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Other Summer Musics


Summer music festivals feature many kinds of music, not just folk and traditional. Organizers of classical music festivals are hard at work too. It seems that there will be more festivals of "serious" music here in the near future. It would be nice to see them go for something edgy, contemporary, fresh, and new rather than the same old comfortable repertory.

My guess, though, is that we are in for more of the classics. Now, there is nothing wrong with the classics, but why replace them with more of the same? One such organizer is Ilja Šmíd, Managing Director of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, who is reportedly hard at work to create the Prague Musical Summer (playing off the name of the long-running Prague Spring music festival). Speaking with the Prague Post, Šmíd answered the complaint of one tourist who felt taken in after hearing a bad concert with a large price tag (there are plenty of these concerts to be found in Prague during the summer, though it's not usually too difficult to discern the really horrendous ones): "I hate these people who dress like Mozart and pull in tourists off the street to these concerts. . . . It's a great shame for Prague." Many of these concerts are less than great, but many are nonetheless performed by real, living, legitimate musical artists. They just come with a slightly higher sheen of used-car-salesmanship than your average orchestra concert.

The problem, as identified by Frank Kuznik in the Prague Post (August 9), is that Prague, "a city with one of the proudest musical traditions in Europe," offers summer visitors little other than "'tourist music,' second-rate ensembles playing tired renditions of Mozart and Vivaldi standards." Šmíd's solution? A new music festival. What will be on offer? "Beethoven symphonies, well-known works by Smetana and Dvořák, and dashes of flavoring from familiar names like Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Rossini and Mozart." Oh good, an alternative to the tourist concerts.

Wait . . .

Another festival built on "accessible programming"? That means a lot of nice music, but will likely yield little profundity. It will give us more of the same and, probably, attract the same tourists. It will sponsor the sorts of concerts that affirm everything that is, make the audience feel good, and reaffirm its values. Everybody needs a little of that at times. But there are plenty of concerts in Prague at which one can already do this! Alongside the already existing tourist concerts, there are the summer festivals (the Prague Proms and the Prague Music Festival), the Prague Fall festival, the Prague Spring festival, and the regular orchestra season (Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony, Prague Philharmonia, Czech Radio Symhony, Czech National, and more). The majority of the programming is conservative by any standards (even the concert of twentieth century music I attended last spring, though wonderful, could hardly be considered "new").

This can hardly expand the summer choices already available. A new music festival will dress the same tired repertory in new clothes, basically "solving" the problem with the same old solution. It will just be more palatable to the monied tourist. The "great shame," I fear, will not be cleared up by pumping out more of the same.


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