The East Bohemian town of Litomyšl has a lot to boast of, from its UNESCO World Heritage status to its lively year-round atmosphere. Nonetheless, what this town of 10,000 most frequently boasts of is that it is the birthplace of the composer Bedřich Smetana, and since 1949 it has been the home of a major music festival that bears his name. Now in its 60th year, Smetana's Litomyšl Festival continues to draw some of the biggest personages in classical music.
The opening strains of "From my Life" by none other than Litomyšl's own Bedřich Smetana. The town's greatest son gazes down upon visitors from many a statue and wall plaque around the city all year long, but each summer his music comes to life in the opening ceremony of Smetana's Litomyšl, one of the largest and oldest music festivals in the Czech Republic.
It might seem strange on one hand that the country’s second largest classical music festival would take place in a small town, seemingly off the beaten track. But this is a track long tread by musical tradition, as the festival’s artistic director Vojtěch Stříteský reminded me.
"A place like Litomyšl with such genius loci, with such a tradition and history of culture and personages, musical tradition, is a wonderful place for such an event. People have always come here to listen to classical music and the whole region is exceptional in this regard. Geniuses of international music like Bedřich Smetana, Bohuslav Martinů, Gustav Mahler, Petr Eben - a long list of composers - were born within some 60 kilometres of here. It's a very musical region, and Litomyšl possesses something that a lot of metropolises lack.”
That something would be a stunning renaissance château, a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its ample stately court for concerts, the huge churches around the town that testify to its former glory as a religious centre, and a plethora of ancient vaulted spaces, all of which make Litomyšl the apple of a festival organiser’s eye.
Moreover, the Smetana’s Litomyšl Festival has conquered its own niche of the festival calendar as a traditional celebration of opera, oratorios, cantatas and song - in short, the art of vocal performance – drawing the best of the best from this country (Dagmar Pecková and Magdalena Kožená) and the rest of the world (Katia Ricciarelli, Sherill Milne).
"Smetana's Litomyšl is subtitled as an international festival of opera, but in the past it was a kind of exhibition of the domestic opera scene. Today the festival is a completely international affair. There are musicians from 13 countries performing and audiences consist of classical music lovers from all over Europe."
And if you are one of those classical music lovers you still have the
chance to enjoy another 3 weeks of a program ranging from opera to ballet
off the ancient alleyways of Smetana’s Litomyšl.
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