century.

“Of non-living composers, these include Bohuslav Martinů, Josef Suk, Klement Slavický and Miloslav Kabeláč.

“But we are also accenting a lot our contemporary, young generation of composers.

“For example, Michal Nejtek will receive the world premiere of a composition of his that was commissioned by the festival and will be premiered by the Warsaw Philharmonic on May 18.”

I understand also the closing concert will be a kind of dialogue of both Czech and Slovak 20th century music.

“That is correct. Because we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia in the closing concert we are underlining this connection between Czechs and Slovaks.

“We are doing this with music from Zdeněk Fibich, with a piece dedicated to Jan Amos Komenský [Comenius], a great personality of our past.

“Plus a piece by Eugen Suchoň, the Slovak composer, and Leoš Janáček with the Sinfonietta, which dates to the first years of the First Republic.”

Daniil Trifonov,  photo: Dario Acosta - Deutsche Grammophon
Who will be some of the most noteworthy international guests coming to perform in the three weeks or so of the festival?

“Well, the Prague Spring festival is a feast of big stars of classical music coming to Prague.

“For example, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam, with their chief conductor Daniel Gatti and the super young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. Or the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Iván Fischer, who will perform Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 2.

“Also there’s the Tonhalle Orchestra from Zurich, who will come with their chief conductor Lionel Bringuier.

“And the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes is coming back to the festival – he’s very popular here.”

This year the festival is also marking the centenary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, who I believe has a connection to the Prague Spring?

“Leonard Bernstein had his European debut in the very first season of the Prague Spring festival, meaning in 1946.

“He came back in 1947 at the invitation of Rafael Kubelík, one of the founders of the Prague Spring.

Leonard Bernstein,  photo: Jack Mitchell,  CC BY-SA 3.0
“Then when the Communist regime took over, in 1948, he decided not to come to the Prague Spring festival until democracy had once again come back to Czechoslovakia.

“And indeed he did that. In 1990, at the first free edition of the festival, he conducted a famous concert with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

“And just as in 1946 it was his first European concert, the closing festival of the Prague Spring in 1990 was his last European concert.”

Tickets for the Prague Spring went on sale back in December. If people want to go to concerts, are some tickets still available?

“At the moment many concerts are already sold out, such as the opening concert. Also very few tickets remain for the concerts by Sir John Eliot Gardiner or the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam.

“But we have 60 concerts, so there’s still a broad offer of tickets available.”