Parallel Worlds After 40 years of systematic work, the whole organism of JITRO, meaning “daybreak” in Czech, Hradec Králové’s Girls Choir, invariably excels via a reliable methodology: again and again we admire the musicality, precision and noble tone of a concert choir that, from the very beginning, has always been known to improve itself, namely by the recruitment of young singers in primary schools. Prof. Jiří Skopal first met Jan Jirásek (b. 1955) in 1975 as his student at the Department of Music. Now Jan Jirásek, the holder of two Czech Lions, and since 1999 the visiting professor of composition at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, is rightly regarded by the Girls Choir as its resident composer. “The Playful Songs was the first of my compositions I heard performed by Czech Girls Choir. The choir has allowed me time and again to verify my sound and expressive images as I lived with the strongly and consistently conceived productions of the choir.”
Originally somewhat separated and breathtaking, the Kyrie eleison (1991) as dedicated to the Hradec Králové’s Boni Pueri Boys’ Choir and Prof. Jiří Skopal, was supplemented by the composer in his freely composed, a capella Missa propria (1994). The composer, speaking of the content and meaning of the piece commented, “This reflects my relationship with the whole spiritual world. Our way of thinking is closer to that of Protestants’, however, the ceremonial nature is also suggestive for us, even if I do not master it. Every word for me is a symbol and attitude of faith. Even a medieval believer in Bohemia did make his “krleš” from the Kyrie eleison. In these cases, if one is honest with himself, one can only speak for himself. If luck is on his side, he can speak for the others as well...” In 1997, the composer adapted this cycle for the JITRO Choir girls cast, which they then premiered on the 3rd of April, 1998. What flows from the reduction of the text is a colorful four-to-five voice composition, oscillating alternatively between the diatonic and chromatic tonality, homophony, and the linear vocal texture, as well as between the rhythmic ostinato and metric variability. The four Latin phrases stand for the background of another Jirásek choral cycle, again dedicated to JITRO and its conductor (2013). Omnia vincit amor (Virgil, “Love conquers all things”), Quod me nutrit me destruit (Ch. Marlowe, “What nourishes me destroys me”), Audentes fortuna iuvat (Virgil, “Fortune favors the bold“) and Si, vis amari, ama (Seneca, “If you wish to be loved, love”) could form a pocket manual for human beings of all ethnicities and ages The two to-four part musical statements for children’s choir with piano and percussion ad libitum reveal wisdom, musical transparency, and communicativeness.
As a cosmopolitan and philosophical personality, Jan Jirásek has been thinking about the idea of Parallel worlds since the year 2005. Further, he has accordingly adapted, in the spirit of Dalai Lama’s belief in the need for a convergence of all religions, his own a cappella eleven-voice composition to the Christian liturgical text interwoven with texts of Buddhist mantras. Initially, he prepared a tense vocal fresco—a suppliant hymn as well as Te Deum laudamus (2005) for Prof. Skopal and his JITRO Choir to take part in a competition, which resulted in their winning at the 4th World Choir Games (Choir Olympics) in the Chinese city of Xiamen island in July 2006. For the Hradec Králové premiere (11/26/2009), he complemented a crucial part of this cycle with six other sentences with spiritual parallels from different cultures: Miserere; Benedictus; Baruch Haba; Sanctus; Agnus Dei; Wheresoever you look; Miserere; Avinu malkenu and Dona nobis Pacem... is the face of God. From the introduction, lasting twenty minutes, up to the extensive Sanctus and Te Deum arias, the composer had available in the JITRO Choir a congenial laboratory of vocal art. This choir has again confirmed its ability to deal with profound ideas and lively music at the highest levels. Judging by the prolonged applause, the audience in the hall at the premiere realized it was witnessing the birth of the next major cycle in the line of key works by such Czech composers as Petr Eben, Jan Řezníček, Otmar Mácha, and Zdeněk Lukáš. A convincing performance also proves how misleading it would be to seek in the repertoire of the ‘JITRO Czech Girls Choir anything from the “easy listening” section or the so-called “Music for Youth.” This choir is completely up to managing such musically and intellectually challenging tasks. The music composed by Jirásek actually belong to both the permanent repertoire and dramaturgy of Skopal’s choir. Thus the composer himself noticed at the concert: “Competition awards are not dominant. What is important is the time-tested evaluation and what will remain after thirty to fifty years.”
Jan Jirásek composed the micro-opera King Lávra for choir, piano and percussion after the Czech satirical poem (1854) by Karel Havlíček Borovský (1821-1856) about an authoritarian ruler. Then, the courageous poet attacked from his exile in Brixen the lack of freedom within the Habsburg Monarchy. The theme, however, goes back all the way to antiquity to the legend of King Midas trying to hide his donkey ears at any cost, including the assassination of those who discovered his secret. “I was trying to emphasize how a hopeless and helpless power is cruel and ridiculous at the same time”, the composer comments and adds: “it is the story of a conflict between humor and power, the tale of hiding shame, the narrative of people´s longing and right to know the truth about their political leaders. Such a story never goes out of date.” The choir, while rehearsing King Lávra in March 2015 during the concert tour in Germany, visited the Munich cathedral of St. Bartholomew, where the emperors had been elected and crowned for centuries…
- Stanislav Bohadlo
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