Sunday, August 28, 2011


Various venues
August 29 – September 15

Anna Hashimoto embodies the look and spirit of the festival.

Thereʼs always been a tendency to overlook Mladá Praha (Young Prague), the annual showcase of promising young classical talent. Which is a bit of a mystery to this critic. The organizers do a great job of culling competition winners and recommended students from around the globe, bringing them to Prague and giving them a chance to perform in sensational settings. Most of the concerts are free, and the music is good. Itʼs a nice way to ease into the new season, and get a sneak preview of the stars of tomorrow.

This is no idle boast. For the festivalʼs 20th anniversary this year, the organizers have invited back alumni to play with another sterling set of young performers. The alumni roster includes two of the Czech Republicʼs finest cello players, Jiří Bárta (ʼ92) and Tomáš Jamník (ʼ01 and ʼ06). Also returning are Italian pianist Giuseppe Andaloro (ʼ04), who went on to win the prestigious Bolzano Ferruccio Busoni Competition; Canadian tenor Mark Murphy (ʼ04), now a soloist at an opera house in Gelsenkirchen, Germany; and Japanese violinist Ryosuke Suho, who won a major competition in Moscow just one month after appearing at last yearʼs festival.

If the names of some of the new players this year are unfamiliar, they will not be for long. Serbian pianist Tijana Andrejic, 25, has already performed on every major stage in her country. French horn player Jocelyn Willem, 25, is a 2007 Prague Spring laureate. Japanese cellist Dai Miyata, also 25, won the grand prix at the Rostropovich Cello Competition in Paris in 2009. Anna Hashimoto, 22, has won major clarinet competitions in Belgium and Italy and regularly sells out concerts in her homeland. And who knows what awaits 21-year old Hungarian flute player Zsuzsuanna Tóth and 14-year old Dutch violinist Boglárka Erdös?

One of the reasons the festival has been able to attract such a wealth of talent is because it has one foot firmly planted in Japan. Professor Yoshifumi Nakajima, a composer and choral conductor, has been with Mladá Praha since it began, bringing the pick of young Japanese talent to Prague along with some very good choirs. And the Japanese Embassy has been proactive about securing the support of major sponsors like Lexus, Panasonic and Chiyoda Technol.

The ambassador himself gets on the phone and tells the companies, ʻYou have to help these young people,ʼ” says Norbert Heller, a pianist and member of the Mladá Praha organizing committee. “Itʼs most unusual.”

Mladá Praha has also benefited from the support of prominent Czech musicians. Violinist Lubomír Kostecký, a member of the famed Smetana Quartet, was a key early supporter of the festival. World-renowned violinist Josef Suk lent his name to Mladá Praha as its honorary president until his death earlier this year.

Serbian star Andrejic.
So the festivalʼs 20th anniversary marks a significant milestone, with a program to match. There are two concerts at the Rudolfinum this year, both of which would be a solid addition to any regular-season schedule. On Sept. 3, Andrejic and Andaloro are teaming up for Bachʼs Double concerto for two pianos and strings in C minor, Willem will play a Mozart concerto and Miyata is taking on Dvořákʼs seminal Concerto for cello and orchestra in B minor. On Sept. 15, young Israeli conductor Bar Avni will lead the Hradec Kralové Philharmonic, with Hashimoto soloing on a Spohr concerto and Bárta taking center stage for Tchaikovskyʼs Variations on a Rococo Theme.

Still, the centerpiece of the festival is likely to be a performance of Mozartʼs Requiem at the breathtaking Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady at Strahov Monastery. The venue alone is worth a visit. Professor Nakajima will be conducting a large group of Japanese singers, combined with Pragueʼs Kühn Choir, and the Pavel Haas Chamber Orchestra. As this concert is dedicated to the memory of the earthquake disaster victims in Japan, the age limit for performers (25 and under) has been stretched a bit to accommodate four adult vocal soloists, two Japanese and two Czech.

There are also some tasty concerts scheduled for Břevnov Monastery, Wallenstein Palace and the open-air Ledebur Garden below Prague Castle. An additional seven performances will be given on the road, in cities like Teplice and Litomyšl.

Five years ago, a lot of these performers were just kids,” Heller says. Actually, a lot of them still look like kids. But as this critic has learned in the past, they play with a skill and sensitivity well beyond their years.

For a complete Mladá Praha schedule:

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