Sunday, September 25, 2011


Various Venues
September 26 – November 10

Jason Moran, Eric Harland, Charles Lloyd, Reuben Rogers

Can it really be seven years since Strings of Autumn got the boot from Prague Castle? It seemed like a disaster at the time, but the festival has gone on to become one of Pragueʼs best success stories, selling out a lively mix of classical, jazz, traditional and experimental concerts every fall in a variety of imaginative venues.

It retrospect, Iʼm really glad it happened,” says Strings Artistic Director Marek Vrabek. “We wouldnʼt be the force we are now if we were still trying to explain to the Office of the President why we did this or chose that. Weʼre independent, and we can go anywhere and do anything. Thatʼs what I like most about the festival – our freedom.”

What audiences like most is the taste of international flavors that Strings of Autumn brings to Prague, and the boldness of its programming. This year, major singing stars open and close the festival: jazz diva Dee Dee Bridgewater and mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, respectively. In between thereʼs American hip-hop, Corsican polyphony, progressive jazz from Israel, a tribute to Paul Robeson, a multimedia update of traditional Finnish music and a special appearance by American sax legend Charles Lloyd, who made musical history with a seminal concert at Lucerna in 1967, during the brief flowering of Prague Spring.

And the festival continues to expand in new directions. Thereʼs a dedicated weekend for kids and families this year at Divadlo Minor that will offer music and theater performances along with art and dance workshops for the younger set. The “Spotlight” slot, reserved in prior years for a single band or performer on the rise, has been expanded to a one-night “mini-festival” at Roxy that will feature eight bands on three stages, plus DJs and a closing jam session. The latter is a combination of inspiration and smart marketing.

I like the openness of the jazz clubs when I go to New York, the melting pot of different genres and ideas and influences, and I wanted to create that kind of atmosphere here,” Vrabek says. “Weʼre also trying to build an audience for the future, and a club night is a good way to draw in new, younger people who donʼt normally attend the main concerts.”

This yearʼs schedule leans a bit toward jazz, but thereʼs no arguing with the quality of the names. Dee Dee Bridgewater (State Opera, Sept. 26) has been a sensation on stages worldwide for more than 40 years, and was a big hit at the Strings of Autumn fundraising gala in April. This time sheʼs bringing her own band for a tribute to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Abbey Lincoln. Charles Lloyd (Rudolfinum, Oct. 30) has been an influential force in jazz since the 1960s, when he brought a band to Prague that included Keith Jarrett on piano and Jack DeJohnette on drums. His New Quartet features three A-list American players: pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland.

Avishai Cohen (Hybernia Theater, Oct. 12), the Israeli bass player, singer and composer known for constantly breaking fresh ground in jazz, comes with a trio and a new release, Seven Seas. Robert Glasper, an American piano player and composer who straddles the worlds of jazz and hip-hop, will headline the Spotlight night at Roxy (Nov. 5) and play a dedicated set with his trio (Roxy, Nov. 6).

Vivica Genaux
On the classical side, Vivica Genaux, a gifted interpreter of Baroque and bel canto, will be singing with Pragueʼs outstanding Collegium 1704 ensemble (Estates Theater, Nov. 10). She and Collegium 1704 Artistic Director Václav Luks are collaborating on a program of Vivaldi, Hasse and a relatively unknown 18th-century Czech composer, Josef Mysliveček. Earlier in the festival, Austrian violin virtuoso Thomas Zehetmair will give a solo recital of Paganini and Isaÿe (St. Anneʼs Church, Oct. 3).

Rounding out the mix are a musical tribute to American singer Paul Robeson by British opera singer Willard White (Vinohrady Theater, Oct. 20); a taste of Mediterranean polyphony from A Filetta, a Corsican male vocal quartet (Czech Museum of Music, Oct. 25); and an electronic take on traditional Finnish music by accordionists Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen and the Proton String Quartet (Trade Fair Palace, Nov. 2).

For all that, one of the most significant accomplishments of this yearʼs festival is the support of new patrons, Karel and Michaela Janečkovi. Strings of Autumn couldnʼt survive with corporate sponsors like O2, but this marks the first time that private individuals have stepped up to make a major financial commitment to the festival. Itʼs a moment that Vrabek has worked toward for a long time.

Thereʼs no tradition of private support for the arts in this country, so this is an important step for us and I think a very good signal for the arts,” he says. “Government funding will continue to shrink, and you can only make so much from ticket sales. So itʼs critical to attract affluent, influential supporters who believe in the value of culture. We still have a long way to go, but itʼs good to see that our efforts are starting to pay off.”

For a complete Strings of Autumn schedule:

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