Freak Out! Zappa to be performed at Prague Spring Music Festival

The opening concert of the Prague Spring, photo: CTK

One of the world's most prestigious classical music festivals - the Prague Spring - opened on Monday, with the traditional performance of "My Country" by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. Over the next three weeks, audiences will be treated to some of the finest classical music performed by some of the most talented musicians in the world. But this year, for the first time in the festival's 58-year history, rock music will be included in the repertoire. Rob Cameron reports.

The opening concert of the Prague Spring,  photo: CTK
The Prague Spring is one of the country's highbrow cultural highlights, and this year's festival is no exception. Works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev and many other worthies all feature, but also a less familiar composer: Frank Zappa. Why is the famous freaky rocker being honoured with a performance at Prague's most revered celebration of serious music? Roman Belor is the festival's director.

"We feel that an important part of rock and jazz and other non-classical music has become classical. And we feel that Zappa himself and other musicians have become symbols of a certain generation of the underground movement of new horizons, and we feel that the Prague Spring Music Festival has to reflect all these inspirations. And it doesn't manipulate its nucleus - that will always be classical music."

This Saturday, at Prague's Veletrzni Palac art gallery, the Czech new wave band Prazsky Vyber will perform something called "Hommage a Frank Zappa" -marking the 10th anniversary of the artist's death.

Frank Zappa,  photo: CTK
"This concert will be performed by the famous Czech new wave band Prazsky Vyber or Prague Selection with Michal Kocab and Michal Pavlicek, these two people were symbols of new rock music in the early 80s. They will play together with the contemporary music ensemble Agon. This combination might be quite interesting."

Many Czechs have a special fondness for Zappa, including former President Vaclav Havel. The legendary Plastic People of the Universe, whose imprisonment by the Communists inspired Mr Havel to form the Charter 77 human rights movement - were themselves named after the Zappa song "Plastic People".

Perhaps in recognition of Zappa's contribution to modern Czech music, President Havel appointed him an honorary emissary of culture when the artist visited Prague in the early 1990s. Back then the appointment led to some raising of eyebrows, but Saturday's "Hommage a Frank Zappa" suggests Prague is finally ready to honour the cult rock musician.