Who Plays Contemporary Music in the Czech Republic?

By Dobrovska, Wanda | Czech Music, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Who Plays Contemporary Music in the Czech Republic?


Dobrovska, Wanda, Czech Music


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For music to be "contemporary" it is not enough for it to have been written recently; it also has to express something of the pulsing cultural spirit of its time. At first sight of the score, or first listening, it has to be clear that this is music that could not have been written at any time but now--of course with some latitude allowed for impulses coming from the last decade, or even decades, where these have remained or re-emerged as an active inspirational element in music. On that first listen, the instruments used, the sound material, the compositional technique, are all audible. But often it is only on a second listening that that the specific way of thinking essential for the "contemporary" character of contemporary music, can be heard. As in the case of historically authentic interpretation of early music, so too for performance of new music, specialised ensembles have proved their worth, and in their very existence and profile these ensembles tell us much about the situation of contemporary music in the music-culture community.

In the Czech Republic there are at present around ten chamber ensembles that have chosen contemporary music as the focus of their professional life. Some are "occasional" groups, others permanent, but at the centre of each one of them we typically find a strong and determined person--a composer or musician--who has acted as a magnet for kindred souls. Here we shall look at the permanent groups.

MoEns was formed in 1995--under the name Mondschein Ensemble--with the aim of bringing to Czech musical life a stable music ensemble that would systematically engage in the professional performance of contemporary music. In its way it cleared the path for other groups founded later, even if these were orientated to different repertoires and many of them failed to put down lasting roots. In its time MoEns was venturing on virgin territory, because the wider public in the Czech Republic had no more than a fragmentary knowledge of international contemporary classical music, and so the ensemble focused on the presentation of the fundamental works of the "classics" of the post-war modern movement in music and its successors and the contemporary composers whose music was usually played at international contemporary music festivals, and on encouraging new work by Czech composers, especially those of the 1960s and 70s generation. In its long-term concert projects it presented music by M. Kagel, S. Reich, G. Kurtag and L. Andriessen, for example, and current trends (the New Complexity movement) or the new music of selected regions (Lithuania, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Germany). Over the years MoEns has premiered several dozen new works, mainly by Czech composers. It regularly appears at contemporary music festivals in the Czech Republic (The Exposition of New Music, New Music Marathon), and has performed at international festivals in Germany, Austria, England, Canada etc. It has recorded composer profile CDs of the music of Peter Graham and Miroslav Pudlak and the anthology The End of the 20th Century in Czech Music. The moving spirit of the ensemble is the composer and conductor Miroslav Pudlak (b. 196r), who together with the clarinettist Kamil Dolezal, violinist David Danel, cellist Milada Gajdova and composer and pianist Hanus Barton forms the core of the group. On the Czech music scene MoEns has the reputation of a solid, trustworthy group that does excellent work for contemporary music. Its name--MoEns--is a shortening of the original name of the group, which the composer Peter Graham used as the title for a piece written as a commission for the ensemble.

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www.musica.cz/moens

The Berg Chamber Orchestra is the same age as MoEns but took rather longer to establish a reputation with the public. It was formed by the conductor Peter Vrabel (b. 1969), who has remained its artistic director to this day. …

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