Reinhard Goebel, an esteemed Baroque music connoisseur, ranks Zelenka (along
with J. S. Bach and Handel) among the five best composers of the first half of
the 18th century. In his accompanying text, he refers to him as “grandiose and
fantastic”. And the cycle of six sonatas for two oboes, bassoon and continuo
serves to prove that his assertion is far from being mere hyperbole, that it is
a justified opinion worthy of being giving serious thought. And when these gems
are undertaken by musicians as open-minded and of such superlative quality as
members of the Berliner Philhamoniker, the listener can look forward to a great
feast. Feast that became real thanks to Ensemble Berlin Prag and it new double
album SU 4239–2. Now it's time to give the floor to one of the members of the
ensemble, renowned oboist and producer of this beautiful recording Vilém
Veverka who uncovers many interesting details regarding genesis of the whole
project and Ensemble Berlin Prag itself.
What was the major impulse for recording the extensive repertoire
featured on the Zelenka album?
The idea of recording Jan Dismas Zelenka’s cycle with Ensemble Berlin Prag
had been there, at least latently, since the formation’s very beginning. It
was among its basic intentions – to explore, perform in concert and make a
recoding. The Zelenka cycle is a true “opus magnum” of Baroque music, no one
had created a more essential set of trio sonatas, and not just with respect to
the oboe. The motivation and the related aspiration may accompany a
person/performer for several years before the right moment arrives. And you can
only claim to be able to render such a highly sophisticated score after you have
learned all the details of the Zelenka cycle. We were really verging on the
cycle’s recording for years before we intuitively felt that the right moment
and the ideal constellation had occurred for us to recast the musical material
and our long-term endeavours into a magnificent album. I would specify the
intention with the words: “Es muss sein”.
How did you select the musical partner who would undertake the role
of the additional oboist? Did you bear Dominik Wollenweber, your long-time
colleague and teacher in Berlin, in mind from the very beginning?
Our long-term relationship dates back to 1998, when I first met Dominik
Wollenweber. In the initial phase, it was clearly a teacher-pupil relationship.
Similarly to other mentors, including Albrecht Mayer, for instance, Dominik
practised the “philosophy” that teaching means showing that which is
feasible, while studying means allowing the feasible to materialise, naturally,
in an authentic form. Today, Dominik and I are not only professional musical
partners, we are also good friends, which is, of course, motivating, as well as
binding, given our long experience of working together. Yet neither of us wants
to lag behind.
And how did you select the musicians for the Ensemble Berlin Prag
Dominik and I selected our co-players together. One of Europe’s finest
oboists, a member of the Berliner Philharmoniker and one of the most
sought-after educators, Dominik recommended the phenomenal Israeli bassoonist
Mor Biron, who too is a member of the Berliner Philharmoniker. In my opinion,
Mor is perhaps the best Zelenka bassoonist since the time of Sergio Azzolini.
What is more, he had previously worked on a number of projects with Ulrich
Wolff, another member of the Berliner Philharmoniker, a brilliant Baroque music
performer, who also plays the double bass, gamba and viola. And the German
harpsichordist Barbara Maria Willi has been my musical partner for more than a
decade, so she was logically chosen to perform the harpsichord part.
What role in the recording project was undertaken by Reinhard Goebel,
a celebrated conductor and violinist, who in the 1970s founded and then for a
long time led the Musica Antiqua Köln orchestra?
I would say that working with him was my most intense musical experience in
2017. When I met him, I realised that I had the honour to face a true
genius. Never before had I encountered a musical figure as well-rounded as
Reinhard Goebel. His awareness and profound knowledge of music is truly unique.
Reinhard Goebel’s contribution was essential. It was he who furnished our
account with the final form. And he clearly defined the entire vision: “Record
the music in such a manner that no one else would ever again feel the necessity
to do it again”. The sentence was precisely that which we needed to hear; it
was de facto a definition of something that we subconsciously felt as being our
intention. In the studio, we focused on each and every note, we did our maximum
to make a benchmark recording, one that would still be exemplary in 30 years
What is your view of the ongoing discussion about playing historical
instruments and informed performance of the Baroque repertoire?
I would again like to quote Reinhard Goebel, who was our supervisor. For him,
musical instruments are merely the tools that serve to render the score. Thus,
instruments are not the major medium. The “modern versus historical
instruments” discussion does not pertain to the substance of the matter, only
the manner. What is essential is the result, irrespective of the way that has
Where was the album recorded?
We recorded the album at Berlin’s Teldex studio, believed to be one of the
best studios in the world. That made the recording expensive, yet we agreed that
we should not be thrifty when it comes to a project of such great significance.
After all, it was one of the reasons why I participated in the project as a
How often do Ensemble Berlin Prag give concerts?
Since the very beginning, we have adhered to the principle that all our concerts
should be exclusive events. We have mainly rehearsed in Berlin. As three of our
musicians are members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, we have planned our
performances accordingly. Our aim is to turn every single concert of ours into
an exceptional event, for us and the audience alike. Without trying to give an
exhaustive summary, I would like to mention the most prestigious stages on
which we have appeared. In December 2017, we debuted within a Berliner
Philharmoniker cycle. We have performed at a number of major festival in the
Czech Republic, including Prague Spring, Smetana’s Litomyšl, Contentus
Moraviae, Moravian Autumn and Janáček May. We have given concerts in other
European countries too. I am pleased that we have succeeded in establishing and
asserting the Ensemble Berlin Prag trademark precisely in line with our
What repertoire do you feature at your concerts?
The core of our repertoire is Jan Dismas Zelenka’s music, yet we also perform
works by other Baroque masters, Johann Sebastian Bach and François Couperin,
for instance. We have been continuously extending our repertoire, including
pieces by 20th- and 21st-century composers as well. We are convinced that
combining early and contemporary music is legitimate, with the juxtaposition of
styles representing a considerable enrichment, primarily for our audience, as
well as festival organisers.
What about the Czech-German aspect of your formation?
In connection with Ensemble Berlin Prag, I would like to highlight the idea
that it serves as a kind of cultural bridge between the two countries. Our
formation is thus an exemplary platform of Czech-German collaboration,
symbolising the process of understanding, in music and beyond. Noteworthy too is
that we above all play Czech music.
Artists bear within a myriad of plans and dreams. What do you intend
to record next?
Slightly ironically, we’ve said to ourselves that we could record the Zelenka
cycle again 20 years down the line. In the near future, we would like to make
an album of J. S. Bach’s Orgelsonaten, BWV 525 – 530, which we perform
in the version for oboe, cor anglais, bassoon and continuo. When played on these
instruments, Bach’s music sounds as good as in its original version.