Open Gate Student Sings With Czech Republic's Finest

20.10.2013 18:42

Sexta student Zuzana Matiášová performed with accomplished Czech conductors this summer in Liberec. The following article is a diary of her experience. 

Bohemia Cantat is a festival of choir singing in Liberec which takes place every year at the end of August. The singers can apply for one of six workshops with different type of music - each workshop with its own conductor - and they rehearse one or several pieces for three days. At the end of the festival (Sunday morning) all workshops are performed and there is also a “common singing”. 

Colourful spectrum of music 

There were six workshops available this year. Quite a lot of the conductors (all except Roman Válek and Jan Staněk) were conducting in Liberec for the first time but they had one thing in common: All of them are professionals and it is obvious that they enjoy what they do. 

This was the program:
  1. Early and High Baroque (Marek Štryncl)
  2. Old Slavonic and Orthodox Songs (Zdeněk Vimr)
  3. The Artistic Workshop of Vladimír Franz (Roman Válek)
  4. Miroslav Raichl: Roční rozmary/Moods of the Year (Jaroslav Brych)
  5. Spirituals and Gospels (Jan Staněk)
  6. Jazz (Ottokar Prochazka)

Lappish herdsmen and suffering mutants 

I applied for a workshop #3 named The Artistic Workshop of Vladimír Franz. This present-day composer is widely known amongst the music world - partly because of his appearance; his whole body is tattooed so as to look like a Moor warrior. 

Even though I knew that his music is said to be very modern; often not completely “musical” I was a bit suspicious when I read an announcement of our workshop in March 2007 which said: “… the basic segments will be timbre music which is not rehearsed, but improvised directly - Lappish herdsmen, South African tribes, flocks of stick insect, suffering mutants, etc.” (written by Roman Válek, conductor of workshop #3) No surprise that we did not know what to imagine under this mysterious description (especially when the conductor is Roman Válek who is known to have conducted for example Veljo Tormis’ piece Raua needmine (Curse Upon Iron) during the history of BC). 

We did not know what we were going to sing until our first rehearsal, nor did we get sheets of music. We immediately learned that it was because the piece named The Pocket Oratorio: Young Men in the Stew was composed only the day before (not to mention that the final part, Amen, did not exist yet by that time). And it was obvious from the first moment that we would have to work a lot but also have good laugh during the rehearsals. 

All of the singers were supposed to get a so-called “ceremonial stick” (which turned out to be any branch, spade clutch, one soprano singer even got a paddle). We were to use it in the most extreme moment, to strike onto the floor with one dynamic “HUF!” That was quite like the rest of the piece; most of the time we were just hysterically reciting or anxiously singing various interjections like: “So - ha, so - ha… frchšč - bzunk…“, the devil-like sound “blblblblb” etc. 

Playful Franz 

On Saturday morning Vladimír Franz joined our workshop in rehearsing Young Men in the Stew. He also brought the final part (which was written on Friday night) so we started to rehearse it immediately. Mr Franz was very nice, even playful a lot. Every time we needed something to be improved or explained, he was absolutely willing to help and we all really enjoyed cooperating with him. He is also a good friend of our conductor Roman, which made everything a lot easier. 

At the last rehearse Vladimír Franz accompanied us with an electric organ - finally, the sound was complete and plain. After all, we were prepared for the Sunday concert. 

Musical debauchery 

On Sunday, the first two workshops to perform their work were Early and High Baroque and Old Slavonic and Orthodox Songs - the participants were performing only several pieces because both workshops’ work was to be seen and heard during the Saturday concert in the Church of St. Cross. After these two workshop #4 was introduced - the music of M. Raichl seemed to please the audience but it did not get such a big applause. Whereas Spirituals and Gospels andJazz were very welcome and appreciated as always. 

And then it was our turn to show what we had rehearsed. We were a bit afraid what the audience might think about our performance as well as the speculative music of Vladimír Franz. Nevertheless, these thoughts vanished from our minds as soon as we entered the stage. We concentrated just on the choir as a whole, Franz playing the organ and mainly the conductor (who was playing the kettledrum himself). 

Our performance was directly proportional to the quality of the five rehearsals - we could do a bit better, maybe, but there was a clearly notable enthusiasm, even euphoria amongst us all. We performed the whole piece in this strange atmosphere. 

The very beginning of the Oratorio could be compared to some kind of ritual. Singers as well as Roman Válek got into state close to madness while reciting and singing their part. We were striking onto the floor with our “ceremonial sticks”, not even realizing it just because the rhythm of the piece was so violent. And the more we were getting on, the more ruined our vocal chords were. 

But who cared? We were enjoying every one from the seven minutes of the piece and when we finally ended and “awoke” to the reality of a house of culture, we got a massive applause. A bit surprising, though, as there was quite a lot of above forty-year-olds, we half-expected them to be too conservative to accept this kind of music with understanding or even sympathy. To our huge relief, every single person in the hall seemed to appreciate our performance. 

Reaction in the guest book 

Let me finish my review with one of many reactions to the world premiere of Young Men in the Stew that appeared in the guest book on the official webpage of Bohemia Cantat ( 
“… nor did Roman disappoint me in my expectations - a hypnotised armed herd appeared on the stage possessed by a Great Shaman Roman with the help of a drum and sticks. I do not know how the people involved felt but it was a fascinating experience for me.” (Dana Součková)
Zuzana Matyášová, 2.10.2007