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A Taste of Czech with The Prague Philharmonia

Photo: Prague Philharmonia. The orchestra performs at Hill Auditorium on Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 7:30pm. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In January 2017, UMS brings an international musical talent—and newfound legacy— the PKF, or Prague Philharmonia. The group was founded in 1994 to revive the Czech and global music scene through top-class nuanced performances. The musicians pride themselves in their comfort with the genre of Viennese Classicism.

The orchestra describes their sound as follows: “The spirit of the art from this historical period is perfectly reflected in the PKF – Prague Philharmonia credo: to play with crystal-clear purity and a straightforward, sparkling passion that will ensure that every listener, regardless of age or profession, may understand every detail of the music performed and return home from its concerts full of joie de vivre.”

In a sit-down interview, University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and, Dance and Center for Russian and East European Studies Professor Tim Cheek, shares his thoughts on the country, the culture, and the upcoming program. Professor Cheek teaches Czech vocal literature classes at SMTD as well as serving on the faculty for the CREES.

Daniel Anthony Iammatteo: What is a unique thing about Chechia?

Karlštejn Castle. Photo by Ввласенко.

Tim Cheek: The castles are amazing. And they are actually in great condition. The Karlštejn castle outside of Prague is like one from a Disney movie. Well, with a dungeon.

DI: What is something that Czech people love?

TC: Beer! The Czech love their beer. Chechia actually has the largest consumption of beer in the world (per capita). Especially if you eat some greasy cuisine, such as duck, the beer aids your digestion.

DI: What is your favorite Czech beer?

TC: Their Pilsner is number one. It comes from the city of Pilsen. You can find this in America in a bottle, but in Czech you can get this on tap. You can’t beat it on tap and if you ask them, they can mix light and dark beer which is really good.

DI: What are some interesting Czech words audience members might be interested in knowing?

TC: Well, “Vltava” is named after the river that runs through Prague. Another one is Smetana. The name actually means “cream.” So, you can ask someone if they want Smetana in their coffee. In Czech that is actually really common. People’s last names are often ordinary words like Mr. Happy—“Vesely”—even Mr. Sad—“Smutny.” So you can say, Mr. Sad is feeling happy today, and that can be rather funny.

DI: What is popular in Czech pop culture?

TC: Well, Karel Gott can be regarded as the Frank Sinatra of Czech. He was very popular. Of rock, I know that The Plastic People of the Universe was big in the avant-garde scene of the seventies. The biggest musician I know of is definitely Emil Vikilicky, though. He was famous for taking Czech folk music and putting a modern Jazz twist on it. He was widely played on the radio.

DI: What values are important to the Czech?

TC: They love nature. They frequently go mushroom picking and blueberry picking in the forest. They prefer to get outside of the city because it taps into their ethics. The Czech are generally an extremely resourceful people. They learned from their past to be flexible and deal with any kind of shortcoming. In fact, of communist countries of the previous centuries, it was considered the most developed and richest. It was Bismarck who said, “Whoever control Bohemia controls Europe.” This was because at that time the Czech had the best army and the world’s fifth largest economy.

DI: What makes this Czech-heavy program special?

TC: Czechs are known as exporters of great hockey and Bohemian Crystal, but the main export is actually music. [The Czech have] a rich tradition of folk music, and those traditions, with some support by government, are maintained. Czech composers tapped into this wealth of folk roots, and it is these roots which put composers such as Dvořák on the map. In fact, when Dvořák came over to the U.S., he wrote home that he was shocked by how American symphonies have to rely so much on private donations and sponsors. It meant that the people had to come to concerts rather than rely on the government for support, and this meant making conservative programs, so as not to scare audiences away.

DI: Do you think the program that the PFK- Prague Philharmonia has chosen is a conservative program?

TC: Yes, it is a pretty conservative program, but great! Well, the Dvořák Violin Concerto is actually a very impressive piece. In fact, Stephen Shipps, a professor on the Violin faculty here, told me once that he thinks it’s probably the hardest violin concerto there is. But, regardless, their program will showcase soloists, orchestra, and Czech music.

Come join UMS for the performance of the Prague Philharmonia and sample a piece of the Czech music scene. It’s sure to be a night that you will Praguably enjoy! The Prague Philharmonia is performs at Hill Auditorium on Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 7:30 pm.