Prague Spring music festival opens with unorthodox performance of My Country

The annual Prague Spring International Music Festival gets underway on Wednesday evening. In line with tradition, it opens with Smetana’s My Country. However, the performance, featuring a well-known early music ensemble Collegium 1704, is expected to be quite unusual.

The opening concert of Prague Spring is one of the major events on the Czech music scene and is usually entrusted to one of the large symphonic orchestras.

At the 76th edition of the festival it was originally scheduled to be performed by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. However, due to the current coronavirus measures in Germany, the performance had to be cancelled.

In a bold move, Prague Spring organizers decided to approach Václav Luks, conductor and founder of Collegium 1704 ensemble, which traditionally focuses on early music.

Václav Luks | Photo: Vojtěch Havlík,  Czech Radio

Speaking to Czech Radio, Mr Luks admitted that performing Smetana’s romantic symphonic cycle is quite a challenge, as it presents a significant departure from their traditional repertoire:

“The repertoire of Ensemble 1704 is based on Baroque and Classicist music, but romantic music is not completely foreign to us. Our aim is to present Smetana’s My Country in different “colours” than listeners are used to.

“We want to show what Smetana’s music may have sounded like at the time it was composed and what sound he imagined when he composed it. In fact, he had nothing but imagination, since, as we know, he was completely deaf at the time he composed the piece.”

The opening performance by Collegium 1704 will not be the first performance of My Country by an orchestra using original instruments. At the 1996 Prague Spring opening concert, the London Classical Players played the work with the conductor Sir Roger Norrington.

While Collegium 1704’s take on My Country is likely to be an unusual experience, Václav Luks says it will still respect the legacy of its ingenious creator:

Photo: Prague Spring Festival

“My Country has always excited me and inspired me to think how it could be interpreted using historical instruments and what it sounded like.

“It is hard to choose a favourite part, but I would like to stress how much I admire Tábor and Blaník. Especially in Tábor, you can see a clear inspiration by Wagner.

“Despite being so closely linked to our national identity, Smetana’s music appeals to people all around the world, which is quite unique.”

The opening concert in the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House will take place as part of a pilot project initiated by the Czech Ministry of Culture.

Spectators will be allowed to attend the concert, but their number will be limited to around 300. They will also be required to present a negative PCR test and wear a respirator.

In addition to the opening concert, people will be able to attend three more concerts in person. All the other Prague Spring concerts will be available online free of charge.

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Daniel Jäger
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