Czechs "effortlessly musical", says conductor Kerry Stratton

Karel Schwarzenberg and Kerry Stratton, photo: Martina Stejskalova

The Canadian conductor Kerry Stratton has worked with several leading Czech orchestras and made numerous recordings of Czech classical music. He was recently honoured for his dedication to Czech music, when he received an award from the Czech Foreign Ministry. I spoke to Kerry Stratton at the awards ceremony, and first asked him how a Canadian came to be work with so many Czech orchestras.

Karel Schwarzenberg and Kerry Stratton,  photo: Martina Stejskalova
"My good fortune, to conduct so many Czech orchestras; to be invited is a blessing for me - it's been one of the highlights of my life. And today I'm recognised for it!"

When did you first come here and what was the first Czech orchestra you worked with?

"I first came here in...'91, '92 - I was in Teplice. I didn't choose my own programme, but I got a lovely programme nevertheless. I got Mozart 39 and incidental music from A Midsummer Night's Dream - it's a good memory, eh? And also a piece by Zelenka, so I did have one Czech."

How have you found communication with Czech musicians?

"As I tell my conducting students - shut up! Don't talk so much! If you can show them you can show them. And it's not been difficult at all - I've never found it difficult."

How do Czech musicians compare to musicians from elsewhere in the world?

"In my experience, and I now have many years here, I think Czechs are effortlessly musical. This is really a musical country. It's a different scene."

Do you think it's because perhaps more children learn instruments here?

"I would like to think that's the reason. I also think tradition is important. This is a nation that was once described as the conservatory of Europe, for good reason. Difficult to lose that - I hope you never do."

You've also conducted orchestras elsewhere, perhaps in your native Canada, playing Czech music. How does it go down in Canada?

"Well, sometimes it's convincing, sometimes its news. But I like to be a champion of Czech composers. I even do it in Europe, you know. I was in Kassel in Germany and I took a tone poem by Smetana, Richard III, and Dvorak's 6th and the orchestra had never played them."

What's so great about Czech music?

"It resonates for me. It resonates in that I respond to its peculiar melancholy and its indescribable exuberance!"