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Ivo Kahánek Articles

Interview for Taiwan Business Weekly

Ivo Kahánek has been interviewed by the popular Taiwan Business Weekly.

Czech has the highest density of classical musicians in the world, why and from when? What's the cultural foundation for it?

First and foremost, I think we are a pretty musical nation with a very rich and long musical tradition. Moreover, we have a very good three-level system of musical education (especially basic music schools, which can rarely be found in Europe) and also the social level of professional musicians used to be very/rather high during the communist period - playing classical music was one of very rare/few opportunities to travel to Western Europe.

Prague was Mozart's favorite city. It seems that Prague audiences have a great taste for good music. Is it inherited or trained? What are the secrets in your music education? Can you give some advice to us oriental music students?

I think it is both inherited and trained. Of course, Czech and European tradition play an important role - Prague has always been a crossroad of various European cultural influences (especially German, Jewish and French). The density of our music schools, conservatoires and universities is also very high, everyone/anyone can study music and many of them are able to find their jobs as musicians (mostly teachers/tutors). However, the motivation of students is going down now because the profession/trade of musician or teacher does not always provide the required financial profit. Nowadays we could envy the oriental students of music their strong motivation to work hard. That is why they gain such big success at the international competitions very/so often.

What's the impact of Nazi and Communist regimes on Czech's classical music? Was it badly hurt, because many musicians were forced to expatriate? Are you happy with the development in Czech's classical music today?

The Nazi impact on Czech classical music was destructive, of course. One generation of musicians (both performers and composers) were killed during the holocaust - especially the loss of the Terezín composers (Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas etc.) was fatal for the Czech culture. During the Communist period the situation was complicated as well - many talented musician who disagreed with the regime were persecuted, had no opportunity to present their music in public and many of them were forced to emigrate. On the other hand, musicians that did not demonstrate/express their disapproval of the official ideology had a good salary and adequate social status. Nowadays I cannot simply say if the situation in the Czech Republic is satisfactory or not. As I have already mentioned we have a well-developed system of education, many good international and national festivals and the highest number of professional orchestras in Europe (per capita) where the vast majority of musicians can find their jobs. That is why there is almost zero unemployment among musicians in the Czech Republic. On the other hand the salaries (particularly in orchestras) are not very high and that is why most gifted young musicians prefer making a career in other fields. The amount of listeners to classical music is not very high but constant (in the long term).

What's the impact of such great figures like Smetana, Dvorak, Janacek or conductor Kubelik & Ancerl on Prague people? Do young generation still cherish classical music as much as before?

The Czech musical tradition is exceptional - from the Baroque period to these days - and Prague is a "state within the state" with a huge interest in classical music. Also the rivalry between Czech and German (later Jewish) cultural environment within the city contributed to the development of Czech music. Personalities which you mention grew up from this tradition and helped strongly to create it/in its continuation on the other side. Young generation in Prague still can find a way to the concert halls but the situation in smaller cities is worse.

Smetana and Dvorak's Nationalism music works combined a wide variety of music traditions, including Slavic, Yugoslavia, Bohemian, Moravia, Polish and even Ukrainian. Also it bears a strong sense of national self-awareness. That's why they are so powerful and touching. Is this unique in music history? Can such glory be repeated in Czech today?

I think the fact that this inspiring national self-awareness in music helped the Czech nation to form and keep alive was unique. This principle is known also in the German or Russian music. I am not sure this "national music glory" can be repeated anywhere in Europe in an atmosphere of globalization, cosmopolitanism and unification...