The Arts features last week's tribute to Vaclav Havel at Prague's National Theatre, which brought together the absolute cream of the Czech music and theatre worlds for a one-off event which may never be equaled. We also talk to the leader of the multi-talented Ecstasy of St Theresa, and take a quick look at the arts news.

Arts news

Czech Lion film award ceremony, photo: CTK
The nominations for the Cesky Lev (Czech Lion) film awards were announced this week, with Rok dabla (Year of the Devil) up for ten awards. Other films picking up multiple nominations were Vylet (Some Secrets) by Alice Nellis and Smradi (Brats) by Zdenek Tyc.

One of the most successful ever Czech musicals, Dracula, is to start a fresh run at Prague's Congress Centre at the end of March, almost five years after its final performance. Meanwhile Janek Ledecky, whose last musical Hamlet was a big hit, is launching his new show Galileo in just under a fortnight's time.

One of the most interesting art shows in town is Splatka dluhu or Payment on a Debt, at Galerie Jaroslava Fragnera on Betlemske namesti. Its subtitle - Prague and Her German Speaking Architects 1900 - 1938 - is self-explanatory. That exhibition is on till February 16.

Top Czech musicians, actors pay tribute to Vaclav Havel at National Theatre

Last week's tribute to Vaclav Havel at Prague's National Theatre, which was organised by the ex-president's wife Dagmar, brought together the absolute cream of the Czech music and theatre worlds for a one-off event which may never be equaled. The artists who performed could hardly have been more diverse, with showbiz singers Karel Gott and Helena Vondrackova sharing the stage with actors such as Tomas Toepfer and Jiri Bartoska who played a large part in the Velvet Revolution. Many of those who performed were close personal friends of Mr Havel's.

US-based Czech rock singer Ivan Kral introduced a "present from a mutual friend" of his and Mr Havel's, in the form of a song by the late Mejla Hlavsa, who played with Plastic People of the Universe. Like Ivan Kral, opera singer Magdalena Kozena flew in to Prague especially for the show. Other musicians who appeared were Mr Havel's friend Michal Kocab and guitarist Michal Pavlicek, flautist Jiri Stivin and singer Marta Kubisova.

Among other highlights, the comic duo of Jiri Labus and Oldrich Kaiser performed a bizarre "ballet" entitled the Victory of Democracy over Totalitarianism, while another comic duo, Zdenek Sverak and Ladislav Smoljak, presented a new sketch about their legendary creation Jara Cimrman. There were several recitations of Mr Havel's own work, including an adaptation of part of his play Audience, by Pavel Landovsky, Josef Abraham and Jirina Bohdalova.

(The audio version of this report includes performances by Magdalena Kozena, Ivan Kral, an excerpt from the adaptation of Audience and Marta Kubisova.)

Despite side-projects, the band comes first for Ecstasy of St Theresa

The Prague-based music group Ecstasy of St Theresa were formed by Jan P Muchow in the early 1990s, and are now made up of Muchow and singer Katerina Winterova. Over the years, Ecstasy of St Theresa's sound has evolved from swirly guitars to their current jazz-influenced dance style. As well as making music with the group Jan Muchow produces other bands and does the odd film soundtrack. For her part, Katerina Winterova is a renowned actress, and is currently playing the female lead in the National Theatre's first production of Romeo and Juliet in 40 years. So when I spoke to Jan Muchow at his studio just off Wenceslas Square, I asked him if Ecstasy of St Theresa wasn't a part-time project.

"No, no, no, it's a full-time job, and in the free time we fill those empty spaces with some work for other people, or on other projects. Because Katerina is in the theatre as a full member of the ensemble she has to go to the practices and she has to perform in those plays, so it gives me some time, which I rather spend on the music than to be at home and watch the news. That's why it maybe seems we do loads of loads of things and just sometimes we do the band, but it's the opposite, in our free time we do other stuff as well."

Ecstasy of St Theresa's latest CD Slowthinking was recently released on EMI Czech Republic, and the group are hoping to have it released internationally in the not too distant future. They are one of the most critically-acclaimed bands in this country, though they are not among the best-selling. Might Ecstasy of St Theresa might have more commercial success in the Czech Republic if they sang in the Czech language?

"I think the problem in this country, if we're talking about success in sales and stuff, the problem is that people here are not so into music at all. They prefer to buy or listen to music which is not too hard to concentrate on, or they can listen to in the car or while they wash the dishes, but the stuff we do takes your time and needs, or asks, for your attention. And people just don't have the time for it or they are not so interested in it, so I don't think we would sell much more than we do now if we sang in Czech."

Jan P. Muchow put together the soundtrack for the year 2000 film Samotari (Loners) and is currently working on the music for a new film by the same director, David Ondricek. What does he enjoyed about doing soundtracks?

"It's quite fun to add the noises, or the notes, to the pictures because it's a different thing than to write a song. I'm a big film fan so it's one of the ways how to be part of making a film. The biggest pleasure is trying to find the best sound to the scene on the screen, and you know you don't have to keep the same tempo or it has to be in four-four, so you're free and it's just up to you if you do it well or in a stupid way."

And you can find out more about Ecstasy of St Theresa at their excellent website