The Czech Republic has a long and violent history, linked to its geographic vulnerability, being land-locked by Poland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary – yet the city of Prague has few external scars of these European and World Wars. The city is situated astride the Vltava and vestiges of the stone-age can be found at a nearby site. The historic, and much photographed and painted, bridge of Charles IV joins the two sides of the river, and was constructed in the l4th century (a second bridge not being built for a further five hundred years). Christianity was brought to the region by the Greeks in the fifth century and Prague has been referred to as the city of a hundred spires. Wenceslas built St Vitus Cathedral in the tenth century; he was later martyred. The Charles University is one of the oldest in Europe, and Prague Castle was one of two hundred and fifty in Czechoslovakia. Prague has a rich musical heritage: Don Giovani was premiered in the city; Liszt and Beethoven had close associations; and Prague was the home of Smetana, Dvorak and Janacek. Tours included the Museum of Dvorak’s birthplace and a trip to Melnik Castle that overlooked the confluence of the Vltava and Elbe Rivers. The trip was sponsored by Glaxo.
We were gratefuI to the daughter of the late Vaclav Smetacek, Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, for her help with the visit. For the first time we performed the Messiah on tour; this was in the beatutiful setting of St Stephen’s Church which is frequently used for broadcasting. Other church concerts included that in Emauzy, where we performed the Rutter Requiem, and we took part in a service at St Iesulus, performing the Nelson Mass, followed by a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No 7. Our small group concert was given in the magnificent Martinu Hall and included some wind music by this composer.