Dvořák Prague Festival 2014: Marek Vrabec

Talking with the director of the internationally renowned classical music showcase

Do you personally select the performers each year? What is the process and what are you looking for when you make the program?

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It’s always a personal selection. We have a clear concept, internally, of how we want the programme to work: there are specific ‘lines’ within the festival, such as the Dvořák Collection (Dvořák’s complete symphonies and concerti, performed over 2 years, this year and next); the chamber music series; world-class orchestras, and so on). We also feature a special Sunday ‘Mozart Matinee’ concert – this year featuring Concerto Koln and pianist Andreas Staier, with a Prague-themed programme – and what we call ‘D-day,’ or Debutant’s Day, where we give the Rudolfinum stage to the most promising young performers of the day. This year, I’m really looking forward to the amazing pianist Jan Lisiecki’s Czech debut at D-day!

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Concerto Koln and pianist Andreas Staier © Josep Molina

In terms of the festival’s place on the larger European circuit, do you get a lot of people who travel to Prague for the concerts?

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There is certainly an international component to our audience, which, if anything, is growing year on year. In terms of our venues and programming, the festival is rightly considered a major international music event, and the interest we get from music lovers abroad is really gratifying.

What are the must-see shows and highlights for this year’s festival?

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Speaking personally, I’m really looking forward to the pianist Krystian Zimerman’s concert with the Polish National Radio Symphony orchcestra. Zimerman is rightly considered a legend, one of the greatest living pianists in the world. We’re honoured to be hosting him after a long absence from Prague. The Czech Philharmonic’s concerts at this year’s festival will feature some of the most exciting young soloists around, under the tutelage of Maestro Jiri Belohlavek. And this year, for the first time ever at Dvořák Prague, we’re putting on a chamber music series, curated by cellist Jiri Barta, which is very exciting: there’ll be a chance to hear world-class ensembles like Quatuor Ebene, the Pavel Haas Quartet, and outstanding soloists like violinist Vadim Repin. 

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Krystian Zimerman © Kasskara and DGG

Suppose one knows very little about classical music or Dvořák. Where do you start? 

Well, his best-known work is the magnificent 9th symphony, which this year will be performed by the superb Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Vladimir Fedosejev. That’s as good a place to start as any – it’s a remarkable piece. This year you can also catch one of his most famous pieces in our chamber series – ‘Silent Woods’ for cello and piano – a thing of beauty! For the more adventurous, the chamber series also features the Bennewitz Quartet giving a rare performance of Dvorak’s E-minor string quartet, a fascinating – though much-overlooked – work.

In his later career, Dvorak delved into opera. Is this festival a celebration of all of his works including opera and chamber music?

Actually, this year we’re featuring the first-ever performance of Dvořák’s opera Alfred in its original version, which is a major event. And yes, our chamber series will feature several of the composer’s works for small ensembles. Generally speaking, we try to represent Dvorak’s work as comprehensively as possible. But it’s worth pointing out that we’re not exclusively a Dvořák festival – this year, as every year, there’s a chance to hear a range of composers, from Mozart and Beethoven through to Arvo Part and John Tavener, and a lot of what comes in between!

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What is typically the most rousing performance of the entire festival? 

Well, the 9th symphony is always rousing and moving in equal measure, but there’s so much music on offer throughout the festival that it would be unfair to single out any one concert. Sometimes it’s not the rousing performances, but the more contemplative ones, that stay with you. To that end, I’m looking forward to the vocal ensemble Ars Nova Copenhagen’s concert at Tyn church, which promises to be a meditative evening of ancient and modern spiritual music. But every concert promises its own magic – the best advice is to come along and see for yourself!

Dvořák Prague Festival
Sept 7-22, 2014

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