The life of the Virgin Mary has inspired a vast number of musical works. From Gregorian chants and mediaeval sacred songs, and the extensive polyphonic compositions of the Renaissance and the Baroque, to contemporary works. Choral music centred on this theme written between the 19th and 21st centuries will be performed for the public by the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, one of the finest ensembles of its kind, not only in the Czech environment, but also on an international level; its choirmaster Petr Fiala is a leading figure in this discipline.
Since it was founded in 1990 the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno has appeared at all the prestigious European festivals, where it enchanted its audiences with its great professionalism and singular musical sensitivity. As music critic for the Opera Plus website Anna Šerých wrote in June 2019: “The high quality and power of their interpretation, the delivery of captivating beauty – these are qualities that arise from the ensemble’s flawless expression: The Czech Philharmonic Choir was simply breath-taking.”
The choir focuses on the oratorio, cantata and opera repertoire, performing more than ninety concerts each year. In the past they worked with a series of legendary conductors, among them Jiří Bělohlávek, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Sir Charles Mackerras and Kurt Masur. Contemporary figures include the likes of Zubin Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle, Manfred Honeck, Emmanuel Villaume, Jakub Hrůša and Libor Pešek.
The ensemble has won numerous awards for its recordings, such as the famous Echo Klassik (2007) and Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik (2009). In September 2011 the Japanese music magazine Geijutsu Disc Review presented its Tokusen award for their live recording of Dvořák’s Requiem, and in 2019 they won the Classic Prague Award for their interpretation of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.
The choir’s success is also due in great part to its founder, choirmaster and director Petr Fiala. A graduate of the Brno Conservatoire (piano, composition and conducting) and the Janáček Academy of Music (under Jan Kapr), he has been leading choirs and conducting ensembles for more than 50 years. As a composer he has written around 180 works of varying genres, from vocal and instrumental cycles for children and young people, numerous solo compositions, chamber and symphonic music and a large number of choral and song cycles, to oratorios and cantatas, the ballet Burning Stone, and the opera based on the play by František Hrubín Beauty and the Beast. He has also taught extensively and is the holder of the Order of Sts. Cyril and Methodius from the Czech Episcopal Conference (2009) for excellence in conducting and composition. In 2013 he received the Brno City Prize for music and, in 2016, the South Moravian Region Prize for his significant contribution to the region’s cultural representation.
The programme for the first half of the concert comprises sacred motets by Anton Bruckner. According to Petr Fiala, these “short, polyphonic, Romantic gems form a counterweight to Bruckner’s large-scale symphonies”. This is an essential part of the Czech Philharmonic Choir’s repertoire, since it was their recording of the Bruckner motets that brought them the above-mentioned Echo Klassik award in 2007. The second half of the concert opens with Fiala’s own composition Regina coeli laetare (Queen of Heaven, rejoice) for soprano, mixed choir, cello and gong. The composer himself tells us: “The composition was written in 2016 as a commission from the European Festival of Sacred Music and, in July of that year, it was premiered in the Baroque church in the German town of Hohenstadt. The work comprises several mutually contrasting parts which are interlinked with solo lines in the cello; the solo soprano highlights the ceremonial tone of the piece.”
This will be followed by the Marian creed Totus Tuus by Polish composer Henryk Górecki. Written in 1987 on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to his native Poland, the work is a powerful, clearly and neatly structured meditation which, through individual repetitions, becomes increasingly softer until it fades away into nothing. The concert concludes with Leoš Janáček’s celebrated cantata Our Father, which Fiala regards as the most interesting and most original setting of this central Christian prayer.