On 27th March, Supraphon released the new album by Jitka Hosprová
made with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra featuring works by Jindřich Feld,
Oldřich Flosman and Sylvie Bodorová. Jitka Hosprová talked to us about her
relationship to Czech contemporary music and its authors as well as about her
colaboration with the orchestra.
Your new Supraphon CD features works by three 20th- and 21st-century
Czech composers – Jindřich Feld, Oldřich Flosman and Sylvie Bodorová. Why
did you choose contemporary Czech music in particular?
The music actually chose me. I encountered the works over the past decade or
so. In 2008 and 2009, upon the invitation of the Prague Autumn festival,
I performed Jindřich Feld’s concerto and Oldřich Flosman’s Visions of
Michelangelo. I was truly enthralled by the latter’s beauty. Even though
I was familiar with Flosman’s connections with the former regime, and
I definitely reject totalitarianism, I decided to overlook the political
circumstances and solely perceive his music as music. And this piece of his is
simply great. Flosman’s music for the viola is amazing, and the composer and
the violist Lubomír Malý created a truly wonderful work.
When it comes to Jindřich Feld, I met him when I was working with the Bohemia
Luxembourg Trio, with whom I premiered and recorded his Concertino for Flute,
Viola and Harp. He approached me, asking whether I would be willing to explore
his Concerto for Viola, which he had written to commission for a French
violist – he wanted it to be performed by a Czech musician too. Feld
addressed me, because he was impressed by my approach to work. I was really
pleased that the composer himself asked me to play his piece.
Another reason why I selected the three works is that they are scored for the
viola and the large symphony orchestra. As regards Sylvie
Bodorová’s Planctus, I have performed it at several concerts. Sylvie only
conceived it a few years after Flosman completed his Visions of Michelangelo,
yet she assumed a different political perspective…
Your previous recordings, of solo, chamber or concert music, both
Czech and international, contain a considerable number of pieces dating from the
20th and 21st centuries. Would you say that the viola had previously been
That is not the case, and I think that I will include music for the instrument
dating from other periods on my future recordings. Yet the golden age of the
viola was the late 19th and the 20th centuries, and it has continued into the
21st. For a long time, the viola was deemed to be an ancillary instrument in the
orchestra, an integral component of the string quartet, whereas it was seldom
paid attention to as a solo instrument. But the 20th century began clearly
regarding it as an interesting solo instrument. I enjoy familiarising myself
with and developing its new role, the viola’s potential and the space it
Yes, for a long time, the viola – unlike the violin – was not
considered to be a concert instrument. How do you perceive the difference
between the two instruments’ possibilities? What precisely has the viola to
There is indeed a huge difference between the potential of the violin and that
of the viola. Violinists must show a much greater philosophy in respect of their
approach to compositions. Today technical skills are a matter of course, yet
being capable of dealing with an area featuring no technical finesses, only
music, is proof of the performer’s maturity. Many a time, pieces for the
viola embody the composer’s most profound message, as numerous major creators
wrote works for the instrument in the twilight of their lives. These include
Shostakovich’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147, and Bartók’s Viola
Concerto. And, for that matter, Jindřich Feld’s Concerto for Viola, which
was the final large-scale piece for a solo instrument and orchestra he wrote.
When I listen to these works, I have the feeling that the composers are
opening their hearts, conveying something intimate – and the instrument
affords scope to deeper philosophising, as well as a certain degree of
expression that can be interpreted in a variety of ways … for instance, as the
view of life from the perspective of someone on the cusp of departing. I think
the viola in particular can render this aspect very well. And the performer must
be capable of communicating it, as it is something that really strikes the
audience. In many slow passages, the viola’s timbre can even make you cry,
since the instrument is capable of imparting the profundity very forcibly.
Whereas you performed Oldřich Flosman’s concerto upon request and
after the composer’s death, in the cases of Jindřich Feld’s and Sylvie
Bodorová’s pieces you actually met their creators. Does it help to consult
composers about how to construe their music?
Jindřich Feld and I went through his concerto together, listening to and
discussing the existing recording. He explained to me how to approach it, also
telling me that certain passages could be played differently, so it was highly
beneficial. Unfortunately, he did not get to hear my performance, as by the time
I gave the Prague premiere of his work he had passed away. On the other hand,
Sylvie Bodorová and I collaborated very closely. She was present in the
recording studio and, what is more, I had previously had the opportunity to
perform her piece on three occasions, thus getting used to it and establishing
my position. Yet it is a radio recording, and her composition would sound better
amidst a spiritual milieu. In this connection, I am glad that I had played it
several times at a beautiful church, and thus could project the
music’s spirit to the recording. One evening, Sylvie and I had a long
conversation into the wee small hours, during which she described the genesis of
her work. The situation now is different, yet at the time – in the 1980s –
in Czechoslovakia, when artists did not enjoy creative freedom, she, as a
student, really felt the need to express the oppression. Sylvie was even worried
whether the title Planctus would be approved by the then regime, hence, she had
ready an alternative name – the neutral “Music for Viola
and Symphony Orchestra”.
The interval within which the three pieces featured on your new album
were created spans three decades. Do they have anything in common or is the
different time of their origination palpable?
What the three works have in common is the orchestration, the viola being in
stark contrast to the robust orchestral sound. They are scored for ample
percussion in all three parts, they afford great scope to the viola as a solo
instrument, and all of them also comprise passages in which the viola drowns in
the immense sound, with its voice simply being submerged amid the tumult of the
large orchestra, which I find really enjoyable. And I must admit that when
later I listened to all the pieces, I was certain that the selection was a
good idea. That is what I deem to be the connecting link.
And the difference? I think that the earliest track on the recording –
Jindřich Feld’s concerto – reveals that the composer was no longer
affected by the frustration prevailing in society, and thus created a truly free
work. Feld conceived the viola part in his own way, not being afraid of the
technical aspect. He would to tell me “… don’t worry, everything I have
written is playable…” – after all, he himself was a dexterous violinist.
Feld composed a brilliant piece, which can present the viola very well in
technical terms. The viola is not only assigned long touching phrases, its part
contains quite a few technically challenging tracts. So I think that every
listener can find in it something intriguing.
You have recorded the three concertos in a studio with the Prague
Radio Symphony Orchestra. What was it like to work with the conductors who
participated in the making of the album?
It took several years to complete the album. Over that time, Czech Radio teams
changed. I am happy we have succeeded in bringing the project to fruition.
Jindřich Feld’s concerto is conducted by Jan Kučera, who was acquainted
with the work, as we had premiered it together. When it comes to Sylvie
Bodorová’s Planctus, it was new to him. It was my very first collaboration
with Tomáš Brauner, who conducts Oldřich Flosman’s Visions of
Michelangelo, and it was great, as his account of the piece is precisely how
I had imagined it to be. I performed it earlier with the ORF Vienna Radio
Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Bertrand de Billy, and I must say that at
the time we had to work much harder to be able to express the
concerto’s weightiness and fatefulness, all its nuances. The Prague Radio
Symphony Orchestra grasped all that as something natural, perhaps due to their
comprehending of what it was like for the country having been occupied for four
decades. Everyone immediately understood the gravity. By and large, the
recording sessions were pleasant encounters with two outstanding conductors.