Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra using cross-over projects to attract new audiences

Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, photo: Tomáš Vodňanský

Many people don’t know that the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of the oldest leading Czech orchestras. It was founded only three years after the creation of Czech Radio in 1923 and it is currently celebrating its 91st season. I talked to Jakub Čížek, the Director of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra about their ongoing season and began by asking him about the orchestra’s mission.

Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra,  photo: Tomáš Vodňanský
“The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra is the only radio orchestra in the Czech Republic and its task is to make recordings both for the market but also for radio broadcasting.”

How do you decide which highlights to record?

“There are several sources when selecting a repertoire. One of them is what we want to record on CD which we consult with label companies such as Radio Service or Supraphon here in the Czech Republic. The second source is Czech Radio’s Vltava channel – which is the music station at Czech Radio which often asks us to record a specific repertoire for them to broadcast.”

We are currently half-way through the season. What are the main highlights this season and do you have a personal favourite?

“We have about 12 concerts in the main series and another four in the New Horizon cycle and it is very difficult to say what is my favourite. We already had three concerts with residential artists –they are Adam Plachetka, the base-baritone singer who is world-famous, he sings in the Metropolitan Opera, in Vienna and other famous stages. His concerts, whether they be opera repertoire, or songs or musicals were very attractive. We also had Stephen Isserlis, the famous British cellist and his Dutilleux Concerto – this is music from the second half of the 20th century – was very attractive for the art loving public here because it is not normally on the repertoire of orchestras here in the Czech Republic. We had the young Czech conductor Jiří Rožen performing Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass. We are celebrating Janacek’s anniversary this year and this was one of our contributions.”

Jakub Čížek,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki
You have many artists here from all over the world. Your recent concert Stories from the North combined German and Nordic music and included contemporary work from Estonia and Finland. It was one of many concerts that have musicians of different nationalities. Do you ever see your work as public diplomacy in practice?

“Music is a common language that brings nations together. Anyone who performs – and it doesn’t matter if it is classical music, jazz or rock and pop - knows that music is something that can be sung, played, shared by everyone, so yes, it is something like diplomacy through art which brings people from different parts of the world together. And we love to combine artists and repertoire from different countries. In the concert you mentioned we had an Estonian conductor and a piece by Arvo Pärt, the most famous Estonian composer, indeed one of the most famous living composers of the present-day. Our Nordic repertoire Sibelius was familiar ground for the Estonian conductor. We also included Schumann and had four young horn players – one was Czech, one was German and two were French. So, in terms of soloists and conductors and in terms of repertoire we can put almost anything together.”

What can we look forward to in the upcoming season? Any more intercultural projects planned?

Alexander Liebreich,  photo: Bartek Barczyk,  Wikimedia-OTRS
“The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra has a new chief conductor and artistic director. We signed a four-year contract with the world-known German conductor Alexander Liebreich so it is like the beginning of a new era for the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. It will be the first ever foreign conductor the orchestra has had – if I do not count the current chief conductor who is Slovak, but then we do not regard Slovaks as foreigners. So we are very much looking forward to cooperating with the new chief conductor and of course we will offer very rich programs, including German music, including Czech music and including a contemporary repertoire which I believe is very important. I do not think contemporary music should be left aside, on the contrary it is part of our lives, and it is our intention to include contemporary pieces in our repertoire.”

Are there any contemporary pieces planned for the remainder of this season?

“Yes, we have a cello concerto to be performed in May by the young Czech composer Jan Ryant Dřízal and it will be performed by the young Czech cellist Tomas Jamník and conducted by the young Czech conductor –Marek Šedivý. So a very nice combination of three young musicians.”

I understand that one of your goals is to attract a younger audience to some of your concerts and you use experimental projects to achieve this. Do you have any such projects coming up?

Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra,  photo: archive of Czech Radio
“We are quite lucky in that we are successful in attracting a new audience. One way to do this is to have young composers, conductors and soloists who attract a young audience even to concerts of classical music. They have friends and family as well as classmates come to their concerts and such a repertoire attracts young people who are interested in culture, in new things, so they come to our concerts and are keen on new pieces of music –or maybe even old pieces which are less familiar. The second way how to attract a new audience –not just young people – are the cross-over projects that we do. We did musicals, film music, we combined the symphony orchestra with a big band, jazz music – all that helps to attract a new audience.”

I understand that you also have a family friendly project coming up in the coming months – can you tell us a little bit more about that?

“Yes, on April 14th, we will perform a special project for families – a cartoon movie The Cunning Little Vixen –a fairytale produced by the BBC and Czech Television based on the opera by Leoš Janacek. It is one hour of music, the movie will be screened on a big film screen accompanied by live music from the orchestra. So we are inviting whole families to this project.”