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A children’s choir also fits in a chamber music series, although its appearance is a rarity. All the more special is the Advent concert of the outstanding Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir with guests Roman Janál, Slavomír Hořínka, and Kateřina Englichová. Will hear Bohuslav Martinů’s Three Legends and the Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten.
Missa brevis for three female voices and baritone solo, Op. 176 (13')
Terni Psalmi, three psalms for à cappella children’s choir (18')
Domine, non est exaltatum
Quam dilecta tabernacula tua
Three Sacred Songs (Three Legends) for female chorus and violin, H 339 (11')
The Birth of Our Lord
The Way to Paradise
A Ceremony of Carols for treble voices and harp, Op. 28 (22')
There is no rose
That yongë child
As dew in Aprille
This little babe
In Freezing Winter Night
Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir
Petr Louženský choirmaster
Roman Janál baritone
Slavomír Hořínka violin
Kateřina Englichová harp
The date of the concert has been moved from December 18, 2021.
Today, the Kühn Children’s Choir (founded in 1932) is one of the most important Czech artistic ensembles, renowned not only in Europe, but on all five continents. Over the years, it has trained thousands of talented children and taught them love for music and the arts. In terms of its traditions and the breadth of its artistic scope, it is a unique artistic institution of its kind not only in the Czech Republic, but anywhere in Europe.
The choir’s exceptional artistic reputation is documented by many prizes and official honours. It is invited regularly to major music festivals and concert tours, and it collaborates with leading orchestras and opera companies. It has also made more than 50 recordings of Czech music and the worldwide repertoire.
The Kühn Children’s Choir has a special sound all its own, and at first hearing it captivates listeners with the naturalness, purity, and refinement of the children’s voices. Since the choir’s founding, these characteristics have been an inspiration for a number of outstanding Czech composers to write music especially for the Kühn Children’s Choir.
Petr Louženský graduated from the Prague Conservatoire, where he studied flute under Jan Riedlbauch and conducting under Miroslav Košler and Miriam Němcová. He also studied Hebrew and Arabic at Charles University in Prague. At Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts he earned a doctorate in conducting. He was for a long time the leader of the Hostivař Chamber Orchestra, with which he won the Concerto Bohemia radio prize several times as well as nationwide competitions for Elementary Schools of the Arts. He has been the conductor of the Prague Student Orchestra, and he collaborates regularly with orchestras including the Czech Chamber Philharmonic in Pardubice, the Prague Philharmonia, the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic in Zlín, the Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra of South Bohemia, and the Moravian Philharmonic in Olomouc.
Since 2009 he has been the choirmaster of the Kühn Children’s Choir. Under his leadership, the choir won the Grand Prix in September 2010 at one of the world’s most important choral competitions in Arezzo, Italy (special prize for the best conductor of the entire competition), and three years later they won first prize at the prestigious competition in Tolosa, Spain. Thereafter, they successfully toured Australia, New Zealand, and the east coast of the USA.
Roman Janál studied violin at the Pilsen Conservatoire and singing at the Academy of Music in Sofia. He has performed at Prague’s National Theatre and State Opera, and he has made guest appearances at the Pilsen Opera, the Janáček Opera in Brno, the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava, and also on the unique stage of the Theatre Ypsilon. He has extended his repertoire through collaborations with leading opera conductors from around the world (Caspar Richter, John Fiore, Hilllary Griffiths, Christopher Hogwood), and he has appeared with important ensembles at prestigious festivals (Prague Spring, Prague Autumn, Smetana’s Litomyšl). Since 1984 he has been working regularly in cooperation with Czech Radio, recording several CDs of opera arias and song cycles of the worldwide classical repertoire as well as of music by contemporary Czech composers.
He was a winner of a 1999 Thalia Award (for the role of Pollux in Rameau’s opera Castor et Pollux), and in 2019 he was nominated for a special Thalia Award for his performance of the title role in the opera Don Hrabal by Miloš Štědroň.
The composer Slavomír Hořínka lives in Prague with his wife and four children. In his music, he focuses on the use of reduced resources and on transparency of musical structure. As his starting material, he often uses melodic lines, harmonies, or rhythmic structures derived from the analysis of a sound or of music that is not copyrighted (plainchant, ethnic music etc.). In recent compositions he has also been exploring the spatial aspect of music.
Hořínka studied violin at the Pardubice Conservatoire and then composition at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in the studio of Ivan Kurz. In 2008 he earned a doctorate under the guidance of Hanuš Bartoň. His works are performed regularly by the BERG Orchestra and have also been played by the Czech Philharmonic, the Prague Philharmonia, the Moens Ensemble, the Bennewitz Quartet, Cappella Mariana, Solamente Naturali, and other ensembles. He has collaborated with leading soloists including Sophia Jaffé, Barbora Sojková, Tomáš Král, and Tomáš Jamník. Since 2006 he has been teaching at the composition department of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He also devotes himself to leading untraditional composition workshops for children.
Kateřina Englichová, winner of a Prague Classic Award, is a performer of renown all around Europe. She works with important artists and ensembles in this country and abroad, and she is invited to sit on juries at international competitions (including the Israel Harp Competition, the world’s most prestigious competition for harpists).
She studied at the Prague Conservatoire and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia; in the summer of 2017 she completed her post-graduate studies at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin. She is now the professor of harp at the Prague Conservatoire and leads masterclasses in this country and abroad (USA, Canada, UK, Hong Kong etc.).
She also devotes herself to contemporary music and has premiered a number of works, including some written for her. She has recorded more than 40 CDs (including the Ceremony of Carols by B. Britten with the Kühn Children’s Choir and Jiří Chvála). Last year she recorded three “Covid” CDs; she will be celebrating the release of the first of them with the soprano Kateřina Kněžíková at the festival Smetana’s Litomyšl in June 2022.
Zdeněk Lukáš was one of the most important Czech composers of the latter half of the 20th century. The list of his works contains 354 items and encompasses a variety of musical genres. He was not only a composer, but also a teacher and choirmaster. Having graduated from a teacher’s college, he initially worked as an elementary school teacher. Later he worked for Czechoslovak Radio in Pilsen, where in 1954 he founded the choir Česká píseň (Czech Song), which is still active today. During the 20 years that he led the choir, Lukáš developed a strong affinity for vocal music. While working in radio, he met his great model as a composer, Miloslav Kabeláč. For many years Lukáš consulted on his ideas with Kabeláč, something he regarded as being of major importance to his compositional development, being otherwise self taught. Zdeněk Lukáš finally settled down in Prague, where he studied harmony and counterpoint at the conservatoire in the early 1970s, and from 1975 he was the choirmaster for the women’s choir of the Czechoslovak State Song and Dance Ensemble. From 1979 until the end of his life he was a freelance musician, devoting himself solely to composing. In 1996 he joined with Sylvie Bodorová, Luboš Fišer, and Otmar Mácha in an artistic collective called Quattro, which organised concerts and recordings. Among Zdeněk Lukáš’s works, his choral music and vocal works with instrumental accompaniment are of the greatest importance and are most frequently performed. He also wrote seven symphonies, the operas Falkenštejn and Measure for Measure, a number of concertos, and chamber music. Lukáš’s music is imbued with inspiration from folklore. He went through a period of experimentation with modern compositional techniques, and he arrived at a synthesis typified mainly by a foundation in modality and by shifting metrical and rhythmic elements.
One of Zdeněk Lukáš’s best-known vocal compositions is the Missa brevis, Op. 176. He wrote it in the autumn of 1982 for a three-part women’s choir and baritone solo – exactly what was commissioned by the choirmaster Elfi Zechner from Heiler in what was then West Germany. The work was intended for her church choir and its capable singing organist. Lukáš encoded into the music a number of colourful metrical and rhythmic curiosities, and the tempos chosen for some of the movements are contrary to tradition; the slowest movement is the conclusion of the entire work, the Agnus Dei. Besides the original version, there is also an arrangement of the Missa brevis for mixed choir realised by the choirmaster Miroslav Košler with the composer’s consent.
Slavomír Hořínka, younger than Lukáš by two generations, is one of today’s most performed Czech composers. His works are performed regularly by the BERG Orchestra and have also been heard on programmes of the Czech Philharmonic, the Prague Philharmonia, the Bennewitz Quartet, the Moens Ensemble, Capella Mariana, Solamente Naturali, and other Czech and foreign ensembles and performers. In 2014 Slavomír Hořínka became a finalist in the inaugural composition competition announced by Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic, and he also wrote music for a Czech Philharmonic educational workshop about the fate of the Catholic priest Josef Toufar titled My Uncle Vanished. Where Did He Go, Mr. President? He studied violin at the Pardubice Conservatoire and composition under Ivan Kurz at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where he has been a lecturer in the composition department since 2006. In his works, he focuses on the reduction of compositional resources and the transparency of the musical structure.
Concerning the triptych of compositions from 2014, 2016, and 2018 he wrote: “Terni Psalmi were composed within the span of four years, and I wrote them especially for the Kühn Children’s Choir. They are musical settings of Psalms 131 (130), 84 (83), and 117 (116), which are especially dear to me. The choral treatment of each of the psalms is different: three-part writing gradually branches out into seven parts; two-part writing, whether literal or between two layers of soloists and a line written for tutti, or two three-part choirs; four-part writing transformed into a triple choir with 12 voices. The music’s basis is melodic with the principles of Gregorian chant and early polyphony, which I attempt to put into new surroundings and contexts, especially with respect to tone colour.”
The next set of three choral works was written more than 60 years earlier. Bohuslav Martinů composed his Three Sacred Songs (also known by the title Three Legends) in New York in 1952. He was back in the USA after the war at the turn of the 1940s and ’50s working as a professor at Princeton University, among other things. In 1952 he became an American citizen, and he wrote the operas What Men Live by and The Marriage. Martinů composed his Three Legends for women’s choir and violin based on Moravian folksong texts for the Brno women’s choir Opus. Under the leadership of Zdeněk Zouhar, that vocal ensemble gave the premieres of several compositions by Bohuslav Martinů. The premiere of Three Legends took place on 7 January 1956 at the Tyl House in Polička – the town where the composer was born. Like Zdeněk Lukáš, Bohuslav Martinů also works with motifs from folk music in this composition. A return to Czech roots was typical for Martinů throughout his voluntary and especially his involuntary exile, i.e. during and after the Second World War. After the communist putsch of February 1948, he knew he would never return to his homeland. Therefore, besides his works that are still performed at the world’s most important concert halls and opera houses, he also wrote some music that was shaped by his love for the Czech language and for folk traditions. This is also the case with the cycle Three Legends, the autograph of which is lost.
Concluding the programme in an appropriate atmosphere for Christmas is one of the best known and most frequently heard works by the English composer Benjamin Britten. He wrote the cycle A Ceremony of Carols during his return to Great Britain after a three-year stay in the USA in April 1942. One can scarcely image that Britten wrote this lovely work on board a rickety merchant ship under the constant threat of torpedo attacks. During his journey, he had originally planned to compose a Hymn to St Cecelia, having brought sketches of the work with him, but when he boarded the ship, customs officials confiscated the material on the grounds that it could have been a ciphered message (it turns out that during the voyage he also managed to finish composing a new Hymn). While the ship stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Britten bought a book of poetry from the Middle Ages, and he set some of the poems in the 12-movement cycle A Ceremony of Carols. There are 11 separate numbers based on texts in English and Latin and one piece for harp solo – the Interlude, which is a treatment of a melodic motif from the opening prelude. The Interlude’s placement in the cycle is based on the golden mean as the eighth of twelve movements. The cycle has a brilliant dramatic structure, and it handles the singers’ voices in a variety of ways, combining them colourfully with the accompaniment. Incidentally, the choice of harp for the accompaniment was very original at the time. Britten supposedly chose harp for the accompaniment because he had a book on harp technique with him on board the ship. He had in mind composing a harp concerto for the principal harpist of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. The cycle was finished a few months after the composer’s arrival back home, and it was first sung at Norwich Castle on 5 December 1942 by female voices of the Fleet Street Choir. The work was also arranged for mixed choir by the English composer and conductor Julius Harrison in 1955.