London Symphony Orchestra opens 60th Prague Spring Festival

L'Orchestre symphonique de Londres

On Thursday night Bedrich Smetana's "Ma Vlast" or "My Country" played by the London Symphony Orchestra will open the 60th Prague Spring Festival. The biggest and oldest classical music festival in Czech Lands, the Prague Spring has earned a reputation as one of the best in Europe.

Roman Belor
Smetana's "My Country" traditionally opens the festival every year on May 12. A national classic, the piece has usually been played by Czech orchestras at the opening ceremony. But this year's festival - the 60th - will be opened and closed by two prestigious foreign orchestras. Here's festival director Roman Belor.

"This year we have approached the programming in a bit different way. It is the 60th festival - such a challenging number- so we have decided to change the tradition in one aspect: we have invited two major international orchestras to play the opening and final concerts of the festival.

"It is, I think, for the first time in the history of the festival that we have made this. Speaking English, I have to mention that the opening concert - the traditional production of Ma Vlast - the seal of the Prague Spring Festival is going to be played by the London Symphony Orchestra with its music director Sir Colin Davis. We are sure that this will bring some refreshing moments to this fantastic tradition of this festival."

The few foreign orchestras that have performed My Country at the Prague Spring in the past have been from the United Kingdom. Roman Belor says he believes that London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, is a very suitable ensemble to perform this music.

"There is, of course, an extremely strong local tradition of presentation of this piece but each local tradition should be also compared with an international approach to such a major composition. And we are sure that London Symphony Orchestra that undoubtedly belongs to the best British orchestras - if we cannot even use the title of really the best one - is the body that will bring some challenging moment to the Czech local tradition of the presentation of this piece.

"We are happy that the LSO has decided to accept this piece to their own concert season in London because this is an important service for the fantastic heritage of this famous Czech composer who is sometimes underestimated and sometimes overshadowed by Dvorak and Janacek."

Even though Bedrich Smetna is - partially due to the national character of his music - much more popular at home then abroad, the music of his contemporary Josef Suk is even less known internationally. The conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Zdenek Macal would like to address this lack of attention, and has decided to feature one of Suk's greatest symphonies "Asrael" in this year's festival.

"Interestingly, he is much more romantic or less modern than, for example, Bohuslav Martinu. And Bohuslav Martinu is, let's say, almost a common name in the world, with symphony works and even operas.

Zdenek Macal with the pianist Ivo Kahanek, photo: CTK
"For me it is strange because always when I performed Suk's works in the United States, I got a lot of letters - I mean when it was some modern piece, the people were complaining, but there were many more positive reactions to Suk's work. They asked: Please, can we hear more Suk?"

Apart from the prestigious orchestras that have been already mentioned the Prague Spring Festival will feature a number of other well known artists, among them the German tenor Peter Schreier and the British soprano Emma Kirkby. Part of the festival this time is going beyond the strict borders of classical music, and audiences will get a rare chance to see greats like jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, who will perform with the Czech Radio Orchestra.

The festival will continue until June 4th and if you would like to learn more about the program and the festival in general go to