Vivaldi concert in St Michael Monastery

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Things to do


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May, 2019

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As I think I have mentioned before, if you have a brief scan through the contents of your hotel’s tourist information flyer rack you can come across some surprising and pleasing gems that would otherwise become just ships in the night. This was the case when we recently visited Prague. Sure we had plans for Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and the Jewish quarter, but a string quartet in a Monastery at tea time playing favourites by Vivaldi, Ravel and Mozart, together with contributions from local heroes Dvorak and Smetana, this was not expected and certainly held promise.

Come the day and the venue took a little finding, secreted as it was through an archway in the back streets behind the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, but we eventually did. Up the stone stairs through a door with a reassuring poster stuck to it and we enter the ‘concert hall’ and are greeted by a low stage and an ‘auditorium’ consisting of a dozen rows of chairs with only three other people seated. Still we were a little early for the 17:00 start, so things may pick up. Choosing our seat, discretely in the third row, we get a chance to take in our surroundings, and boy did we need that time to comprehend them.

The room in which the concert was due to take place was the Baroque Library Hall, now Music Room, of the old monastery of the church of St Michael the Archangel, which was founded in 12th century. Looking up and you are greeted by something you expect to see in Renaissance Florence or some of the glories of Rome, a fabulously painted domed ceiling. The ceiling paintings show a panoramic view of the gallery of a library, interspaced with presumably a number of learned notaries from the city’s past. In the centre is a composition with angels, demons, warriors, law, learning and a virtuous lady. This needs someone like Andrew Graham Dixon to explain the full meaning behind the composition, as with this sort of thing there hidden meanings and allusions everywhere.

The audience finally grows to an impressive 10 people, strategically dotted around the room. Just before the advertised start time a man in a suit enters and steps up onto the stage and begins to check over and rearrange the seating and props. It is an easy step to imagine that this was some kind of comedy warm-up act, not unlike something akin to a Rowan Atkinson comedy sketch, but no it turns out to be just the second violin doing some pre-concert checks.

Fashionably late at 17:05 the String quartet, Gli Archi di Praga, walk out to polite applause, two violins, viola and cello, take their places and begin with some lively and dramatic Vivaldi, two pieces from the Four Seasons (Spring and Winter). In a small room like this you soon realise just how powerful a weapon violins are as they assault the assembled ears, especially in the hands of lead violin Vera Eretova, who attacked the pieces with verve and passion and whose skill shone brightly through. The others professionally played their part, taking their turn in the spotlight, but without quite the same ‘star quality’ exhibited by Vera. At this time of the evening there is beginning to be some competition from the bar in the street outside, especially during the quiet passages, but this is easily blotted out as soon as the quartet power into full swing. The program continued with old favourites from Bach, Mozart and Ravel, together with some from local heroes: Dvorak and Smetana, and concluded with a lusty blast from Bizet. Each wonderfully played with passion and skill.

When the concert ended following a couple of encores, members of the group waited by the door thanked the audience for their attendance and also apologised profusely for the sparse attendance and almost pleaded for all to spread the word. The quartet’s artistic leader, viola player Frantisek Eret, spent some time with us explaining the trials and tribulations they must overcome when trying to put on such a concert. He asked if we would be happy to take part in a short video to advertise the event on social media. We gladly agreed and with about 10 seconds to prepare we expounded about 20 seconds worth of our thoughts on the concert and to make a bid for Facebook, or YouTube, fame. Since returning home I must admit to ‘scouring’ social media seeking out our 20 seconds of fame, but have so far been unsuccessful. I am hoping that the problem is with my search skills, rather than the unthinkable scenario that we were not good enough and were left on the cutting room floor.

During my searches I have come across one or two really bad reviews of concerts (not of this quartet though) at the monastery on Trip Advisor. Reading these reviews has left me wondering what the people attending these concerts were expecting, after reading them I am left with the impression that they were expecting to experience something like La Scala, but for a much more reasonable ticket price.


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