On Saturday, 25 June, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jiř Petrdlík, will perform Bedřich Smetana’s Ma vlast (My Fatherland), a set of six symphonic poems for orchestra, composed between 1874 and 1879. Not only it is the last concert for the orchestra in the 2010/11 season, but it could be seen as a contribution to the revolutionary spirit of the country.
The title of the evening, “From the Czech Velvet Revolution to the Egyptian Youth Revolution,” aims to underline a close relation between both uprisings. In addition, Smetana’s compositions are considered mirrors of the country's longings for freedom and independence. The composer is often referred to as “father of Czech music”.
Works by Czech composers are frequently performed by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. Antonín Dvořák’s 3 Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 and Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 "From the New World" were performed by the orchestra at the beginning of the season (in the National Theatre in Seoul, Korea on 11 September 2010, and then in Cairo on 8 October 2010). The Cairo Opera House 22nd Anniversary Celebrations included compositions by Dvořák and Smetana. Czech composers returned on several occasions during the season.
“The concert that will take place on 25 June was a project already in the pipeline from the beginning of this music season,” Pavel Kafka, the Czech ambassador to Egypt, explained to Ahram Online. Originally the concert was scheduled for May but circumstances since the January 25 Revolution resulted in the event being postponed until the end of the season.
“As a result, and coincidently, the beginning and the end of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra season 2010/11 is marked by Czech music,” Kafka proudly underlined. “I am very confident that the audience will equally appreciate Smetana’s composition.”
Kafka began his cadency on 10 February 2011, in the midst of the January uprising, and only one day before the overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. It is his second time to serve as an Czech ambassador to Egypt, his previous posting being 10 years ago. Kafka is keen to promote Czech culture in Egypt as well as to work on valuable cultural cooperation and exchanges between Egyptian and Czech artists.
The "Velvet Revolution” mentioned in the concert title (also known as the Gentle Revolution) was a non-violent uprising in Czechoslovakia that took place between 17 November and 29 December 1989 and led to the fall of the communist regime there.
Kafka points at the concert poster (designed by Karam Saad) which combines photography from both the Velvet and Egyptian revolutions. “There are a lot of similarities between the two revolutions, and two historical experiences; one very fresh and recent, one 22 years old but calling for same values,” Kafka explained. “At the same time, the revolutionary — let us say nationalistic — theme relates perfectly to the music composed by Smetana.”
Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884) was the first Czech nationalist composer who lived during times when Bohemia (Czech lands) lost its independence and became part of the Austrian Empire and later of Austria–Hungary. In his music, Smetana always insisted on the unique character of Czech music, and in his compositions he often incorporated traditional Czech elements as well as Czech folk music.
“It is definitely the best time to perform works by Smetana. Ma vlast, which we can translate as My Fatherland or My Homeland, is one of the iconic compositions expressing the strong Czech nationalism of that time. It is a very positive composition, expressing patriotic values in a very positive way, showing how we are all part of the country we’re born into. With his Symphonic Poems, Smetana wanted to support the patriotic aspirations of all Czech people,” Ambassador Kafka explains.
The composition carries victorious moments and also expresses times of downfall. “Today Ma vlast is played on many occasions in the Czech Republic. It is recognised by every Czech listener. As such, it is one of the best known works by Smetana and very significant: dear, emotional and symbolic to Czech people,” Kafka added. For Czech people living in Egypt it will be definitely an emotional moment, he said, sending them 22 years back when they fought their way to freedom. For Egyptian audiences, it will represent an important linkage with values transferred by Smetana’s music being the same values reflected in the Velvet Revolution.
“We are very proud of the possibility of this unique cooperation between the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and a Czech conductor,” Ambassador commented, in reference to Petrdlík. “Born in 1977, Petrdlík represents the young Czech generation but has already earned a good reputation in the European music arena. His work with the Egyptian orchestra may generate very interesting elements.”
Jiř Petrdlík managed to secure and bring to Cairo copies of the original notes which were used by orchestras during Smetana's times. “The notes consist of the conductor’s full score as well as notes for all individual instruments,” added Robert Kopecky, cultural and press affairs third secretary at the Czech Embassy.
“The notes, some 25 kilos of historical material, are being brought especially for this occasion. They carry original marks and comments by famous Czech conductor Václav Smetáček (1906-1986). This way we tried to bring all the elements that would help us build a complete spectrum of Czech musical sense to the Egyptian orchestra and audience,” Kopecky added. He is sure that the experience will be very unique.
Two important events will accompany the concert. Conductor Petrdlík will hold a one hour pre-concert lecture, during which he will talk about the composition and the importance of the evening. The introductory session will begin at 6.30pm, and all are invited to attend free. The concert, which will follow at 8pm, will be for ticket or invitation holders only.
In parallel to the session and the concert, a special exhibition organised by the Embassy of the Czech Republic will be on display in the Cairo Opera House Hall. The exhibition will showcase historical photographs taken during the Velvet Revolution. Several photographs will be displayed side by side with pictures taken during the Egyptian Revolution, marking a striking resemblance between both historical moments.
The Embassy of the Czech Republic continues to be extremely active in the Egyptian cultural arena. Ambassador Kafka points to the recent Visegrad Film Festival which took place between 29 May and 31 May and which screened films from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The embassy also plans for future musical exchanges, especially in the jazz field, and jam sessions combining Czech and Egyptian musicians. Concluding, Ambassador Kafka shared with Ahram Online his hope to organise events related to the famed Czech writer Franz Kafka (1833-1924), possibly as soon as the next calendar year.
Conductor Jiř Petrdlík:
Since early 2000s, Petrdlík has been conducting orchestras mainly in the Czech Republic and occasionally outside the country (Poland, France, Italy, Germany, Slovakia, Japan, Spain, United Kingdom, Hungary, Luxembourg, United States). Among assignments as a guest conductor, his resume mentions work with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in Prague and the Chamber Opera Prague, Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra České Budějovice, Philharmonic Orchestra Teplice and the National Theatre Ostrava, B. Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra Zlín as well as appearances with the North Texas University Opera, and Théatre du Capitole Toulouse, being in cooperation with the Prague Symphony Orchestra and Czech Philharmonic Orchestra respectively.
Concert: Saturday 25 June at 8pm – Cairo Opera House Main Hall.
Pre-concert lecture will begin at 6:30pm and end at 7:30pm. Open to the public.
Exhibition of photographs from the Velvet Revolution and January 25 Revolution will be on display during the event.