Věra Bílá died of a heart attack this week, days before her scheduled comeback tour. The Roma singer, who was widely regarded as a great talent and once sang to sold out audiences across the world, spent the last years of her life heavily in debt and living in a lodging house. Since her death, many have said that her songs will forever live on as exceptional examples of the world music genre.
The legendary pianist Alfred Brendel will come to Prague this weekend to take part in a three-day festival organised in his honour. The Czech-born musician, considered to be one of the world’s greatest living pianists, will present his books, give a master class and lecture on the art of playing Mozart. The event gets underway at Prague’s Rudolfinum concert hall on Sunday.
New York-based Alex Zucker is one of the most highly-regarded translators of Czech literature into English and works regularly with leading writers such as Jáchym Topol and Petra Hůlová. When we spoke on a park bench in Manhattan in late September, the conversation took in Zucker’s time in Prague in the early 1990s, his long relationships with authors and his criteria for choosing projects. But first he told me how he had started translating Czech literature – via an interest in human rights.
Today’s Sunday Music Show is dedicated to winners of the Czech music industry's annual Anděl awards. Among them are The Atavists, named Discovery of the Year and winners of the Rock Album of the Year, for Lo-Fi Life, their second LP. Also in the programme are rock giants Lucie, whose disc EvoLucie was awarded Album of the Year; funk stalwarts Monkey Business (Band of the Year); Ty Nikdy (Best Rap Album) Barbora Poláková (female Singer of the Year) and Miro Žbirka (male Singer of the Year).
Behind the scenes, a ‘subsidy war’ is raging in Central Europe among national film commissions, which have been steadily sweetening rebates and incentives to attract lucrative Hollywood and other foreign productions. Czech Film Commissioner Pavlína Žipková says 2018 was a record year in spending and shooting days, with foreign productions – especially TV series – drawn in by top-notch crews, services and “eleven centuries of architecture” for locations.
An exhibition mapping the famous foreign productions of The Bartered Bride, perhaps the most popular Czech opera, gets underway at the Bedřich Smetana Museum in Prague this week. It traces the opera’s journey from its first production abroad, in St Petersburg, across leading opera houses all over the world.
Karel Kryl, perhaps the greatest Czech protest singer ever, was born on this day 75 years ago. Kryl’s spare and highly poetic songs such as Bratříčku zavírej vrátka (Close the Gate, Little Brother), composed in the wake of the Soviet-led invasion of 1968, reflected the frustrations of many Czechoslovaks and remain popular to this day. This year is also the 25th anniversary of the folk artist’s premature death at the age of 49.
Twin sisters Jitka and Květa Válová, named “Dames of Czech Culture” in memorandum this week, were once described by a Communist zealot as an “ulcer on the red face of Kladno”, the industrial Bohemian city of their birth. They rejected the dominant Socialist Realism aesthetic of the 1950s, preferring more abstract and expressive work, long sealing their pariah status. They responded by turning their shared home and atelier into a salon for free thinkers.
After a break of nearly 50 years, the Czech Republic will be participating in the Milan Triennial, a prestigious international showcase for contemporary artists and designers. The Czech Republic will be represented by two works of art, Out of Power Tower by Krištof Kintera and Lithopy by Denisa Kera, which explore the theme of energy wastage and mocks the current craze for cryptocurrencies.