Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Muzeum Kampa
June 4

Mute onlookers for a John Cage knockoff.

Where to go to come down from Prague Spring, with its heady nights filled with musical stars? As luck would have it, to the refined gallery space of Muzeum Kampa, where the Isang Yun Trio – cellist Petr Nouzovský, oboist Vilém Veverka and harpist Kateřina Englichová put on a superb display of virtuoso musicianship on Monday night.

The long summer daylight was still bright on the Vltava as the concert started, with occasional tour boats passing just a few meters from the windows lending a surreal touch during the performance. Inside, the atmosphere was more somber, with a group of headless, life-size statues looking over the shoulders of the players. The piece, Magdalena Bakanowicz’s “Figures,” looks like the tortured souls from Olbram Zoubek’s “Victims of Communism” memorial at the foot of Petřin Hill broke loose, took a mud bath in the river, and wandered into the museum.

Whistling strings.
The opening work was equally solemn – Alexander Knaifel’s Lamento for solo cello. A Russian composer noted for turning out long, sometimes unplayable works, Knaifel put together what sounded like a complete inventory of sounds the cello can make in the lower registers in this piece. It opens with sharp, stabbing chords that build to machine-gun intensity before settling into a series of sustained notes, tones and whistles that grow more afflicted. Nouzovský handled it with aplomb, balancing the raging turmoil of the sound with a measured tempo and skillful bowing.

Jana Vöröšová is one of brightest young composers in the Czech Republic, a NUBERG competition winner who always has fresh, imaginative ideas. For this concert, she reworked two songs from her 2005 cycle Bouillon, a kaleidoscopic treatment of texts by the French writers Jacques Prévert and Henri Michaux. Originally composed for soprano and harp, they were performed by Veverka and Englichová, with Veverka delivering snatches of the text in brief, biting outbursts. The remainder of the vocals were transposed into long, compelling oboe lines that he handled smoothly, while Englichová provided expert runs and fills on the harp, occasionally using a small hammer on the strings to great effect.

If she had a hammer...
The work of two other local composers was less satisfying. Ondřej Štochl’s Šerosvit (Chiaroscuro) mimicked the visual art form with slow-moving, ephemeral textures and occasional half-melodies. Though not especially engaging, the piece required precise, sophisticated playing that the entire trio handled with fine attention to detail. Tomáš Pálka’s Single Line of Silence took inspiration from the anniversary year of John Cage, opening with a bouncing orange ping-pong ball and concluding with soloist Veverka scattering a handful of coins on the floor. With so many gimmicks – the score was spread across four stands, and at one point he had to tap the oboe against a wine glass – it was hard to take the music seriously. But the difficult technical demands and flamboyant gestures were perfect for Veverka, a gifted player who loves to strut his stuff.

The trio concluded with a piece by their namesake, Espace II. Yun, an avant-garde Korean composer who died in 1995, employed a wild mix of elements in his “sound compositions” – traditional Korean music, twelve-tone techniques, rich ornamentation and more. Espace II sounds like a collision of those elements, with overlapping lines, textures and melodies emerging, interlocking in interesting ways, then fading out. The full trio had to play with considerable finesse to make it all come together coherently. In lesser hands, the piece could be a disaster. With this trio, it was brilliant.

That’s no surprise. Veverka, Englichová and Nouzovský are among the finest players in the country on their instruments, and together comprise a formidable chamber group. In fact, they were in the Prague Spring festival two years ago, playing an equally challenging program at the Rudolfinum. Konvergence, the group that organized Monday’s concert, offers a comparatively modest showcase. But these musicians are stars wherever they play.

And the players:

Kateřina Englichová: www.englichova.cz/index_en.html
Petr Nouzovský: www.nouzovsky.cz

Photos by Ondřej Melecký

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