Reflections on an end of season meeting of members of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Whether we like it or not, our very essence takes in the tones and bars that music gives. The pulse is either livelier or weaker, the passions either awakened or suppressed, in a way that is determined by tonal speech, which so many souls understand… (J. J. Ryba The Workings of Music, Rožmitál 1800)
There was a time when it was a tradition set in stone that the members of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra (PRSO) would, following the end of every concert season, look back together on the period just finished. This was not done in concert attire, but in dress of one’s own choosing. Where? It usually fell to the leading lights of the orchestra to choose a date and a venue suitable both for the official part of the farewell to the season and the subsequent, more laidback part in which, over all kinds of food and drink, members could unwind and even – at least for that one evening – share a few gloomy thoughts, if anybody had them.
This year, at 5 pm on Thursday July 17, 2010 a notable event in the modern history of the PRSO occurred: after some years the tradition of such “post-season parties” was revived in the garden at the back of the café Strop in Prague’s Balbínova St, a spot known during the year as an occasional refuge for Czech Radio employees. (It has given birth to more than a few good thoughts during breaks and in all kinds of free time…). Orchestra veterans also used to be invited, which added another dimension to these get-togethers. It was no different this July, when young (and not so young) colleagues were able to partake of elegant conversation with legends of the PRSO, conversation at times in a high spirited tone, conversation in C major. All at once two or three generations of the orchestra’s members found themselves in harmony.
Though most of our older colleagues spent their whole lives with the PRSO, today their links to it are “merely” in the heart and memory. They emanate something perhaps lacking today: a kind of professional pride in the fact much of their lives have been entwined with one excellent orchestra. Such reunions are rare for them too; in fact, they mostly only meet one another on occasions like this.
Sadly these get-togethers are sometimes tinged with sadness at the passing of colleagues. This year it was the legendary trombonist Professor Zdeněk Pulec, once well known to both listeners and concert goers, whose presence was missed. He emerged from the anonymity of the orchestra as a soloist, and thanks to his versatility was often to be seen performing at jazz and other venues. This John Amos Comenius quote is inadvertently fitting: “Look up or down, you’ll always find that one after the other disappears, or at least changes and becomes different.” The orchestra with its unchanging name is a constant in concert life, though the musicians it is made up of come and go. For that reason, this earthly miracle appears to us a living, incredibly fragile (and vulnerable) organism of people who spend in this magnificent company the greater part of their lives, and indeed often more time than with their nearest and dearest.
These orchestra players experience the musician’s life together and are very reliant on one another! How, you wonder? A large symphony orchestra, if it aims to reach the highest level, has to (even in the presence of a conductor) respect the rules of chamber playing: to listen constantly to others, to conform or be in a given moment come to the fore, even at those unavoidable moments of personal discord…Every player must possess such traits if the orchestra is to work meaningfully, even in situations when the conductor does not have a strong personality. Actually, it is at just such times that the orchestra must show its qualities! Not to mention on tours, which are always not only an artistic test but a test of members’ relations.
It is clear from this short “sketch of the life of the orchestral player” that “extracurricular” meetings of current and former PRSO members are of great importance, enriching both sides through the endless flow of conversation. We all become aware of a feeling of solidarity with our musical guild and are reminded that music is a profession that springs from a great love. The snaps you see confirm the wonderful relationship between current and former colleagues; perhaps they will convey the atmosphere of that summer evening. The meeting was in the spirit captured in the work by Jakub Jan Ryba quoted above, namely that “it is music that links hearts and friendship – and that which is more blessed than real friendship; it reigns in antagonism; it drives away bad blood and the sad maladies that arise from it, which nothing is worse than.”
Yes, what more could one want than for music to heal and please us and our listeners, both loyal and accidental, and for music to unite us all rather than divide us…
Warmly and on behalf of our orchestra, its member, humble horn player Tomáš Čechal.