Thursday, July 21, 2011


Various venues
July 22 – August 8

Captivating music in enchanting settings.

The best music festival of the summer gets underway at Prague Castle Friday night with a trip to 17th-century Venice whimsically titled “On the Wings of the Lion.” By the time it wraps two and a half weeks later, listeners will also have been transported to Renaissance Spain, the court of Burgundy, 18th-century Peru, a Biedermier salon and Versailles at the height of King Louis XIVʼs lavish reign.

Organized by Pragueʼs outstanding Collegium Marianum school and ensemble, the Summer Festivities of Early Music is the thinking personʼs Baroque festival. The programming is built on serious scholarship that follows ideas or trends, or traces the development of a form like the concertato, the focus of Fridayʼs concert. The performers are some of the finest on the European Early Music Network, with specialties in particular periods, styles of playing or obscure instruments. And the venues are carefully selected to match the music – sacred, secular or somehow evocative of the original setting or era.

Thatʼs what makes this festival unique,” says Mark Vanscheeuwijck, a Baroque cellist and professor of musicology at the University of Oregon who serves as an adviser to a number of European Baroque festivals, and wrote the program notes for this one. “Most festivals in Europe ignore the importance of putting the music in the right kind of historic and acoustic settings. Itʼs like eating a good meal with the wrong wine.”

Not much chance of that with venues like the Ball Game Hall, Rudolf Gallery and Spanish Hall at Prague Castle, Troja Chateau, St. Agnesʼ Convent and Břevnov Monastery, all enchanting places to hear early music. With their rich atmospherics, they offer a concert experience thatʼs about as close as you can get to the performances that filled similar spaces in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

If youʼre not an aficionado of the genre, itʼs difficult to appreciate the level of detail that goes into re-creating those performances. Friday nightʼs concert, for example, features Musica Fiata, a German early music ensemble founded in 1976 by Roland Wilson, a Baroque wind music specialist and cornett player. He was asked to describe his groupʼs performing style.

Musicians of that period were expected to deliver their performances in the same way as an orator,” Wilson replied. “If one applies historical articulation and bowing types correctly to the music, it results in an extremely differentiated structure whereby no two notes have the same length and volume. Each musical ʻwordʼ must be clearly articulated before the elements can be joined to make a meaningful phrase.”

But one need not be a scholar to enjoy and appreciate the performances. Vanscheeuwijckʼs program notes are very good, and the music is captivating whether youʼre hearing it for the first or hundredth time.

What you should see is mostly a matter of taste. The Capella de Ministreres ensemble from Valencia will play ensaladas, a form popular during the Spanish Renaissance, accompanied by four vocalists in the Rudolf Gallery (July 25). Belgiumʼs Capilla Flamenca, led by artistic director Dirk Snellings, will be performing polyphonic liturgical music at St. Agnesʼ (July 27). And Musica Temprana, a Dutch ensemble founded by the formidable Dutch-Argentinian guitarist and vocalist Adrián Rodriguez Van der Spoel, will play Peruvian sacred music in the splendiferous Troja Chateau (August 1).

Doron David Sherwin, regarded as one of the best cornett players in the world, will join harpsichordist Barbara Maria Willi for a program of celebratory motets and virtuoso music from Roman and Venetian churches at St. Agnesʼ (August 3). Another instrument that has fallen into obscurity, the csakan, will be featured in the Biedemier salon evening with Laterna Magica, a trio from Belium, at Břevnov Monastery (August 4).

And the finale is a real extravaganza: Two singers and three music ensembles, including Collegium Marianum, presenting operatic selections by Lully, Charpentier and other French composers in the dazzling Spanish Hall (August 8). This is a great opportunity to see pieces performed as they were in the court of King Louis XIV, with colorful costumes and elaborate declamation.

Take your pick, but get your tickets now. The thirst for Baroque music in Prague is insatiable, and these concerts almost always sell out.

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