Britain's oldest symphony orchestra plays at Prague Spring

On Tuesday the Prague Spring international music festival featured Britain's famous Hallé Orchestra - who treated Czech music fans to Beethoven's 4th piano concerto and Shostakovich's 10th symphony. Alena Skodova spoke to the Hallé Orchestra's conductor, Mark Elder:

The Hallé Orchestra - Britain's oldest professional symphony orchestra - was founded in Manchester by the pianist and conductor Sir Charles Hallé in 1858. Mr Elder originally wanted to come to Prague in 1968, but the Soviet invasion ruined his plans:

"For me it is a dream come true. I'm so happy to be here. I had planned to come in 1968 when I was a very, very young boy, when I was in Bayreuth for a festival, playing in a youth orchestra. I had organised my permit and my visa. And a few days before I was going to come - SOMETHING happened. And so this is the first opportunity I've had in my life and I'm very, very happy to be in the Czech Republic. Your music has been with me all my life, I've conducted so many performances by Dvorak and Janacek and Smetana, in fact one of the first operas I ever did was Hubicka (The Kiss) by Smetana. So to come here to Prague and to be in this hall is very exciting and fulfilling."

But Mark Elder is familiar with the Prague Spring festival :

"Yes, of course, it's very, very famous - such a wonderful time of the year to have a festival! And I'm sure the city will be looking at its best at this time of the year. When I have time I must go and see what other things will be performed here at the same time, I see that my friend Garrick Ohlsson is coming to play the piano, he and I know each other very well, and I've seen there's lots of Janacek being performed, which for me of course is lovely, because I think his music is so important, I adore him."

And does the British audience like Czech music?

"When it goes well, when we do it well, and especially Janacek is difficult to do well, they absolutely adore it. The general musical public is still rather nervous of Janacek, whereas they are very, very comfortable with Dvorak, which is what you would expect. Dvorak is very popular, I have tried to bring forward some of his lesser known pieces to the attention of the public over the years, and this music, and Smetana as well, has been for me constantly all through my life, giving me so much joy. To conduct the music of Janacek is one of the most important things for a conductor. To me this music has always been part of my life, and I was inspired of course by Sir Charles Mackerras, I'll see him at dinner on Saturday so I will tell him what we have experienced here and how well it went. "