Czech-Slovak composer Juraj Filas to premiere latest work

Juraj Filas

In this week's Arts, we speak to one of the Czech Republic's most important contemporary classical composers, Juraj Filas. Citing Verdi, Beethoven and Mahler among his influences, Juraj Filas has won a string of awards and his works - described as belonging to the Czech neo-romantic movement - have been performed all over the world. May 1st will see the European premiere of his latest piece, De Profundis, a sonata for trombone and organ, performed at the St Nicholas church in the town of Humpolec. When Juraj came into the Radio Prague studio, he began by telling me about his musical - and family - roots.

"I was born in Kosice, and I feel Slovak, but I've been living here in the Czech Republic for 35 years. I studied singing and composition here at the Conservatory in Prague, and later five years at the Academy of Music, then I graduated with a doctorate and since 1985 I've been teaching at the Academy."

I've seen you described as "Czech composer Juraj Filas" and sometimes "Slovak composer Juraj Filas". Which are you more happy with? Do you consider yourself Czech, or Slovak?

"I'm Czechoslovak. Because my parents and grandparents were of Czech origin, my grandfather on my mother's side was Czech, and on the other side - my father's side - I have Slovak blood, and French blood and German blood! It was the Austrian monarchy, and it was a great country with a lot of nationalities."

I'd like to talk a bit about your music. You've brought with you some CDs, and of them is your Requiem. Can you tell us about it?

"Sure. I wrote the requiem in 2000. I was asked to do so by my friend Hubert Wiesenmaier from New York. It was not clear to me why he wanted a requiem! 'Do you want to die or what?' I asked him. He said - 'Please, write a requiem.' I wrote it, then came September 11th 2001, and I decided to dedicate this requiem to the victims of terror in New York. Then came Madrid, and London, and so on."

You are about to premiere your latest piece of music, in the town of Humpolec, on May 1st, in a very special concert. Could you tell us about that piece of music?

"Yes, of course. This concert is very important for me, because it will feature a wonderful trombone player - the New York Philharmonic's solo trombonist Joseph Alessi. He's very well known in the trombone world, many people say he is the king of the trombone. He's been playing in the New York Philharmonic for about twenty years, this is a wonderful thing. I've written three compositions for Joseph. The first was a sonata for trombone and piano from 1996. He played it first in Switzerland and then later in New York many times, and made a recording, it was a very successful composition.

Church of Saint Nicholas in Humpolec
Then he wanted a concerto from me. So I wrote a concerto for trombone and orchestra - that was played by him in California and Taiwan. And the third composition is De Profundis, a sonata for trombone and organ. Why is it in Humpolec? Well, a very, very good friend of mine [Stanislav Kotyza] from the Conservatory comes from there. He's of Czech origin, but has lived for about twenty years in New York. He's a very successful builder and he bought a new organ for his town. It was his wish to hear a concerto performed on this organ with Joe Alessi. The New York Philharmonic is on tour in Europe at the moment, and Joe Alessi is so kind to come from Frankfurt to Humpolec - he'll play the concerto and then the next day he'll travel to Warsaw. "

And accompanying him will be the well-known Czech organist Ales Barta.

"Ales Barta is one of the best organists in the Czech Republic, indeed one of the best in Europe."

I later met up with Ales Barta on a sunny afternoon in Prague's Zofin park, and asked him when he first met Juraj Filas.

"I first met him at school, and he wrote a sonata for the solo organ. This is my second opportunity to play his music, very nice music, and I am looking forward to meeting Joseph Alessi. He's a fantastic trombone player, the New York Philharmonic's first trombone player and teaches at Juillard in New York. I'm looking forward to this meeting in Humpolec. Juraj Filas's sonata isn't such an easy piece, but it's really very nice music."

Organist Ales Barta, clearly looking forward to that European premiere of the latest work by composer Juraj Filas, sonata De Profundis, featuring Joseph Alessi on trombone. If you're in the Czech Republic on May 1st and want to attend the concert in Humpolec, you'll find all the details at this website: