Yo-Yo Ma set to perform on floating stage at Prague Sounds festival

Yoyo Ma

Internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma will be performing on Prague’s Vltava River this September, as part of the Prague Sounds festival which will blend a wide range of musicians and genres into five unique evening concerts. To find out more about what’s in store, I spoke to festival programmer Guy Borg.

“We are of course delighted to have Yo-Yo come to the festival. We actually have a little bit of a history with him, because he performed at a fundraising gala for the Strings of Autumn festival back in 2014. However, to have him come back here this year, especially with his Bach project at which he will be playing the complete cello suites by [Johann Sebastian] Bach is something very special.

“This is a project which means a lot to Yo-Yo personally and one that he has taken around the world, playing at spectacular locations. We feel that our floating concert stage on the Vltava River in the centre of Prague is a fitting venue for such a project.”

Brad Mehldau | Photo: Björn Milcke,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC0 1.0 DEED

It is not just Yo-Yo Ma who is coming to the Prague Sounds festival this year of course, but several other highly accomplished musicians. Let me note that you will also have American Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, singer Lizz Wright and several renowned Czech artists, such as Jiří Suchý. But tell me first about this floating stage on the Vltava. What can we expect exactly?

“It is a purpose built stage for the Prague Sounds festival which is going to be floating on the river for one week only. Anyone who was at our Hopeful Prague concert last summer, with violinist Daniel Hope, will know what a special atmosphere the venue creates.

“For us at Strings of Autumn this is actually kind of a new step. The concert on the river that we organised with Daniel Hope last year was the first time in the history of our festival that we did a concert outdoors and in open air. This was something that came about thanks to the obstacles of the pandemic situation. We decided to take the fairly bold step of building this stage on the river, do the concert outside and try to bring people together in celebration of music and the city.

“Our experience last year was that the atmosphere created at that venue was really special. It inspired us to start a new festival, which is what Prague Sounds is, using the same venue in order to try to recreate some of the magic that everyone experienced last year.”

Was there any universal theme that you used when choosing the compositions that will be played at the festival?

“I would describe the Prague Sounds programming as subject to very similar criteria as the Strings of Autumn festival. That means that our aim is to present exceptional artists from a range of genres in a way that illuminates the relationship between the genres.

“At the same time, there is an emphasis on creating special one-off projects and tailor made programmes for the festival. We are hoping to feature both established and younger artists at the vanguard of new directions in music.”

Yoyo Ma | Photo: Prague Sounds festival

Ticket sales for the festival are already under way. I know we have talked a lot about how unique it is, but is there anything else you would perhaps add yourself for people who are considering buying a ticket?

“I would say that there are two reasons to get tickets. One is of course the unique nature of the venue itself and the surroundings. However, what makes the festival special is that the venue is combined with what we consider to be an exceptional programme of artists.

“Alongside those you mentioned we also have jazz pianist Brad Mehldau performing with the tenor Ian Bostrige in a special project that brings together elements of jazz and the classical world. They will be performing a cycle of songs written by Brad Mehldau with lyrics from the poetry of William Shakespeare, E. E. Cummings, Berthold Brecht, Johan Wolfgang Goethe, William Butler Yeats and others.

“We will also be featuring the great American singer Lizz Wright, who appeared at the Strings of Autumn festival a couple of years ago and has put together a special programme of traditional American gospel music for the Prague Sounds festival. There certainly is a lot to look forward to.”

The Prague Sounds festival will see five evening performances take place on a floating stage on the Vlatava River from 2-8 September. More information about the exact dates and ticket reservations can be found on the festival’s website: https://www.praguesounds.cz/ Prague Sounds is organised by the team behind the annual Strings of Autumn festival, which also takes place in the Czech capital.