Ondrej Adamek: I Enjoy Working with a Simple Idea
Bakla, Petr, Czech Music
In the music of Ondrej Adamek (*1979) the influences of distant ethnic cultures are organically integrated with the exploitation of the most modern composition techniques and refinements of sound peculiar above all to contemporary French music. We talked about these and other issues in the following interview, which introduces one of the most striking representatives of the coming generation of composers in the Czech Republic. Although Adamek currently lives in Paris, where he is completing his advanced studies, and has been collecting international awards and, quite naturally, is orientated to wider European contexts, in my view his music still retains a certain specific "Czech" identity. This is neither good nor bad in itself--it is simply the case.
Tell us how you came to study in France after a period at the Prague Academy.
Immediately I got to HAMU (the Music Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague), I started to look around for possibilities of studying abroad for a time. It was a great piece of luck that one student from Paris had applied to go on exchange to HAMU in the framework of the Erasmus Programme. I first went to Paris in 2000, and my three-month stay there convinced me that it was a very stimulating cultural centre and I had a great deal to learn there. I prolonged my stay as long as I could and after a year's pause I did the entrance exams for fulltime studies at the Conservatoire Superieur. During my studies there in Paris I then came to the conclusion that the professors were too concerned with details and weren't addressing the issues of the basic conception of pieces, the basic idea behind them. So I applied for another study trip somewhere else abroad. I went to Goteborg in Sweden for three months. Here the spirit was completely different. Now I'm back in Paris in my sixth year. I finished the four-year cycle and I'm carrying on with the higher level course. I have a completely free programme, and I'm devoting myself entirely to composing.
Do you plan to stay in France when you finish your course?
I don't know if I'll stay in France. That depends on a lot of things. Most of all on my private life. It would be worth just for the sheer number of concerts of contemporary music. What's more, I spend most of my time holed up at home and concerts are the only opportunities I have for being in contact with the music world.
Has there been some fundamental turning point in your composing since you've been in France? What are the most important things that you've learned and got to know there?
I think there was a big shift in my work when I gradually managed to integrate the new things I had learned in France into my music, and at the same time I was able to continue in my Slavonic approach with a certain detachment. In Paris many of my dreams were fulfilled. I learned how to work in an electro-acoustic studio. The school gave me the chance to present and record ensemble pieces at very high quality, and I gained experience with players and many conductors. I learned the most in orchestration lessons. I discovered the charm of the orchestra. I improved a great deal in terms of careful work with detail, refinement, work with sound and also in work with "virtual space" in instrumental music. I learned how to work in a concentrated way and elaborate scores in full. In France the emphasis is on detail, sound, craft. Often what is lacking is a clear thought, idea, form. I enjoy working with a simple idea, which I try to take to the limit. The French often talk about naivete, simplicity or predictability in music as a fault, but I work with these things deliberately. It's something I believe I brought from Bohemia.
The simple initial ideas of the kind you mention can be very different with different composers. Can you tell us something more about your own?
It seems to be very hard to maintain and develop a certain idea right to the end, and not to abandon it after the first few bars. …