The Prague Spring music festival has begun

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On Sunday, Bedrich Smetana's cycle of symphonic poems entitled "My Country" opened the 57th annual Prague Spring international music festival. The Prague Spring is the most significant musical event of the year in the Czech Republic, and brings together artists from around the world. Alena Skodova has more:

Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi, photo CTK
The festival traditionally opens with "My Country" on the 12th of May, the anniversary of Bedrich Smetana's death in 1884. Sunday's concert in the packed Smetana Hall featured the Czech Philharmonic with conductor Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi of Japan, and was greeted by a prolonged standing ovation. I spoke with festival director, Roman Belor, who told me more about this year's event:

"This year it's a bit extraordinary, because we've decided that we would target the festival on one leading theme and that is the anniversary of Igor Stravinski, we are celebrating the 120th anniversary of his birth. Stravinski was undoubtedly one of the most important composers of the 20th century and there are some extremely important historical links between him and Czech musical scene. Stravinski visited several times Prague and other places in the former Czechoslovakia, and he is very interesting for us also because of the fact that he is a personality closely connected with the historical development of the world in the 20th century. Nevertheless, Stravinski is not a limiting theme of the festival, the Prague Spring according to its tradition is keeping a large scale of programming, we have concerts of early music, we have recitals, we have an important series of singers who will give they recitals, we are welcoming here in Prague a beautiful scale of symphony and chamber orchestras, so this is a big international festival."

Could you tell us just a few names?

Vaclav Havel and Dagmar Havlova, photo CTK
"I would like to mention the Oslo Philharmonic with their former music director Maris Janssons, the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington with Leonard Slatkin, we will have a special concert of London Symphonietta, an important ensemble presenting contemporary music with their artistic director Oliver Knussen, to the soloists - I'd like to mention Maxim Vengerov, among singers Michael Schade, Matthias Gerne, June Anderson and Magdalena Kozena, of course I have to mention Czech artists and orchestras, the festival is largely cooperating with all residential symphony orchestras of Prague - the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic and Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra - so just exempli gratia."

This year, the festival offers 60 concerts and opera performances over the next three weeks. Mr. Belor told me that most of the concerts had been sold out long before the festival started, but tickets were still available for concerts featuring artists who are perhaps a bit difficult for mainstream tastes.

This is Mr. Belor's first year as the managing director of the Prague Spring festival. He says one of his goals has been to ensure that the festival is promoted better abroad:

"This year we are trying to promote the festival abroad better than it was done in the past and in the future this is one of the challenges in front of us, because this festival is extremely appreciated among professionals but we want to make it more known also for general public in other countries, so we have had advertisements in important international magazines and newspapers, and we are inviting foreign journalists to Prague and are ready to serve them as much as we can."