Ceremony at Vysehrad cemetery opens this year's Prague Spring music festival

12-05-2004

The Prague Spring International Music Festival is an annual event that showcases some of the best classical music from both Czech and international composers. Since its beginning in 1946, it has become one of the leading festivals of its kind in the world, and a galaxy of stars such as Herbert von Karajan and Arthur Rubinstein have appeared at the event down through the years. An opening cemetery was held at Prague's Vysehrad cemetery on Wednesday to mark the start of this year's event.

The ceremony contained readings of the work of Czech poet Jan Neruda as well as performances of some choral pieces from Czech composers Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak. Gerald Turner, a leading literary translator of Czech into English, was a member of the choir on Wednesday. He thinks the exalted status of the Prague Spring music festival is appropriate considering the pre-eminence of some of the major composers who have come from these lands:

"Throughout the world there are very few music lovers who are not moved by the work of Smetana and Dvorak. Smetana's operas are sung throughout Europe and of course a large part of Dvorak's music came into being in the United States, so in a sense he crosses the continents"

Mr Turner was also pleased the opening ceremony was held at Prague's Vysehrad cemetery where many of the Czech Republic's most famous sons and daughters are buried and which holds a special place in Czech hearts:

"It reverberates here. I could feel among the Czechs who were listening today that it resonated with them. I don't think in Britain and Ireland that we have anything quite like this place, where the great spiritual forefathers and foremothers of the present are grouped in this way. For us it's something that's a bit different"

Besides launching the Prague Spring festival, the ceremony also paid homage to Bedrich Smetana as this year marks the 120th anniversary of his death. Smetana is the composer of such well known works as The Bartered Bride and he is considered by many to be the "father" of Czech classical music. Today, his music is hugely popular around the world and is enjoyed in such far-flung places as Japan.

After the ceremony ended, I even came across a small group of Japanese tourists, who were holding their own Buddhist ritual in honour of the Czech composer.

I asked one of them what Bedrich Smetana means to her:

"Smetana is famous. His music of the Vltava River is famous in Japan. They love this music there, from childhood onwards."

12-05-2004