I had the great pleasure of spending ten days in Prague, Czech Republic, in the mid-1990s, not so long after Eastern Europe opened up. At that time the city was not quite today’s scrubbed jewel case. Even though still a bit rough around the edges, Prague presented at every turn art and architecture to astonish, and the creativity and world-weathered humor of its citizens was palpable. Every afternoon we enjoyed dumplings and red cabbage, then attended inexpensive concerts (sometimes two in succession) in splendid silver-gilded baroque churches. Ambling around the Old Town and over Charles Bridge, one could hear the sounds of all kinds of music intermingling with the unforgettable fragrance of more lilacs than you could possibly imagine.
When Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček launches our 2018-2019 Steinway Series on November 4, 2018, he will offer a rare treat—piano works by three of his homeland composers. This is extremely attractive and well-crafted music. As Bohemia was part of the Austrian Empire, its musicians were well connected to the main line of European classical music. Czech composers, especially guided by Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, infused this with melodic spontaneity and harmonic unaffectedness, incorporating traces of native folk melodies and popular dance rhythms to create a fresh and insouciant musical language.
Vondráček presents a unique set of works by Vítězslav Novák (1870-1949), Josef Suk (1874-1935), and Smetana (1824-1884). Novák’s Memories, in three sections, evokes romantic piano writing tinged with the contours and rhythms of folk music. Suk’s “Love Song” is passionate and lush. Smetana’s Czech Dances, based on actual folk dances, are so lively and tuneful that I challenge you not to smile and tap your feet. Whether the first weekend of November proves sunny or gray, these rarely-heard Czech piano works are sure to surprise and delight. I am grateful to Vondráček for sharing music from his homeland with us.
~ Matt Goodrich