Summer Festivities of Early Music begins

Annual music festival brings unearths some rare pieces

The Summer Festivities of Early Music are under way, with eight events running until Aug. 4 at various venues across Prague. The festival, now in its 17th year, seeks to play unusual pieces that extend beyond the classical music greatest hits that often appear during the summer.

The theme this year is Venice, and many of the musical sections are related to the city of canals in the north of Italy. Highlights include an evening of music on a specially made instrument designed by Leonardo da Vinci, an evening of music on Baroque instruments and an a capella evening.

The July 11 opening at Troja Chateau featured Israeli soprano Daniela Skorka singing Italian arias with Les Folies françoises. Skorka has won several prizes and has performed in operas by Mozart, Richard Strauss and Purcell.

This is followed the next day, July 12, by an evening at Clam-Gallas Palace called Gondolas on the Seine, featuring Béatrice Martin on harpsichord playing works by Couperin, Scarlatti, Rameau and. Vivaldi. The recital will be preceded by a short talk, in French with Czech translation, on the historical context of the program by the artistic director of the Centre of Baroque Music in Versailles, Benoît Dratwicki.

The festival moves to the Rudolfine Gallery at Prague Castle on July 19 for a program of Vivaldi’s Virtuosic Violin Concertos played on Baroque instruments by Cecilia Bernardini of the Netherlands and her friends (Cecilia con Amici). “There is no better known musical symbol of the legendary City on the Lagoon than Antonio Vivaldi. Even today his musical spirit pervades the city and in mid-July, the echo of the Red Priest’s fame will resound in Prague,” the festival organizers said.

Bernardini is considered one of the most versatile violinists of her generation, and has performed in many of Europe’s most prestigious concert halls, including the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Musikverein Vienna, Konzerthaus Berlin, and Wigmore Hall.

The former Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia on July 21 will see an evening called La Serenissima. The a cappella group Singer Pur sings music of old Venetian masters and their German contemporaries. Singer Pur formed in five former members of the famous Regensburger Domspatzen boys’ choir, and were later joined by soprano Claudia Reinhard.

The festival returns to Troja Chateau on July 25 for Teatro del mondo, when the Spanish ensemble Vespres d’Arnadí takes the audience on a Baroque musical journey to Venice, Naples and Madrid. The program includes works by Händel, Vivaldi, Marcello and Albinoni.

Fans of Leonardo da Vinci will want to see Viola organista, with Polish musician Sławomir Zubrzycki playing an instrument built from da Vinci's designs. “Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the greatest of all geniuses in history, has many important inventions under his belt, including the parachute, helicopter, machine gun, submarine, automobile, diving suit, tank, and the drill. His legendary sketchbooks, however, also contain the project of a peculiar music instrument which he called 'viola organista' and which, similar to barrel organ, combines the principle of a keyboard and bow-stringed instrument, producing a sound which reminds of viol consort,” the organizers said. The evening includes the screening of a short documentary. The instrument will appear in the Czech Republic for the first time at the Terezian Hall of Břevnov Monastery on July 28.

Aug. 1 takes us to Sts. Simon and Jude Church for San Marco, festive vespers for the Basilica of St. Mark. Local ensemble Cappella Mariana, a vocal group specializing in medieval and Renaissance polyphony and in the vocal repertoire of the early Baroque era, and Capella Ornamentata, which focuses on sacred music of the 16th and 17th centuries, will play works by Gabrieli and Monteverdi.

The festival closes on Aug. 8 at the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle with an evening called the Carnival of Venice. André Campra’s 1699 Opera for Versailles will have a concert performance with Collegium Marianum and guests.

The Summer Festivities of Early Music is the largest and oldest continually running festival of historical music in Prague, according to the organizers. It is unique in its reach into the field of Baroque theater and dance. A characteristic part of these productions are period costumes, original choreography, and Baroque gesture, rhetoric and makeup.

A priority of the festival is to link beautiful architecture with music of corresponding styles. “The unique historic surroundings facilitate an unmistakable atmosphere which has its origins in the performance of music on original instruments. … Concerts and performances — set in such venues as the Břevnov Monastery, Troja Chateau. the Prague Castle — have met with great success, the organizers state.

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