An Artful Advent Performance

BERG Orchestra brings its atmospheric sound to a gothic convent for a unique holiday concert

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 06.12.2013 10:08:21 (updated on 06.12.2013) Reading time: 4 minutes

The Berg Orchestra, which has long championed promising young talent on the Czech music scene, will wrap its current season on December 9 with a special advent-themed concert called Religio.

“The main focus of the concert is religion in its various variants,” says Peter Vrábel, the Berg’s artistic director who will also be conducting the last concert. “All the pieces on the program also have another thing in common and that is humbleness and humility. Both of these are integral parts of the advent season. If we only included in advent concerts pieces inspired by Christmas carols, we would be done very soon.”

Taking place in the 13th century St. Agnes Convent, Religio is based around three pieces – Arvo Pärt’s Fractres, Alfred Schnittke’s Symphony No. 4 and the world premiere of Martin Klusák’s In paradisum.

Klusák, a student at the Academy of Music in Prague, is making his Berg Orchestra debut. His piece, commissioned specifically for Religio, will incorporate classic orchestra with electronic music and special lighting design.

An Artful Advent Performance

“The main inspiration and message of the composition is a very intimate subject to me,” says Klusák, “which I prefer not to present before the premiere.” (Berg managing director, Eva Kesslová, says In paradisum was inspired by a “very strong experience Martin went through.”) “I hope to be able to create a unique atmosphere in the space of St. Agnes, which would enhance the listening experience,” Klusák adds.

Introducing Prague audiences to nontraditional orchestra settings is one of the Berg’s main goals. Each season the orchestra produces eight concerts at alternating venues around the city. Last month’s concert,  Up-Close, for example, was held at the National Gallery’s Veletržní palác in Holešovice.

Vrábel is excited about performing at St. Agnes. Not only are the acoustics “excellent”, but the gothic convent’s spiritual atmosphere will also set a nice tone for Religio.

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An Artful Advent Performance

The longest piece, Schnittke’s Symphony No. 4,  embodies the composer’s personal spiritual quest. “He deals with similarities and differences among religions and transfers his search into musical language,” Vrábel explains. 

Schnittke, who passed away 15 years ago, and Pärt are widely considered to be among the most important composers of the 20th century. While well-established composers do occasionally make appearance’s on the Berg’s seasonal lineup, the group’s main focus continues to be on contemporary pieces from up-and-coming artists, like Klusák. The orchestra, established by Vrábel in 1995, routinely commissions new works. (At least six new pieces have premiered each season since 2004.) In recent years, the Berg has been combining traditional orchestra concerts with other innovative performance elements, including theater, film, pantomime and video art.

“Recently we started commissioning longer works like scores for full length silent films and longer performance pieces,” says Kesslová, adding that the Berg serves as a “lab for experiments” for composers. “Our mission, among other things, is to support Czech composers. Therefore, all newly commissioned works are by Czech composers,” says Kesslová. “But another part of our mission is to promote contemporary music to Czech audiences so we present many Czech premieres of important works by contemporary composers from abroad.” 

An Artful Advent Performance

Berg’s new season will start in March and will include eight concerts or, to use the group’s lexicon, “projects”. The theme will be City. The lineup includes a piece by composer Michal Nejtek in collaboration with Czech soprano Hana Blažíková, who specializes in old music and is also a founding member of a punk band. Meanwhile, a silent film “City without Jews” is scheduled to premiere at the Spanish Synagogue. Petr Wajsar composed the music that will accompany the film. The new season will also include a concert staged at the city’s unfinished Petřiny metro station in May, as well as an outdoor performance. 

“We like discovering new spaces for new music, and our audiences love it, too,” Kesslová says. “A few times I heard from various people that they don’t care much about of what is on program. … They just trust us that it will be a great experience, worth their evening.”

An Artful Advent Performance

When it comes to explaining what sets the Berg apart from its competitors, Vrábel plays it down. “I personally try not to compare,” he says. “Competition is something I don’t like. I try to put together original programs that are our own and look into the future.”

Religio starts at 7:30pm on December 9. The program features Barbora Sojková (soprano), Jan Mikušek (countertenor), Pavel Valenta (tenor) and Jaromír Nosek (bass). Tickets are 250 CZK and can be booked online. Prior to the show, the audience is invited to an exhibition on Saints Cyril and Methodius, who are credited with not only bringing Christianity to Central Europe but also inventing the Slavic alphabet. The exhibition, CM863, is sponsored by the National Gallery and will include a discussion, in Czech, of these saints’ lives, traditions and devotions.       

BERG Orchestra
Religio
St. Agnes Convent
December 9, 2013
www.berg.cz/en

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