One More Swing Through Prague

By Brian McCreath

One of the reasons I got hooked on classical music at an early age is that, as with literature and visual arts, it's such a great way to get to know places you may never have the chance to visit.  For my generation, which reached young adulthood just as Eastern Bloc Communism collapsed, Prague has taken on an almost legendary status as a vibrant, youthful, exciting place to spend time.  I wasn't sure I'd ever get there to see it for myself, but the classical music from that city (and the Czech Republic at large) provided a way to plug into that energy and see what all the fuss has been about.  Even though a lot of Prague's current reputation as a destination for young adults hangs on all kinds of factors beyond classical music, to say the least, the classical music composed by Czech composers over the last century and a half is invariably fascinating, colorful, and dramatic.

Each Wednesday during October, we've been featuring concert performances from the Czech Philharmonic playing music by Czech composers as a way of bringing all that energy to you.  And along the way, it's been fun to share with you some impressions and experiences from last spring, when I actuallly did finally land in Prague with a WGBH LearningTour.  Feel free to browse through previous notes about the Czech Philharmonic, Prague's pivotal role in the Art Nouveau movement, and a bit about a particular intersection between Czech cuisine and history.

And to cap off the series, today's performance features the Symphony No. 2 by Bohuslav Martinu, one of the seriously underrated composers of the last century.   Emerging from the tradition of Josef Suk (with whom Martinu studied) and Antonin Dvorak (with whom Suk studied), Martinu was also captivated by trends in music that caught fire in Paris in the 1920's.  It lent that gritty, energetic Czech language he inherited a certain kaleidoscopic brightness, a quality that was challenged by the very troubled times in which he lived.  He eventually found support from our own area, at Tanglewood and through the support of Serge Koussevitzky.  If you enjoy today's performance, I'd urge you to look further into Martinu's music, through an excellent set of the symphonies from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conductor Bryden Thomson on the Chandos label.

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