You don’t have to be a classical music lover to enjoy the upcoming Christmas concert by composer and conductor Varhan Orchestrovič Bauer (44) and his OFO orchestra. Having penned scores for over three dozen films, including Miloš Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts”, the Czech personality’s annual evening of Christmas carols and film tunes on December 21 promises to be a festive outing. We recently spoke with Varhan about the concert, his favorite Prague hang-outs and his connection with Václav Havel.
It’s the 21st year of this Christmas concert. Has it always been at the Saint Salvatore’s Church?
It all started in the Mirror Chapel of the Clementinum with a small ensemble and children’s choir, Chorus Angelus, led by Igor Angelov who I studied at conservatory with. Later on, we had some Christmas concerts at the Church of Saint Giles, but finally our event moved to Saint Salvatore’s Church, the biggest Prague Evangelical church. Their elders are very open and supportive to us and also the place provides great conditions for both the visitors and the musicians alike.
Has it become a huge event or is it still an intimate gathering for friends?
It began as a smaller event but it was always pretty original. What has changed through the years is that the musicians are finally paid and not only playing for a beer and sausage. Now it’s a serious thing. We have a whole team of organizers and it has become a professional event which takes its place among the list of serious cultural events.
What makes this performance special?
One of the more interesting things about this event is that it usually takes place on the winter solstice and also the same day as the premiere of the Czech song, which later became the national anthem, “Where is My Home (1834)” and last but not least it’s on the birthday of my hero/guru Frank Zappa (1940).
How many musicians and how many singers can we expect this year?
We set a record around the year 2009 when three choirs joined with 50 musicians totaling 120 people on stage. This year the choir is going to be around 45 people and the same amount of musicians so it’ll be around 90 people on stage.
Is there some song that you would never omit from the Christmas playlist?
Of course there are a few, lets name my compositions “Nesem Vám Popinu” in the unusual 7/4 beat, “Eins, Zwei, Polizei” or “Dej Bůh štěstí” arranged in Arthur Honegger’s style. Unfortunately, to play all the compositions of my orchestra would take over 4 hours!
There are always some unexpected solos, what to look for this year?
Yes, my colleague Swetja is going to play both a musical saw and fujara, in recent years we accompanied the orchestra with a Hammond organ, reed pipe, mandolin and saxophone to name just a few. There are always some guests, this December Emil Viklický will perform his jazz carol.
A brief aside: How did you make the connection with Václav Havel?
For my whole life I have been a Havel symphatizer and admirer, for his human rights fight and all that he had done for our country. For a long time I have been cooperating with Dagmar and Václav Havel’s Foundation Vize 97, performing at the Prague Crossroads and other cultural events. It was my pleasure to compose music to accompany his collection of poems Anticodes for his 70th birthday and perform that with my orchestra for him.
Some other movie soundtracks to your credit besides Miloš Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts”?
Just about to be released is a soundtrack for a Canadian children’s adventure movie called “Against the Wild”. I’m exaggerating and joking a bit here when I say that the music score is half way between “E.T.” and “Jurassic Park”. The movie is already in cinemas in the US, it’ll hopefully come here in spring.
What are your plans for 2014?
I am always working on some projects at the same time and also expecting my daughter to be born, she is year younger than my granddaughter, so besides good music its mostly about my family. Also some concerts of my OFO orchestra are in preparation and also I am in the middle of writing a big sacred composition.
Where we can find you in Prague?
I recently enjoyed the children’s performances of Divadlo Minor with my young son David. And then to get my favorite chicken ginger soup and fried rice and vegetables at Malý Budha besides Prague Castle. To both refresh and keep me warm then I’ll have their green tea with mint, ginger and honey. And then some more walking around Petřín. I live close by and enjoy the park both there walking with my family or alone. I dream of living in that tiny house in the middle of that park, like in a village while in the heart of Prague.
Have you ever seen one of Varhan’s ecclectic peformances?