Prague Spring in the first third – the highlights of last week and what to look forward to next

The Prague Spring Festival has completed its first week. It was packed with various events, the expected starry moments, but also with gentle uplifting beauty or children’s swarming. Among the anticipated events was not only the opening concert with the Berlin Philharmonic under Kirill Petrenko, which was well received. One of the festival’s memorable highlights was also the Saturday concert of the Orchestra dell’Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Jakub Hrůša, when the audience literally booed two encores.

The diverse range of festival concerts is illustrated by an unexpected pair of intimate musical encounters in the form of a song recital by Miah Persson on 16 May and Collegium Vocale Gent under Phillipe Herreweghe the day after. At their concerts, listeners could reach into the depths of their souls in Persson’s melancholic dive into Nordic songs, or touch the celestial heights in Renaissance madrigals – depending on their nature. A completely different experience was provided by the first day dedicated to young listeners, Sunday’s SpringTEEN, which literally took over the entire area of the St. Agnes Monastery. A variety of sounds and noises came from all corners, with children jamming with a robot, carving instruments out of carrots and cucumbers, or imitating the sounds of the African savannah.

However, the eventful first days of the festival also included the Prague Spring International Music Competition: the 75th anniversary edition of the competition, which took place from 7 to 14 May, attracted 90 young musicians from 21 countries. After the final round on 13 May at the Rudolfinum, the jury decided to award the first prize in the horn section to Zhicheng Jin from China, who also won the audience prize donated by the Friends of Prague Spring, which was awarded for the first time this year. The other winners were Nicolas Ramez from France and Felipe Santos Freitas da Silva from Brazil. The final of the violin competition was even more exciting for the Czech audience, as the young Czech representative Jan Novák made it to the final triple. He won second place, the Audience Award, the Czech Music Fund Foundation Award, the Oleg Podgorny Award, the Czech Centre Award, the Gideon Klein Foundation Award and the Mercedes-Benz Company Award. The jury awarded the first place to Japanese violinist Tsukushi Sasaki, while the third place went to French violinist Marie-Astrid Hulot. On the evening of 15 May, former laureates and now famous performers came to pay a symbolic tribute to the 75th year of the competition, which helped many of them to launch their musical careers. The evening opened with the premiere of Sylvia Bodorova’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, and the final spectacular piece by Petr Wajsar, composed especially for the occasion, brought together all the protagonists of the evening on stage: The Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by Jakub Klecker, was joined by trumpeter Gábor Boldoczki, cellist Victor Julien-Laferrière, oboist Johannes Grosso, clarinetist Anna Paulová, bassoonist Jan Hudeček, french horn player Kateřina Javůrková and the Pavel Haas Quartet.

What to look forward to in the coming days?

The second third of the festival will also feature some stellar moments: on Monday evening, the conducting legend Riccardo Chailly will be in Prague again after 23 years, coming with his home “team” Filarmonica della Scala. Together they will accompany the star young pianist Alexander Malofeev, who will play Tchaikovsky’s famous Concerto in B minor. The second event on Monday will be like something out of another musical world, when an experimental tribute to the piano, Pianofonia by Michal Rataj and Jan Trojan, will resound between the planes of the main hall of the National Technical Museum. The composers, who will perform various piano objects on an unusual stage, will be accompanied by Ivo Kahánek and Michal Nejtek on pianos and the percussionist Štěpán Hon.

A sold-out Rudolfinum awaits Jiří Habart’s conducting debut on Tuesday 21 May. The day after, the vaults of the Prague Crossroads will ring with the voices of the Polish Radio Choir – Lusławice, which has a programme of a combination of Czech (Smolka, Martinů) and Polish (Penderecki, Górecki, etc.) composers – the last tickets for the concert are still available. On the other hand, the jazz evening with Camila George, Seong-Jin Cho’s piano recital, Matinee at the Monastery with Vilém Vlček and Iveta Apkalny’s monumental organ concert are all sold out. The last tickets for the concerts of the upcoming Chamber Music Weekend are still available for the Alinde Quintet and Z.E.N. Trio on Saturday and the tribute to Antonín Rejcha at the Agnes Convent on Sunday.