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The banks of the Vltava resounded to the strains of English carols during a recent Chapel choir Christmas tour to the Czech Republic. By the measure of wool sealed and packed by anxious parents the expectation was for arctic conditions, but pupils discovered a pleasantly mild Europe; it allowed, at least, for a cease-fire between bobble hats and heads.
St John’s has an increasingly warm relationship with the city of Prague. The School regularly welcomes the excellent Škampa Quartet, the School’s artists in residence who have their base in Prague, to perform recitals in the newly-refurbished Old Chapel, and to coach some of our most able string players. The choir was warmly welcomed by the Johannes Kepler Grammar School, based in imposing buildings in the centre of Prague. The first concert saw the two schools provide separate halves of an hour-long sequence. The venue, the sumptuous Mirror Chapel in the ancient Klementinum compound, proved a quite extraordinary place in which to sing. The programme was intended to introduce the Czech audience to the best of British choral music, including works by Elgar, Macmillan, Vaughan Williams and Rutter (amongst others) and a premiere by the School’s own composer-in-residence, Christopher Mortlock. In turn, the local school choir and orchestra performed a festive medley of folk songs before the combined choirs sang a hymn common to both traditions, the ubiquitous ‘Good King Wenceslas’, which – in the promotion of friendly relations – proved a clear victory amongst the gathered assembly. Warm applause greeted this exchange of gifts.
Only once did the cold catch the company off guard. The Church of St John the Baptist in Teplice (just over an hour’s drive from Prague), for all its long history, knew nothing of heating. The bobble hats were produced for a seasonal rendition of ‘Winter Wonderland’, to the evident appreciation of grand dames and common folk alike.
The third and final concert took place in a building not unfamiliar to the group. A previous visit, in 2014, had introduced the choir to the wonders of the Lichtenstein Palace and its excellent auditorium. A smaller, though no less appreciative audience, witnessed what was, probably, the best choral singing ever achieved by a group at St John’s. The precision and unity of ensemble, the effortless sense of line, and the clear enjoyment caught – in a moment – the essence of good music making. Prague, yet again, proved her worth and – this time – her seasonal magic: from winter markets in the Old Town, through Figaro at the National Theatre, to performances in venues of the most sumptuous quality. What of the pupils’ response? ‘When can we go back?’
Further images are available in the Prague choir tour 2015 photo gallery.
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