“My Country”: Prague Spring kicks off with performance by German orchestra founded by WWII expellees

Photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl

In keeping with tradition, the annual Prague Spring classical music festival kicked off on Sunday with a rendition of Bedřich Smetana’s epic cycle Má vlast, or My Country, which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer’s homeland. What makes this performance particularly poignant is that it was performed by a German orchestra formed by musicians expelled from Czechoslovakia after WWII.

Photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra recorded the complete poetic cycle Má vlast a little over two years ago, under the baton of chief conductor Jakub Hrůša. Their concert on Sunday night – marking the 135th anniversary of Smetana’s death and the opening of the 74th annual Prague Spring festival – in a sense, also marked a symbolic homecoming, as festival spokesman Pavel Trojan explains.

“There’s always a huge sense of anticipation surrounding the opening of the festival itself. This time, Smetana’s My Country was performed by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under its Czech chief Jakub Hrůša.

“It was chosen not only because Mr Hrůša has been the orchestra’s conductor since 2016, and their recent recording of Má vlast by Bedřich Smetana. Beyond that, the Bamberg Symphony’s association with the festival is equally interesting on account of its origins.

“It was formed in 1946 – the very same year the Prague Spring festival’s first season was held– by German musicians, formerly members of the Prague German Philharmonic, expelled from this country after the Second World War.

“Notwithstanding the exacerbated twists and turns of post-war political developments, the orchestra has never hesitated to avow its roots in Bohemia.

“So, it was very symbolic – this opening – and I’m very proud it went so well.”

Exactly sixty years ago, Má vlast was singled out as a work encapsulating the message of the Prague Spring festival’s inaugural evening. However, although Smetana’s cycle already figured in the event’s historic first edition, it only became firmly established as an inseparable regular part of the opening programme in 1959.

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
This year’s Prague Spring festival runs until 4 June. Always an eclectic mix of mainly classical but also contemporary music from Europe and beyond, there are too many world class artists on the programme to name them all. But I asked Pavel Trojan to spotlight a couple of upcoming performances.

“The most anticipated concerts are by orchestras and artists coming from abroad. Few orchestras are as capable of effortlessly combining inner passion with flawless unity of sound, perfectly rendered down to the smallest detail as Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, under conductor Sir Antonio Pappano.

“We’re also very much looking forward to a New York ensemble called the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which demonstrates the way the intimacy characteristic of chamber ensembles merges with the rich sound of a large orchestra. They’re returning with Jan Lisiecki, a very famous young Canadian pianist [of Polish origin].

“There’s really a wide range of genres and periods on offer.”

The full programme is available on the Prague Spring website at festival.cz