Prague Offspring begins, Georg Friedrich Haas is composer-in-residence

For the second year, the Prague Spring festival is developing a platform for the creation, presentation and education of contemporary music Prague Offspring. In addition to two evening concerts by the Klangforum Wien ensemble conducted by Peter Rundel, on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 May, the Center for Contemporary Art DOX in Holešovice will be the venue for discussions, master classes by members of the Viennese ensemble, playbacks of compositions by art university students or screening of the film Hyena. After Olga Neuwirth’s participation last year, the intersection of most of these activities will be another Austrian composer – Georg Friedrich Haas, who became the resident artist of this year’s Prague Offspring contemporary music weekend.

“First of all, I want to say that I am extremely happy and honored to be invited to the Prague Spring. I feel a really strong bond with Prague. It is mainly thanks to Alois Hába, who is one of my favorite composers. I like to play it and I like to listen to it,” says Georg Friedrich Haas. “Back in 1987, I went to Prague to research quarter-tone music. In the end it came down to it, it was simply not possible under communism. However, Prague has always been an important cultural center. I remind my students that Czechoslovakia was the seventh most developed country in the world in the 1920s. At that time, Prague was more culturally important than Vienna and maybe even Berlin. I’m really curious how Prague stands today as the cultural center of Europe and, in a certain sense, of the world,” he adds.

He came to Prague with his wife, author, performer and BDSM educator Mollena Williams-Haas. She will introduce herself to the audience of Prague Offspring as the protagonist of the musical film Hyena, where her husband’s music accompanies her personal story about getting rid of alcohol addiction.

“Composer-in-residence Georg Friedrich Haas, along with his wife Mollena Williams-Haas, open up about their sexuality, share their experiences overcoming alcohol addiction, and describe their journey to freedom from their Nazi family history. All of this leads to the question of where the boundaries between the intimate and the public lie and how their blurring is reflected in artistic creation,” says the festival’s dramaturg Josef Třeštík.

Two works by Haas will be heard at Prague Offspring. On the first night it will be Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich… for percussion and ensemble. The title is chosen from the poetry collection of Rainer Maria Rilke, a native of Prague who spent his early childhood here. “I’ve always considered myself a politically aware composer. However, when the war in Kosovo started in 1998, I could not take this clear position,” says Haas, explaining: “What happened to the Albanians was undoubtedly genocide. On the other hand, the action of the North Atlantic Alliance against the Serbs was also a crime. I couldn’t understand how these things happen. I couldn’t even decide on a certain attitude. I couldn’t even cry. I was disappointed.”

The Saturday concert on May 27 features Haas’ composition in vain, the title of which means in vain or in vain. Here, too, there is a clear political and social line – it is a reaction to the rise of the extreme right in Austria, where after the elections in 1999 the Free Party, led by the now-deceased nationalist Jörg Haider, entered the federal government. “The over an hour-long composition composed for the Klangforum Wien has not only a Brucknerian length, but also a grandeur and a transcendental dimension. The nervous movement of the micro-polyphonic components turns into oscillating drones, evenly tempered quarter tones and sixth notes collide with a harp tuned to a series of higher harmonic tones,” music theorist Boris Klepal characterizes the work in his text for the festival catalog.

“Everyone in the contemporary music scene considers in vain to be one of the few recognized masterpieces for the 21st century,” said conductor Simon Rattle, adding: “Once people hear a minute of it, they want more.” In vain it was performed at the premiere in 2000 by Klangforum Wien, conducted by conductor Sylvain Cambreling, to whom the composition was dedicated. The composition will also be performed in Prague according to the instructions in the score, when there will be changes in the lighting in some passages.