Orchestra of the Month
The Charles University Orchestra in Prague performing at the Czech Museum of Music
From now on the ENUO will monthly put one member orchestra in the spotlights. With this we hope to offer you a peek behind the scenes of how each orchestra is organized, by whom the orchestra is run, what kind of programs have been played and are to be expected in the future etc. Apart from the only criteria that all information should be in english, we give the member orchestras the complete artistic freedom to present their orchestra and university with an open mind towards future collaborations within the ENUO. Do you think your orchestra should be the next on stage? Contact us via email@example.com and find out when you will be next.
April 2020: Orchestra of Charles University in Prague
Our Orchestra was founded in 2001 by our Chief Conductor, Haig Utidjian, at the invitation of the Rector of Charles University, whom a number of students had approached, asking for the establishment of an orchestra and chorus under the official auspices of the University. Prior to the Velvet Revolution of 1989 the University had a number of such ensembles, but as they had been under the umbrella of the then Communist students’ union, they were abolished in the aftermath of the Revolution; as they say, the baby had been thrown away with the bathwater. Yet there is no doubt that the Czechs are a highly musical nation, with a very fine musical tradition, and so clearly the premier University of the Czech Republic could not long remain without an orchestra of its own.
The Orchestra started from very humble beginnings, and the first few rehearsals were attended by a handful of violinists, flautists and one clarinet – making it quite a challenge to find suitable repertoire. The University being highly decentralised, it was surprisingly difficult to ensure that everyone who might be interested knew about us (and even today, we are surprised to find how many students are unaware of our existence, despite all our publicity effort!). But we grew in strength from year to year, and started being invited to play in various places on various occasions, in Prague as well as further afield. We have had the opportunity of making music in some extremely beautiful buildings in the Czech Republic, and further afield. We found ourselves increasingly also performing abroad, playing (for example) in beautiful cities such as Paris, Pizza, Cologne and Vienna. We collaborate with a number of groups, including our very own University Chorus, and increasingly we have enjoyed opportunities of sharing concerts with friendly visiting ensembles from other European countries. Particularly memorable were concerts we shared with the Exeter Chamber Orchestra from the UK, the Cologne University Collegium Musicum, the Vilnius University Chorus, the Strasbourg University Orchestra and the Copenhagen University Orchestra. We find this to be a good way of inspiring each other, learning more about other nations as well as beautiful music we would not have otherwise encountered, as well as forming lifelong friendships.
We are extremely grateful to the University, by whom we are regularly invited to perform on official occasions, and to the Hlávka Foundation, who have done much to foster our development over the years, not least by regularly inviting us to perform on 17 November every year (when the Czech Republic marks the Velvet Revolution, as well as the execution of anti-Nazi student demonstrators during World War II). We have also collaborated with the National Museum of the Czech Republic, performing at the beautiful Pantheon of the Museum in televised concerts on three occasions, and more recently performing at the Czech Museum of Music (one of our favourite venues) to celebrate 100 years since Czechoslovak women gained the right to vote. On this occasion – on 14 May 2019 – we performed works by five women composers, including the magnificent “Canticle of the Sun” by the American composer Amy Beach (which had not hitherto been played in the Czech Republic), and the world première of the lovely piece for strings by Susan Martin “Calming of the Sea”, which, since then, we have performed several more times.
Performing at the Aula of the Karolinum, 19 December, 2018
Charles University Orchestra and Chorus at the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum
Our Orchestra caters for a reasonably wide range of abilities, although a high proportion of our players will have already gained considerable orchestral experience before joining us. Most study a variety of subjects, including Medicine, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and various Humanities and Arts disciplines including but not confined to Music. We do not hold formal auditions for strings; rather, we invite them to play for us for a trial period, at the end of which desk partners and section principals have a say, advising the conductor. In most cases membership of the Orchestra is readily confirmed, provided that players display a good record of attendance at weekly rehearsals and weekend workshops/retreats (where a high proportion of our rehearsing is done). For wind players, we do hold auditions from time to time, depending on need. We have enjoyed a very fine flute section for a number of years now, but it is sometimes less easy to find suitable oboes and bassoons. From time to time we have to have recourse to external players to fill the odd gap in the Orchestra – such as the tuba, extra horns or percussion, or a harpist. Players are encouraged to go on performing with us after graduation, and we have a substantial proportion of recent graduates who have chosen to remain in the Orchestra, having completed their studies. We also have a policy of performing concerti with soloists drawn from the ranks of the Orchestra.
A typical semester will entail two weekend workshops as well as weekly evening rehearsals, and we tend to have several big concerts per semester – with a string of Christmas concerts in December, some of which are held in freezing churches (in places like Karlštejn Castle) where it has not been unknown for a bottle of “slivovice” – plum brandy – to be circulated amongst members and then mysteriously disappear! Each semester also features at least one concert where we are joined by our Chorus and professional soloists (many of whom are active on the opera stage, and have worked with our Chief Conductor, who himself conducted in various theatres in the past) for a major choral/orchestral masterpiece. Works for which we have been joined by our Chorus include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ German Requiem, many works by Dvořák (including the Stabat Matter, Te Deum, Mass in D, St. Ludmila, Hymn to the Heirs of White Mountain, and the unduly neglected Slavnostní zpěv), Fibich’s Jarní Romance, the Rossini Stabat Mater, the Bach Magnificat, the Alan Hovhaness Magnificat (of which we gave the Czech première, in St. Vitus’ Cathedral in 2015), the Fauré Requiem, Amy Beach’s Canticle of the Sun, Nielsen’s Hymnus Amoris (both Czech premières), Smetana’s Česká píseň, and much else besides. Our orchestral repertoire includes symphonies, symphonic poems and incidental music by composers such as Beethoven, Smetana, Dvořák, Suk, Sibelius, Nielsen, Hovhaness and many others. We have also been honoured to give world premières of works by living composers such as Milan Iglo (his Piano Concerto), Stanislav Poslušný (“The Little Prince”) and Susan Martin (“Calming of the Sea”).
Though we are not in a position to hire concert venues ourselves, we have been very fortunate to have been invited to perform in all the finest venues in Prague. In addition to the Karolinum at the heart of the University, we have performed at the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Smetana Hall, the Czech Museum of Music, the Pantheon of the National Museum, Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle, and the Church of the Holy Saviour (where the Prague Academical Parish is based, and where we have been giving annual charity concerts for many years).
Our most recent charity Christmas Concert at the Church of the Holy Saviour, 16 December, 2019
Performing Komitas’ Liturgy for Strings at the Vienna Mekhitarist Church of St. Mary the Protector, 4 May, 2019
Our plans for this semester included an all-Beethoven programme this month at the Aula of the Karolinum – Coriolan Overture, Romance in F (with one of our orchestral violinists as the soloist) and the Mass in C (with our Chorus and a fine team of soloists) – followed by a Nordic programme in May – Nielsen’s Helios Overture and Søvnen (a truly magnificent piece for Chorus and Orchestra, never performed in the Czech Republic before), and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 3. Unfortunately, the distancing measures necessitated by the virus pandemic mean that our rehearsals were interrupted, and our concerts postponed. But we hope to keep going in other ways, remaining in touch with each other and with our conductors via skype and other electronic means, practising our parts and continuing to make music, so that we are well prepared to perform those pieces and others as soon as we are allowed to do so. We also hope to organise live lectures and other informal sessions devoted to those pieces in the coming weeks, and hope that we shall be able to keep motivating ourselves and maintain our high spirits, as well as cheering up those in our physical – and virtual – vicinity.
Our most recent concert for the Hlávka Foundation was at the Bethlehem Chapel in the centre of the Old Town. Our programme included a celebratory piece by for Chorus and Orchestra by Dvořák (Slavnostní zpěv), a more lugubrious piece for strings composed in the aftermath of the bombing of Coventry by the composer Vilém Tauský (a pupil of Janáček, Suk and Talich), who taught our conductor Haig Utidjian, and much else besides.
Please feel free to visit our Web pages – on Sboraorchestruk.cz – and our YouTube channel – Chorus and Orchestra of Charles University in Prague – for further photos and recordings!
For our final video clip, performed by the Charles University Chorus and Orchestra, we were joined by the baritone Jakub Hrubý and the organist Martin Maxmilian Kaiser on 17 November, 2018. We have chosen the last few minutes of the magnificent but little known piece by Martinů, Czech Rhapsody – Mahlerian in style and in scope, though also very Czech in flavour. It ends with the words – which seem to have acquired particular poignancy as many of our fellow human beings are now ill and are fighting for their lives – addressed to the Czech Patron Saint, St. Wenceslas (“Svatý Václav” in Czech): “St. Wenceslas, do not let us perish!”
We are grateful to Mr Tomas Bazika of the Prague Music Connection for his kindness in sharing his photographs and video clips from our performances over the last year and a half. We are also grateful to our first violinists, Vojtěch Salajka of the Charles University Orchestra for the panoramic photograph of the Charles University Chorus and Orchestra above, and Vladimír Faltus for the sound recording of our concert at the Czech Museum of Music of 4 April, 2016.
We hope that during those days of uncertainty and frustration, music – performed by ourselves and by others, with conviction, commitment and passion – may prove to be a source of strength and comfort, and we send our orchestral colleagues all over Europe our very best wishes from Prague.
Members of the Charles University Orchestra and conductors Kateřina Maňásová and Haig Utidjian, 1 April, 2020
An excellent atmosphere prevails as we wait to begin to play at the Aula of the Karolinum, 24 April, 2019
In this photo (17 November, 2019) we were playing Smetana as if our lives depended on it!
March 2020: Orquesta de la Universidad de Oviedo
The University Oviedo Orchestra was founded in February 1979 by Alfonso Ordieres, from then onwards considered being the oldest university orchestra in Spain. Originally it was a string-based orchestra that focused on baroque repertoire. In its first chapter, the orchestra gained a good reputation and took part in several festivals and courses such as Cambrils, Granada, Madrid, etc. In addition, the orchestra got invited to perform for Spanish Kings at the foundational act of Fundación Princesa de Asturias in 1980. Also, some concerts have been broadcasted on the National Spanish Television (TVE).
After several years of non-activity, Pedro Ordieres started as conductor. So since, October 2017, Orquesta de la Universidad de Oviedo is considered to be a full-size symphonic orchestra with more than 70 enrolled students. Today, each term is musically colored with ten concerts. With it is main purpose to promote classical music also comes premiers by composers such as Gabriel Ordás, Pablo Moras, Guillermo Gonzalez, Fernandez Languasco o Ruben Díez. Also, it has recorded the original soundtrack to a documentary produced by TPA “Desde la otra orilla”.
The University of Oviedo Orchestra is part of the “University Extension and International Promoting service”. The activities are organized according to the needs of the University’s community, but also contributes to the irrevocable and tangible commitment it has with the whole Asturian society, encompassing all kinds of cultural and formative activities. This Orchestra tries to bring culture to Asturias society as well as give the chance to the students to develop its artistic ideas. The Extension University department has made a big effort to support the orchestra for the past years.
The Orchestra rehearses on Mondays and is open to any student, professor or worker associated to the University of Oviedo. Also, some students from regional Conservatoire are invited to take part and extend their musical experience. The orchestra sometimes collaborates with guest professionals from Asturias Symphony Orchestra and other institutions, they sometimes perform as soloist or share their professional knowledge by giving advice to the students.
Upcoming projects include three concerts: one for Asturias Television at the historical cellar from “El Gaitero”, and one big Concert at the Oviedo´s cathedral, including Beethoven´s fifth symphony (celebrating Beethoven´s anniversary) and the world premiere of “El Aura” by Gabriel Ordas together with University of Oviedo Chorus and Asturias Conservatory Chorus. Later this year the Orchestra will perform at Alcalá de Henares University (Madrid) as part of an exchange program between both University Orchestras. Only exciting things ahead!
December 2019: Ghent University Symphony Orchestra
GUSO, or the 'Ghent University Symphony Orchestra', is an orchestra for and by students! It explicitly presents itself as an open and social orchestra, a group of close friends with the ambition to realise qualitative and musically ambitious projects, creating the opportunity for students in Ghent to further explore their musical interests. In line with the Ghent University slogan “Dare to think”, GUSO “Dares to play”, with a lot of musical enthusiasm and the guidance of their passionate conductor Steven Decraene. Take a look at www.guso.be or visit our facebook page and follow us on Instagram for more information!
November 2019: The UCD University Orchestra
The UCD Symphony Orchestra was founded in 2002. It has developed into the flagship instrumental ensemble of Ireland's largest university, University College Dublin, with a membership of around 90 players. It offers student scholarships and can be taken for academic credit irrespective of degree programme - traditionally there has been a large cohort of medical and engineering students in the orchestra. Sectional tuition is provided by principals from Dublin's two full-time professional orchestras, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The orchestra has engaged in numerous joint projects with university orchestras outside Dublin, the first European destination being Mannheim, Germany in 2013. Connections made via our friends in the ENUO have led to further collaborations with orchestras from Uppsala in Sweden, Leuven in Belgium, and Strasbourg in France, as well as participation in the 2017 edition of ESOF.
The UCDSO’s repertoire centres on mainstream concert works from the 19th and 20th centuries – major symphonic symphonic repertoire performed has included symphonies by Beethoven (5, 7, 9), Shostakovich (5, 10) and Tchaikovsky (4, 5, 6). Since 2005, the orchestra has appeared annually at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland’s premier classical music venue. These concerts often involve the UCD Philharmonic Choir, most recently in performances of Brahms’s Deutsches Requiem and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. A wider audience has been cultivated by a number of themed concert series, such as family concerts, a "Night at the Movies" series, and concert performances with live bands, including the world-renowned tribute act the Bootleg Beatles.
The orchestra shall enjoy a very busy season in 2019–20 with five major events planned, the first of which occured on October 20th, joining forces for a second time with the Bootleg Beatles for an acclaimed performance to commemorate the release of the iconic Abbey Road album – a review in the national music journal Hot Press can be read here: http://tiny.cc/ucdbeatles. Next up is the second in the series entitled "Closer Reading" in which a major symphonic work is performed following a 30-minute critical introduction by our conductor, Dr Ciarán Crilly, who is also Head of the UCD School of Music. Into 2020, there are two performances planned at the National Concert Hall, including the fourth "Night at the Movies" programme, before we welcome the Strasbourg University Orchestra for a joint concert in the Spring. A new endeavour this year is the introduction of an apprenticeship for young conductors: the 2019-20 Conducting Apprentice is Ben Jacob from Waterford in the South East of Ireland.
As the orchestra approaches its 20th anniversary in the 2022-23 season, it looks for fresh challenges, and is always open to exchange partnerships with other ENUO members. We celebrate the fact that we have grown from just 19 members in our first concert to 90 in our last, and that this growth has been accompanied by an ever-increasing contribution to the cultural life of UCD’s staff and student population.