|Klára Jelínková gets in the spirit of The Nutcracker.|
The Christmas holidays are not the best time of year to hear serious music in Prague. But they are a wonderful time to bask in the sounds of the season, especially for families. The city’s opera houses, orchestras and chamber ensembles offer a dazzling variety of holiday concerts, many programmed with children in mind. Here’s a guide to the best, starting with relatively serious fare for adults.
The Czech Philharmonic is offering two special holiday concerts with first-rate soloists. Local favorite Petr Altrichter will be at the podium for the Christmas concerts (Dec. 21 & 22), which open with Australian pianist Piers Lane soloing on Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto, make a nod to the Bohuslav Martinů Days festival with the composer’s 1950 Intermezzo and conclude with a Nutcracker suite. On New Year’s Eve afternoon, Latvian violinist Baiba Skride joins the orchestra for a pair of de Sarasate pieces, complementing a light program of Dvořák and Johann Strauss that will send everyone out for the evening humming the Blue Danube Waltz.
The Prague Philharmonia is moving to Žofín for its Christmas concert, a program of easy-on-the-ears opera arias and Christmas carols featuring two talented local singers, soprano Tereza Mátlová and tenor Aleš Briscein (Dec. 21). After warming up with some ambitious Czech appetizers, the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra will serve up a main course of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Cantata No. 1 for the First Holiday of Christmas, with conductor Marko Ivanović leading a strong quartet of local vocalists and the Prague Philharmonic Choir (Dec. 19). And the Czech National Symphony Orchestra has assembled a very good vocal quartet from the National Theater and State Opera rosters along with a mixed choir for a program of Pachelbel, J.S. Bach and J.J. Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass (Dec. 20).
The Prague Symphony Orchestra is taking Christmas off, giving the holiday over to two performances of traditional Czech holiday music at Sts. Simon and Jude: A chamber group from the orchestra and the Kühn Mixed Choir will stage Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass, and later in the day Jaroslav Krček’s impeccable Musica Bohemica ensemble will offer costumed versions of seasonal favorites (Dec. 25). The orchestra returns on New Year’s Day with an energizing program of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, conducted by Charles Olivieri-Munroe.
The Prague Symphony Orchestra is also sponsoring the best recital of the holiday season. Star mezzo Dagmar Pecková is the orchestra’s artist-in-residence this year, and she will be singing a program of Haydn and Purcell at Sts. Simon and Jude, accompanied by Vojtěch Spurnýʼs fine chamber group, Ensemble 18+ (Dec. 20).
Early music fans will find some very good gifts under the tree this year. Medieval sacred music specialists Schola Gregoriana Pragensis are singing an Advent program in an ideal setting, the 12th-century Basilica of St. George at Prague Castle (Dec. 21). Collegium Marianum has put together a program of 17th- and 18th-century Czech Christmas music featuring two outstanding local singers, Hana Blažíková and Barbora Sojková, which the ensemble will perform at its Baroque Library Hall in Old Town (Dec. 28 & 29). And Pragueʼs best Baroque ensemble, Collegium 1704, is wrapping up the year in spectacular fashion with a double bill of J.S. Bachʼs Magnificat and Zelenkaʼs Te Deum at Sts. Simon and Jude Church (Dec. 31).
The State Opera also offers an enjoyable way to spend New Year’s Eve with its traditional production of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (Dec. 31).
For a family outing, it’s hard to top the National Theater’s The Nutcracker – A Christmas Carol, a lively and colorful amalgam of Tchaikovskyʼs timeless ballet and the Dickens Christmas classic. With the production running through Jan. 7 this year, there are plenty of opportunities to see it, including two performances on Christmas day.
The National Theater is also offering multiple performances of Jakub Jan Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass, arguably the most popular piece of music in the Czech lands during the holiday season. Whether this cultural icon translates beyond that is a matter of taste, but the performances by the Children’s Opera Prague at the Estates Theater will have some charm for every age group (Dec. 21 & 22).
The kids should also enjoy the Christmas day concert at the State Opera, a production of Czech holiday songs and traditional Christmas carols by a brass quintet and the Kühn Childrenʼs Choir.
And looking ahead, the Talich Chamber Orchestra is offering a great return to real music in the new year, backing two very good singers, Chinese soprano Lily Zhang and American baritone Richard Zeller, in a program of opera arias at Sts. Simon and Jude Church (Jan. 2).
Until then, give yourself over to the season and enjoy its musical gifts.
Mr. Culture will be taking a holiday break in the States, so this will be the last concert posting of 2011. The calendar will be kept fresh every week, so you can check for concert listings as usual. Thanks for your support and see you back here in the new year.
Photo: P. Hejný