The FOK Mystery Solved!

Opus Osm's Zuzana Sklenková discovers the orchestra behind the enigmatic acronym

This article originally appeared in Opus Osm, the free-of-charge, paperless daily magazine about Czech classical music, opera, and ballet, published in Prague for an international audience.

As you travel around Prague you might be surprised to see several FOK posters. Especially when you’re on a metro station escalator moving past the poster, it’s hard to catch enough details to understand what the FOK is all about.

It turns out FOK is the Czech abbreviation for the Prague Symphony Orchestra (Symfonický orchestr hlavního města Prahy). It’s one of the three major ensembles you can hear in Prague, particularly if you find yourself in either Smetana Hall at the Municipal House, or in the Church of St. Jude and Šimon, the orchestra’s main venues.

Founded in 1934 during the Depression by conductor Rudolf Pekárek, it had a modest lineup of 25 musicians. Their first big break came the same year: FOK signed a contract to record live broadcasts for the Radiožurnál station. Later the ensemble managed to succeed in the film industry, producing music for Czech films -- in total, 234 movies.

So even today on Czech-language posters, this classical music ensemble is usually presented by its original name, the letters FOK, or Film, Opera, Koncert.

By undertaking so many commercial activities, the orchestra gained recognition that allowed it to play more classical fare at public concerts. The competition in concert halls was tough in the 1930s, and FOK had to stand up to two older, more recognized rivals: the Czech Philharmonic and the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Thanks to the young conductor Václav Smetáček, FOK succeded in establishing itself as a symphonic orchestral body. Smetáček included not only famous Czech composers like Dvořák and Smetana on the program, but also introduced listeners to contemporary composers such as Pavel Bořkovec and jazz musician Jaroslav Ježek.

Seven years after the end of World War II, FOK finally became the City of Prague’s official representative orchestra. Its new status guaranteed it financial support and stability. As a result, the orchestra embarked on a succession of world tours and professional recordings that continue to this day.

And FOK still remains part of its name.

Over the years, many famous conductors have directed this ensemble, including Rafael Kubelík, Václav Talich, and Jiří Bělohlávek. The current conductor, Jiří Kout, assumed the post of the chief conductor in the 2006-2007 season.

The orchestra has also collaborated with foremost soloists, such as singers Ivan Kusnjer and Eva Urbanová, and world-renown cellist Mischa Maisky.

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