Jiří Skopal, choral conductor and music educator, was born on August 15, 1947 in Velké Losiny, CZ. Skopal was given his initial education in music by his father Jan Skopal, a choral conductor of the North Moravia´s Teachers´ Association. For his master’s in education, he studied in Olomouc from 1965 to 1969 and received his doctorate in 1973. In 1982, he was named Associate Professor at the Charles University in Prague, and in 1994 he became a full Professor. Skopal’s very first choir, founded at the primary and secondary school in Postřelmov, won first prize in a regional singing competition in 1972. In the years 1968-82, he worked as a vocal adviser for the North Moravia´s Teachers´ Association, and in 1971 he started another choir in Mohelnice. Since 1974, he has been teaching at the University of Hradec Králové, where between 1986-90 he was head of the music department and founded a new choral conducting course. He has authored publications on music psychology, history, and management of boy choirs, as well as theory and methodology in choral singing. In 1977, he took over management of the choir from Josef Vrátil and a year later, the choir changed its name to the Královéhradecký Children’s Choir JITRO.

 

Skopal has achieved major national and international success with Jitro at concerts in Europe, Asia, the United States, and Australia. He continues to work today as the choir conductor and music director of Jitro. Skopal and his wife, Květa Skopalová, also founded the boys choir Boni Pueri in 1982. In total, Skopal has recorded 44 albums with his choirs, conducted more than 3,500 concerts, and in the year 2000 he received the Primus Inter Pares award for an exceptional benefit to the culture from the Mayor of Hradec Králové. Skopal has also been a judge in national and international competitions, as well as a lecturer of conducting courses in the Czech Republic and abroad.

Photo — Jiří Skopal and pianist Michal Chrobák in  Tokyo, Japan 2019.

 

Bohuslav Martinů’s (1890 – 1959) music has always been a gentle but powerful key to opening mysterious experiences of time, spring, nature, memories, traditions, hearts, souls, and love. For Martinů, a theme of wisdom, national dances, folk texts, and ancient customs in relation to children’s virtue kept him grounded in his homeland while he was abroad.

 

He wrote happily from Paris about the rendition of his early Children’s Songs (1926), and in 1932 he even addressed the Academy of Sciences in Prague with a letter expressing his interest in publications about folk music and Moravian folk songs from Bartoš and Janáček´s collection (1901).

 

There is a biblical meaning behind the Czech word “petrklíč” (primrose) symbolizing St. Peter’s key to open the springtime earth after snowy winters. For Martinů, it was a pure joy to “sing along” with this folk love poetry and discover its phrasing and rhythmic roots for his duets (1954).

 

While still abroad, he composed Songs for a Children’s Choir in Schönenberg, Switzerland, in January 1959, the last year of his life. The text by František Halas from the collection of verses Tuning (Prague 1955) was set to music, as well as the texts from the collection of Czech folk songs and rhymes (1864) by K. J. Erben. One month later, still in the same place, he finished the sophisticated score of Bird Feast set to an ancient Czech text V Strachotíně hájku (In a grove of Strachotín).

 

The cycle of six pieces à cappella for women’s choir under the influence of K. J. Erben originated in Paris in 1930, and the first ternary of them was evidently titled based upon his Czech folk songs and proverbs. The composer named the second ternary from 1931 as Czech Nursery Rhymes. Both marginal choirs were also involved in the chanted ballet entitled Špalíček (The Chap-Book, 1932).

 

However, the strongest feeling of “the bonds of in-coming and leaving generations” (T. Hejzlar) we can have is in listening to the cantata Opening of the Springs (Otvírání studánek) (1955) with text written by Miloslav Bureš. “This is all coming from our countryside, all about fairies and folk queens, about purging the wells in spring,” wrote Martinů in his letter to Brno, and Polička, his native community. This real audience was part of the world premiere of his deep and intimate Opening on January 7, 1956.

 

Jitro czech girl's choir

Jitro, meaning “Daybreak” in Czech, is more than just a concert choir from Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic. It is an organization of 400 children in seven preparatory ensembles, of which only the best 25 or 30 qualify to tour. For the past 45 years they have been admired all over the world for their tonal brilliance, superb intonation, distinctively rich blend of sound, and energetic vitality. Today, Jitro is considered one of the best children’s choirs in the world. To date they have participated in 18 international competitions and won 38 categories. These awards have been bestowed on the choir by international juries, including at prestigious European contests such as Llangollen (1988), Nantes (1989), Neerpelt (1996), Olomouc (2003), Xiamen (2006), Lecco (2010), Pardubice (2015), Žilina (2017), and Sydney (2018).

 

America’s love of Jitro was re-born when the choir was invited to sing at the National Convention of the American Choral Conductors Association in San Antonio TX in 1993, where they received standing ovations from thousands of professional American conductors. An official response from Dr. J. B. Haberlen, ACDA President stated: “Our ACDA members will long remember your concerts, as they were a major highlight of the 1993 convention.” Professor Doreen Rao of Toronto University commented, “Are you aware that you have just changed forever the character and style of all American choral singing?”

 

Jitro makes over 100 appearances annually and has sung with other renowned choirs such as the American Boys’ Choir. Jitro has performed with the Bavarian Symphonic Orchestra, the Milano Symphonic Orchestra, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, and the Czech Philharmonic. They have performed in prestigious concert halls in Prague, Barcelona, Hale, Bern, Basle, Dortmund, Avignon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Austin, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta, Nashville, Indianapolis, Madison, Chicago, Penn State University, New York City, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Xiamen, Sydney, and many more. Jitro’s classical discography includes 37 solo Jitro albums. They have recorded with various companies like Supraphon, BMA, Classico, Amabile, ArcoDiva, and Navona Records. Their recent discography contains a special edition of albums devoted to famous composers associated with the choir: Antonín Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, Otmar Mácha, Petr Eben, Ilja Hurník, and Jan Jirásek. Since 1977, Jiří Skopal has led the choir as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, winning high praise for his brilliant leadership. Superb playing by organist František Vaníček and pianist Michal Chrobák adds luster to the choir’s remarkable performances. Noting that “jitro” means “daybreak” in Czech, BBC Music Magazine deemed this an apt description for the chorus’ “bright, gleaming” performances, which are “indeed like brilliant rays of sunshine slicing through the darkness.”

 

photo: At the International Music Festival in Letohrad 2016. Photo by Květa Skopalová7

 

Australian International Music Festival. The Sydney Opera House 7/5/2018 — Choral Adjudication Sheets

 

“Excellent fluidity and precision …. Impressive control in multiple parts … fine attention to vertical precision of rhythm and intonation, lovely vocal tone in all dynamics … Awesome color and dynamic control… An outstanding ensemble in a fiercely challenging repertoire which you conveyed with discipline, talent, joy and brilliance. Thank you.” — Colin Touchin

 

“You are absolutely amazing and your gifts went to my heart, warmed my soul and made my life better. Maestro, you are extraordinary and I am honored to know you! Singers, I am your biggest fan! Thank you!” — Andrew Eisenmann

 

“A hugely enjoyable performance and great choice of repertoire! Your level of focus, rhythmic precision and intensity throughout your program was excellent.  I love that you are staging this kind of repertoire, it is so different from what we often hear from children´s choir. There was a nervous energy in this performance. Well, an incredible performance.” — Dan Walker

 

 

photo: Marek Uhrin

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