Recently the Supraphon record company organised a small celebration to mark the 15th anniversary of the first CD released in Czechoslovakia, in May 1987, the first ever in the whole of Eastern Europe. The first digital recording made in Czechoslovakia featured Bedrich Smetana's cycle of symphonic poems "My Country" played by the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of Vaclav Smetacek. More then 50,000 copies were quickly sold, and a new era for Supraphon began: in the course of the next five years, classic vinyl releases gradually diminished from its production plans altogether.
Supraphon's general manager, Jana Gondova, says the first CD actually came out relatively early. In Western countries CDs appeared for the first time in 1984, so to appear here three years later was pretty quick. Moreover, she said, it would have been useless to introduce new software on the market before people could have CD players. What she sees as the greatest advantage of CD is that old recordings could be digitally re-mastered and thus were able to find new listeners.
Recently Supraphon received the Grammy award for a new recording of the symphonic poem Sarka from Smetana's "My Country", but Mrs Gondova told me her company had also been receiving good reviews for re-editions of recordings from the 1950s and 60s. This month the company will start releasing a series of 42 CDs featuring Czech conductor Karel Ancerl, which is the biggest ever edition featuring one single musician. The first 12 CDs will be out by the end of August, but it will take three and a half years to release all the 42 records.
To mark the fifteenth anniversary of the first Czech CD, Mrs. Gondova announced that Supraphon and Bonton decided to celebrate together with their customers:
"We have sold millions of CDs, and we have always tried to retain reasonable prices. Now - for a temporary period - we'll bring down the prices even more and offer our customers the chance to buy cheaper records which they don't yet have in their collections. This goes for CDs which are still selling well, but also for those which were popular years ago and due to small space in shops are not properly visible now, so people don't buy them too often. Our shops will now receive new supplies, and we hope that our customers will make full use of this chance."
Mrs Gondova told me that Supraphon has branches in many countries in Europe and overseas, so those of you who are interested in Czech-made records, will find more information on Supraphon's web-site, www.supraphon.cz, where you can also choose records you'd like to buy.
Last week, an international marathon of readings from Czech and Slovak literature was underway at Czech centres abroad. For over 200 hours - that is more than 8 days - the reading continued in a kind of global relay race, at 17 Czech Centres in different cities around the world.
The marathon was held for the 5th time, but in previous years it mostly focussed on one author only - the first year it was the American beatnik poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, then Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was banned during the Communist era, and Czech exile writer Josef Skvorecky, who established the 68 Publishers publishing house in Toronto. Now readers could choose whichever book they wanted, thus making the non-stop reading the biggest presentation of Czech and Slovak literature in the world. It involved some 800 readers. In foreign cities - which included London, New York, Moscow, Berlin, Paris and Brussels - the excerpts were read in the language of the respective country. Dr. Milan Sedlacek explained to me when the Administration of Czech Centres became involved in the event: Before the event was kicked off, I spoke to Karel Srp, from the Czech Jazz Section music and literature group, whose brainchild the non-stop reading was: Among the readers were names well known to the Czech public, including a number of famous actors. But political figures were also involved, such as Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart and Labour and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla. One of the readers in the Czech cultural centre in Paris was the famous French actress Annie Girardot.
According to Mr Srp, the main purpose of this non-commercial literary event is to promote knowledge of Czech and Slovak literature abroad. But he says it has also been designed to strengthen unity among Czech and Slovak expatriates living abroad and to entertain those people taking Czech and Slovak studies. For instance in Bulgaria, there are so many such people and their interest in the readings was so big that they had to make the 15 minute blocks reserved for each reader shorter, so that more people could read from their favourite Czech books. I went to the Jazz Section room to listen to some of the readers last Saturday and spoke with one of them, a young girl from Prague: