Press release – May 11, 2018
We’ll play it properly: off-key!
The world premiere of Alois Hába’s opera is drawing closer
Preparations are in full swing for the most highly anticipated performance of this year’s NODO, the world premiere of Thy Kingdom Come, an opera by Alois Hába, one of the bravest innovators and visionaries of 20thcentury music. The only two performances of Hába’s sixth-tone (!) work, conducted by Bruno Ferrandis, will take place on June 24 and 25 at Jiří Myron Theater in Ostrava. Leading Czech vocalists will handle the opera’s twenty-six solo parts, accompanied by the Canticulum Ostravachoir under Yurii Galatenko and a grand orchestra composed of both Ostravská Bandaand ONO / Ostrava New Orchestra. Stage design by Jiří Nekvasil and David Bazika. The performance is meant to fill a shameful gap in the history of Czech music.
Alois Hába (1893–1973) was a leading figure among Czech modernist composers of the interbellum period. In all his activities, whether as a composer, teacher or manager, he always demonstrated one key characteristic: the courage to tread where no-one dared tread before. His sense of focus, doggedness and wide-ranging international contacts held a tremendous potential for the Czechoslovakian culture of the time. Hába himself considered Thy Kingdom Come, his third opera, to represent the pinnacle of his creative powers, but so far, the work has never been performed. In 1942, when the opera was finished, staging it was out of the questions, while after World War II, the ideologues of socialist realism considered it dangerously esoteric (the subject matter draws on Rudolf Steiner’s antroposophic teachings). The core message of the opera is a demand for social justice, freedom of thought and world without wars.
Musicologists point out that, because of its microtones, the opera is going to sound off-key. “Many have tried to dissuade us from performing it, but a composer like Hába ought to be played! To my surprise, he remains a household name, since half the young composers today write microtonal music. The reason we have decided to perform Hába’s sixth-tone opera in three acts (!) in Ostrava is that no-one else wanted to rise up to the challenge. People saw the score and felt their flesh creep. It is a mammoth undertaking. We need to hear the opera, regardless of whether we’ll like it or not,”explained Petr Kotík, artistic director of Ostrava Center for New Music, in a Czech Radio interview. Jiří Nekvasil, the head of National Moravian-Silesian Theater and the director of the performance, also remains unfazed by naysayers:
„It is a singular work of art. Just consider its fusion of social considerations with antroposophy. Hába was a leftist at heart, but Steiner’s ideas influenced him deeply. As a result, outlandish grandthemes are not confined to the opera’s microtonal music. With David Bazika, we’re aiming for a sort of dramatized concert performance that references workers’ academies and takes the orchestra as its integral part. Thy Kingdom Come is a powerful opera.”
Alois Hába was fond of saying that the idea of enriching European musical language with unusual intervals spanning less than a half-tone was inspired by the music of his native Zlín region, as evidenced by the following excerpt from his remarkable fictitious lecture, published in Hudební rozhledy (The Bulletin of Music) in 1927 to supplement a review of his textbook on harmony:
“Born and raised in Vizovice, I, Alois Hába, have chanced upon quarter-tones as something self-evident. My very first natural cries failed to conform to the artificial diatonic scale, and the first real shock to my psyche came courtesy of a self-made willow pipe, which kept disobeying me, playing lower or higher. This led to a careful study of natural sounds, especially the musical ejaculations of animals, which only confirmed my preliminary experience. Take our neighbor’s Hector, whose howls I have precisely recorded using a gramophone: he never limited himself to the outdated tonal system of Western Europe, and neither did Franta Grňůj in the pub opposite. When he got merry, blissfully tossing away the shackles of normality and launching into No wee lad can bash me, you could measure the amount of his merriment by his singing in quarter, sixth and, verily, sometimes twelfth-tones.”
Czech Museum of Music has agreed to provide the original sixth-tone harmonium, constructed with the financial aid of president T.G. Masaryk, and there will be more highly specifics instruments in the orchestra. Pavel Ciboch has spent the last months transforming Hába’s manuscript into proper printed score for our performance, which will be recorded by Czech Radio’s Vltava channel.
Since 2012, the missionof NODO/New Opera Days Ostrava festival has been to contribute to the discussion about the evolution of opera and to demonstrate the genre’s possibilities in the 21stcentury. The biennial festival is an Ostrava Center for New Music production co-organized by The National Moravian-Silesian Theatre. A unique feature of NODO is that all productions are either Czech or world premieres, rehearsed and shaped in Ostrava itself directly before the performance; often, the festival is also both the first and last opportunity to see these productions. Between June 24 and June 28, 2018, the festival will take place for the fourth time, featuring world and Czech premieres of works by Alois Hába, John Cage, Rudolf Komorous, Julius Eastman, Salvatore Sciarrino and Daniel Lo.
NODO 2018 receives financial support from the Statutory City of Ostrava, Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, Art Mentor Foundation, Moravian-Silesian Region, Libor Winkler and other sponsors. Tickets already available.
Ostrava Center for New Music / Ostravské centrum nové hudby
Dr. Šmerala 2, 702 00 Ostrava
Landline: +420 596 203 426
Cell: +420 777 613 184