Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Rudolfinum, Divadlo Archa, Hluboká Chateau
October 4 – November 1

Paavo Jarvi adds some gravitas to a lightweight program.

More a patchwork of concerts than a true festival, Radio Autumn is not what its founders envisioned when they launched it in 2009. The idea was to fill the gap created by the demise of Prague Autumn by bringing Europeʼs finest radio ensembles to Prague – not just symphony orchestras, but choirs, traditional folk groups and jazz big bands sponsored by members of the European Broadcasting Union. The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra would anchor the festival, and Czech Radio would record and broadcast all the concerts through the EBU network.

The key to making this happen was picking up Prague Autumnʼs principal sponsor, Zentiva. But the pharmaceutical company got out of the cultural sponsorship business when it joined the Sanofi group in 2010. Then Dvořákʼs Prague muscled onto the fall calendar with major sponsors, large grants from the city and state, and star performers. That left the Radio Autumn organizers with great ideas, but no money to realize them.

Itʼs quite a difficult situation,” says Jakub Čížek, head of International Relations at Czech Radio. “You need a long-term sponsor to plan content and programming, which is normally done two or three years in advance. But weʼve never been able to get one. So every year, we decide at the last minute whether to do the festival or not.”

As a result, Čížek and his team have to schedule orchestras already on tour, and pick up whatever else they can locally. Which is not to say that Radio Autumn is without merit; despite the difficulties, this yearʼs schedule includes some worthwhile concerts and performers.

The festival opens tonight (Oct. 4) with a wild card: Babel Prague, a new two-day excursion in “improvisation and sound adventures.” The headliner, Pauline Oliveros, is a longtime avant-garde composer and improvisational musician from the U.S. At 79, Oliveros hardly looks the part; but when she plugs her accordion into her laptop, sheʼs a master of imaginative soundscapes. Czech Radio will be doing a live broadcast of tonightʼs concert, which also includes a performance of Steve Reichʼs Pendulum Music and an improvisational set by an “electro-acoustic” quartet.

The organizers approached us with this project, which fits into a genre we have at the station for new works called Ars Acustica,” Čížek says. “I donʼt know how many stations will pick up the broadcast. But our intention was always to present a wide spectrum of music, so itʼs good for the festival.”

The centerpiece of Radio Autumn is two concerts by the Hessischer Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, better-known outside Germany as the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. (Oct. 8 & 9). Led by Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi, the orchestra is noted for its broad repertoire and recordings of Bruckner and Mahler symphonies. Its first evening will be devoted entirely to Brucknerʼs Symphony No. 8 (Oct. 8). The following night, the orchestra will play Weber, Mozart and Schubert, with Georgian pianist Khatia Buniathashvili soloing on Mozartʼs Piano concerto No. 23 in A major.

The other three concerts offer mainstream favorites. The Pilsen Philharmonic will be in town to provide accompaniment for the winners of the Concertino Praga competition (Oct. 17). Held annually by Czech Radio for musicians 18 and younger, this yearʼs competition produced three laureates: trumpeter Walter Hofbauer, flutist Veronika Blachuta and violinist Jan Mráček.

The concert gives these young players a chance to perform on a big stage with a full orchestra,” Čížek says. “Itʼs always been quite popular, and judging by ticket sales, it will be again this year too.”

The festival then moves to Hluboká Chateau in southern Bohemia for a chamber music concert by a clarinet quartet from Bratislava (Oct. 18). And it concludes with a performance by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra of a Saint-Saëns concerto, with Jan Simon on piano, and a set of Dvořák favorites: Slavonic Dances Nos. 9 & 10 and Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.”

The program is not as inventive as we would like,” Čížek admits. “But weʼre recording and broadcasting the concerts, which was one of our original goals. And the basic idea is good – there are many high-quality radio ensembles that we would like to bring to Prague. So we hope to find a general sponsor someday.”

For a complete Radio Autumn schedule and ticket information: www.radioautumn.cz

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