For 200 years Bohemia and Moravia have been a hatchery of excellent mainly amateur choirs--mixed, men's, women's and in the last 50 years children's too. Today the state funds two major choirs with a high international reputation--the Prague Philharmonic Choir and the Czech Brno Philharmonic Choir, which brilliantly perform music from the Baroque to the contemporary. Another particularly superb musical flower, however, is the boys' choir Boni pueri, based in Hradec Kralove in East Bohemia. Founded 27 years ago, the name Boni pueri now has the kind of credit in the world enjoyed by few Czech orchestras.
This elite boys' choir has no rival in this country and, are among the top choirs in the world, as became clear at last year's international meeting of boys' choirs, when 800 singers and guests flew to Prague for an event actually organised by the "Good Boys" from Hradec Kralove. This year they showed their mettle again with a performance of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and a selection from Handel's Messiah. Despite all this, the choir has had a long struggle to achieve its place in the sun: for years it was forced to give a huge number of concerts to make ends meet, and continued to be seen as just some peculiar offshoot of hobby music or a PR resource for the charity projects of pop singers. In the end, however, enlightened ministry officials realised the importance of cultivating boys with music and in 2006 a private music school, the only one of its kind in the Czech Republic, was established under the patronage of the Ministry of Education. With a Boni pueri school, the choir need no longer fear for its future. It even has a building shared with a "normal" basic arts school (a school that offers normal elementary education but with a focus on music and extra music teaching and facilities). The only problem is that Boni pueri are still waiting for more material support from their city. The Hradec Kralove politicians and bureaucrats pride themselves on the choir, but don't seem to realise that the Boni pueri do more to promote the city than the local hockey and football club and philharmonic, and that the local authority needs to provide the choir with more substantial funding. I talked about the current situation with both choirmasters--Pavel Horak and Jakub Martinec.
At our last meeting four years ago you had just come back from a tour of North America, but despite all your success you were nervous about funding prospects for the choir and faced an uncertain future. What has changed since then?
PH: It was always our ambition to get the choir on a solid permanent footing as is usual in all the world's choral "great powers". In a country which still occasionally calls itself the conservatory of Europe, we wanted to win back for boys' singing the position it had before the Hussite Revolution. Three years ago, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, our efforts were finally crowned with the founding of a choir school. And so the Boni pueri choir is now a private subject under the heading of the ministry. This has been the most important milestone--for our activities and our future--since the choir was founded. We now have the security of knowing that we won't be forced to give up at any moment. Finally we have the peace to get on with the music, and we can fully train the children with a range of quality teachers.
So your dream of getting over the bureaucratic obstacles has come true?
PH: Yes. What we have is a basic arts school focused entirely on teaching boys singing. This is a rarity in the CR, but elsewhere there are quite a number of such schools--in Vienna, in Germany, in Canada. We've been working on this new footing for three years now, but it still feels like a miracle that we finally managed to get it. It has meant an internal qualitative improvement in the commitment of the choir. …