How did one of Europe’s pre-eminent choirs come to perform at the Glebe Town Hall in November 2015, as part of the 26th Annual Glebe Music Festival? The Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir was founded in 1932 by Jan Kühn, originally for the needs of the Czech Radio in Prague. The Choir has worked with the National Theatre in Prague since 1936, and has performed at La Scala Milan, the Carnegie Hall New York City, the Tchaikovsky Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, the Bregenzer Festspiele and at many other locations. There are over 50 CD recordings.
Dr E. David McIntosh AM AMusA, the Artistic Director of the Glebe Music Festival (www.glebemusicfestival.com) was approached in late 2014 with a proposal by the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir for an appearance at the Festival. With the experience of bringing a large group to Glebe in 2005 (the 46 members of the US Marine Forces Pacific Band), there was at least a precedent. But the 34 members of the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir were clearly in a younger age bracket than the Marines. Fortunately, many individuals and families from both Glebe and beyond came to the rescue, under the guiding hand of Glebe resident Janet Donald, and billets were found for the second half of the visit. (During the first half of the visit, the Choir was housed at Land’s Edge, Chowder Bay, and generously catered for by Tasmanian chef Michael King).
The next challenge, apart from organising the concerts, was to ensure that the visiting choir had ample opportunity to interact on a musical level with their local counterparts. The positive interactions between members of the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir and the Choir of the Conservatorium of Music High School and the Choir of North Sydney Girls’ High, along with the interactions between the respective choir masters were the most significant and important aspects of the visit to Sydney by the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir.
The first opportunity arose with the free concert at the Great Hall University of Sydney on Sunday 8 November, open to a wide audience and promoted at the Conservatorium. The next opportunity arose when the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir did a live broadcast to hospitals and schools throughout New South Wales, from the Utzon Room at the Sydney Opera House on 11 November.
Because of the proximity of the Sydney Opera House to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir was able to move up to the Conservatorium from the Opera House and interact with the Conservatorium Choir within the grounds, before moving indoors and giving a performance to students and staff at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music High School.
This laid the groundwork for the combined workshop, at the Glebe Town Hall Friday afternoon 13 November. The Czech choir learned Australian Christmas carols as arranged by Julie Simonds (and accompanied by her), whilst being conducted by the Conservatorium Choir Mistress Réka Czernyik. In turn the Australian choir learned Czech songs, with Jan Kalfus accompanying and Petr Louženský conducting. This culminated in a joint performance in front of a large and enthusiastic audience on the Friday evening. (The choirs were fed and watered by Michael King).
To give as wide a Sydney audience as possible the opportunity to hear and see the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir, they gave a performance of Celebration of Spring by Otmar Mácha (1922-2006), on the Thursday evening 12 November, after their lunchtime concert at North Sydney Girls’ High School.
There was much favourable commentary about the extraordinarily high standard and composure of the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir, and promises of keeping in touch. There are plans for the Choir to return in 2018 at a time of importance for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music High School.
Finally, the tour could not have happened without the generous support of the Glebe Society and a Matching Grant from the Council of the City of Sydney.