5. 1. 2021

Dramaturg Vítězslav Mikeš about the 51st year

Organised by Filharmonie Brno, the Moravian Autumn festival develops, accumulates and anticipates the programming lines of the orchestra’s seasons by offering exceptional projects – often begun on an ad hoc basis – that go beyond what’s possible in regular subscription series. One such project is concerned with the oeuvre of Jan Novák (1921–1984), a composer intimately linked with Brno, whose legacy Filharmonie develops continuously. In recent years, the orchestra has given performances of his cantata Dido, the Philharmonic Dances, the symphony Ludi symphoniaci and an orchestral version of what was originally a cycle for the piano, Elegantiae tripudiorum. Jan Novák’s 100th birthday in 2021 provides a challenge for Moravian Autumn, held this year for the 51st time, to bring the works of this composer to public performance even more broadly than before (and in this respect it follows the 50th festival, which was largely dedicated to Novák’s teacher, Bohuslav Martinů).

Novák’s oeuvre should be regularly performed in concerts in this country (as well as serve as a Czech “export product”), not least because it is very audience-friendly thanks to its largely neo-classical conception. Yet lamentably, Novák has been sidelined, as indeed has the Latin language, which he loved, set to music, spoke fluently and used to write his poems. Novák lives on in the public consciousness; he is respected; occasionally his music is heard here or there; but not as often as its quality would warrant – he is certainly a composer of European standing. Moravian Autumn will offer several contributions to the Novák centenary year: Filharmonie Brno, under the baton of Chief Conductor Dennis Russell Davies, will perform the Philharmonic Dances; the Brno-based Ensemble Opera Diversa, which has long dedicated itself to Novák’s music, will give a programme of his works for chamber orchestra, and also play the music from Karel Kachyňa’s film Coach to Vienna live for a play of the same name, prepared by the festival in collaboration with the Brno National Theatre; and the up-and-coming pianist Jakub Sládek will present the piano cycle Elegantiae tripudiorum. The celebrations of the Novák anniversary will culminate in a weekend-long marathon of original events linked with his oeuvre and located at various – most of them non-concert – venues in central Brno. A concert by the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn will bring a global context to the neo-classical programming line of the festival.

If we consider neo-classicism to have been one of the main musical directions in the first half of the 20th century, and in the following decades to have lingered on in works by Novák and others, then minimalism can be described as a style that took over the mantle in the second half of the century. It was born in the United States and then echoed throughout the world. Moravian Autumn will offer the opportunity to compare the current trends in American (Philip Glass), Russian (Vladimir Martynov) and Czech minimalism (world premiere of a piece by Vít Zouhar).

The festival also brings early music, in a performance of a feature-long piano cycle, L’art de varier by Antonín Rejcha, echoing last year’s 250th birthday of this Bohemian titan; a unique project for multiple choirs featuring 16th and 17th-century music; and traditional French songs of the 15th to 19th centuries by the celebrated ensemble Le Poème Harmonique.

By inviting the Armenian Philharmonic, which will present an attractive, purely Armenian programme (Tigran Mansurian, Avet Terterian and Aram Khachaturian) and the Naghash Ensemble, with its folk music programme, the festival expresses support for Armenia ravaged by war.

There will be more on offer at the festival from musicians and ensembles of note, including the Beninese star of world music, Angélique Kidjo, the German organist, Christian Schmitt, the Serbian-American pianist, Ivan Ilić, the legendary violinist Tatiana Grindenko with her ensemble Opus Posth, Cello Octet Amsterdam with the pianist Maki Namekawa, and the German Aleph Guitar Quartet with Iva Bittová.

Many events are organised in collaboration with Brno’s major institutions: Masaryk University, the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (JAMU) and the Brno National Theatre. As a result of close cooperation between Filharmonie Brno and the JAMU Department of Music Management for many years, there will be a side event: a “mini-festival” programmed and produced by students of music management, whose four concerts are closely integrated into the programme of the festival.

And there will be more: conversations with composers, performers and musicologists, music workshops for children, a Novák-focused workshop and a musicological colloquium organised by the Masaryk University Institute of Musicology.

Vítězslav Mikeš