Sacred music to fill Brno churches over next two weeks

The annual Easter Festival of Sacred Music gets underway this weekend in Brno. The festival is organised by the Brno Philharmonic and over the two Easter weeks it will bring concerts to various venues around the Moravian capital. I discussed the event with the festival’s programme director Vladimír Maňas and I first asked him about its main theme for this year, which is Transformations:

“We are actually celebrating the 30th anniversary this year, so we thought it might be useful to think about the festival’s future horizons and we thought the title Transformations was very fitting. We also have another major topic this year, which is a meeting of early and contemporary music.”

The opening concert will feature Stabat Mater by Brno organist František Musil. Can you tell as a bit more about this composer and the piece that will be performed?

“František Musil was born in Prague in the mid-19th century, and in the 1870s he was accepted as an organist in the cathedral in Brno, where he worked until his death. He was allegedly a very modest person who was not very self-confident about his own music.

Photo: Velikonoční festival duchovní hudby

“In the 1890s he wrote his Stabat Mater in a very similar design to that of Antonín Dvořák. It is based on the medieval sequence of Stabat Mater for solo singers, a large choir and a large orchestra. It is his most important work, but it has been largely forgotten. So we hope that the opening concert will help bring it back to life.”

As you said this year’s programme will bring together old and contemporary music. What do you have in stock this year from contemporary composers?

“This year we have two world-premieres within the festival. One is a shorter piece by Prague-based composer Slavomír Hořínka for three solo voices and three instruments of early music.

“This piece with a special topic of the Holy Week will be performed by Cappella Mariana on Monday of the Holy Week together with some early baroque music mostly by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. So this is the confrontation of early and contemporary music.

Capella Mariana | Photo: Petra Hajská,  Velikonoční festival duchovní hudby

“The festival also commissioned a new piece by František Fiala, which is designed as an oratorio for a children’s choir, solo singers and also an instrumental ensemble.

“This oratorio Mysterium paschale is based on a liturgical text from the Easter Week. And it is a very interesting example of the use of ancient chants and melodies within a contemporary composition.”

For the first time in its history, the festival will be part of an actual church service. What piece will be performed?

Photo: Velikonoční festival duchovní hudby

“Yes. At an evening service in the church of Saint Thomas in Brno city centre there will be a performance of Missa brevis by contemporary composer service by Knut Nysted.”

And finally, among the most popular events of the festival are Dark Hours, musical mediations by candlelight. Will you continue in this tradition?

“Of course. This has been a tradition since 2012 when the festival started its new era under the auspices of the Brno Philharmonic. We could call it a late evening concert because it always starts at 9 p.m. and it is usually closely attached to the days of the Holy Week or at least the programme is heavily inspired by the liturgy of these days.”