An international organ festival has opened in Prague

An international organ festival opened in St. James' Basilica in Prague last Thursday. St. James' Basilica is said to have the largest organ in Prague, and also one of the oldest - built in 1705 by Abraham Starke, a native of the north Bohemian town of Loket. Having been re-built several times, the organ in St. James' allows musicians to play compositions from all musical epochs, including contemporary pieces. The festival will feature organ players from the United States, Italy, Norway, France, Belgium, Poland and the Czech Republic. Radio Prague's Alena Skodova spoke with one of them, Stephen Tharp from the United States, and asked him first if this was his first time here in Prague:

"No, it's my first time performing in Prague, I was here in October last year, in the city of Hradec Kralove, I played with the philharmonic there - organ concerto by Poulenc - and also some solo organ music, but I visited Prague at that time, and that was first trip to Prague, which has become one of my favourite European cities."

Mr. Tharp's performance in Prague included a great deal of contemporary music, a form of music of which it seems he is particularly fond.

"I think there's a lot of wonderful music especially in the latter half of the 20th century, and I'm always interested in finding new ways to not only perform those works but to commission new music from living composers it's nothing like having an artists who creates his work with you to write you a piece and then you can go to its sources unlike in any other period of music, of course, and learn about a direct link to what the composer thinks and how to promote it, it's new music and I think this is very important."

Alena Skodova put it to Mr. Tharp that as an American does it mean that he is restricted to only cooperating with his fellow-countrymen?

"Predominantly American composers so far but it's not exclusively such. One of the biggest pieces that I commissioned back in 1998 was a very large 7 movement symphonic poem called Instance by Jean Ciou, Titular in St. Eustach in Paris with whom I also studied and whose music I've played a great deal in both the States and in Europe. So far my connections have been most long lived in the United States, but also want to do this as much as possible with composers in many countries, in Europe as well, of course."

So I'm sure you'll want to get to know organists in the Czech Republic as well?

"Yes, there are some very, very famous people here that are well known. I think the most predominant figure is Petr Eben, whom I had the privilege of meeting last time when I was here and who I'm told is coming to my concert tonight, and I've always played a great deal of his music in the States and in Europe, and Jaroslav Tuma and several other names that are very familiar in the States, I hope to eventually have a chance to meet those people as well."