My first visit to Prague was in about 1990. The Berlin wall had only just fallen and I was part of a rush of UK industrialists trying to establish relationships with the low cost production facilities now opening up in Eastern Europe.
Prague was a captivating location. I vividly remember sitting out in Wenceslas Square drinking beers with colleagues with Prague Castle dominating the landscape behind. I haven’t been back since 1992 so when Shea Lolin approached us for support for his musical venture there it struck a chord (please excuse the pun).
I first met Shea through his role in the digital organ world. A versatile multi career individual who combines playing both wind and keyboard instruments with an AV recording and broadcasting enterprise when he is not busy as a commercial drone pilot. Shortly before the Ukraine war Shea was with an international team surveying Chernobyl where he took some very haunting images of the abandoned landscape. See them here.
So this story has very little to do with organs. Any Flutes, Oboe’s, Clarinets and Cor-Anglais heard on this trip will be the real instrument, not an organ builders attempt to get a credible copy played from a keyboard.
But interestingly the group are staying very close to the Strahov Monastery which is the home of the largest pipe organ in Prague. Mozart played this very instrument on his tour of the city in 1789 It is the oldest and most historic instrument in Prague.
Crowdfunding project with Shea Lolin
I am pleased for Viscount and Regent Classic Organs to support a crowdfunding project with conductor Shea Lolin to make a recording of a woodwind orchestra with the woodwind section of the Czech Philharmonic.
The Czech Philharmonic have been hailed in The Times as being one of the top five orchestras internationally and their recording of Mahler’s Symphony No.4 conducted by Semyon Bychkov won International Record of the Year in December 2022.
You might think that crowdfunding is a relatively modern concept brought about by the wonders of the internet but actually the child genius Mozart was onto the idea 300 years ago!
Mozart lacked funds in the early 1780s and sought the financial support from his fans to go on tour to perform his three new piano concertos. The funding campaign was a disaster and so he tried again with a better strategy – to help his supporters to feel valued for their contribution. Next time round 176 people gave enough to support his tour – this time with their names and his personal thanks in the manuscripts.
The lesson for Mozart was that crowdfunding isn’t about collecting money. It’s about making something happen with a crowd of people who believe in something.
Support Shea and the Czech Philharmonic Woodwind Orchestra now by visiting their crowdfunding website.
Recording at the Dvorak Hall in The Rudolfinum
The recordings will be made at the Dvorak Hall which is part of The Rudolfinum, a complex of halls in Prague. It is seen to be the highest profile building for classical music in the city. Rehearsals will take part in smaller halls.
The acoustic is beautifully warm and resonant. Recording with a group of 19 wind players gives plenty of space for a mature and developed finish.
The repertoire will explore current British composers including works by Keiron Anderson, Judith Bingham OBE, Charlotte Harding, Christopher Hussey and Kamran Ince. There are also some very interesting connections with the repertoire and the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who had a very fruitful and important connection with Prague and it’s pipe organs.
One of the works to be recorded is Mozart’s Pets by Judith Bingham OBE. The work is set of five vignettes depicting the fond attachment Mozart had with his animals, concluding with a deep and mournful movement of a canary which Mozart reported to have had at his deathbed. There is a final and poignant solo for piccolo.
For those interested below is a short summary of Mozart’s attraction to animals.
‘Throughout his life [Mozart] showed a fond attachment to pet animals and birds. He loved playing with a favourite cat in London. Much of the family correspondence mentions their pets in Salzburg – a canary, a robin, a tomtit and the fox terrier bitch Bimperl. In May 1784 he purchased a starling for 34 kreuzers; this bird was able to whistle a near version of the finale theme of the Piano Concerto in G. [-] Mozart was so fond of his last canary that he would become upset if could not take the bird with him on outings.’
Mozart in Person, Peter J. Davies, 1989.
Many fine Pipe Organs in Prague
As well as the pipe organs in and close to the recording venue the city has a great many more fine instruments some of which I note below.
Church of St. James the Greater
The original organ, dating from 1705, is the work of famous Czech organist Abraham Starka of Loket. Over the centuries the organ underwent changes. In 1754 the first reconstruction took place by František Katzer. Again this took place in 1906 by Josef Černý and Josef Rejna. Another intervention took place in 1941. The organ then was adapted for modern composition. The last major reconstruction was carried between 1981 and 1982 where Starka’s original sounds were restored, for the most part with the original pipes, and preserved many interesting romantic colours. The present instrument has four manuals, 91 stops and 8,277 pipes.
St. Vitus Cathedral
The pipe organ went through a major rebuild and renovation in 2019.
Church of Our Lady before Týn
St Francis of Assisi Church
The St. Francis of Assisi Church, houses a unique baroque organ which was built in 1702. It is the second oldest organ in Prague and many famous personalities such as W.A. Mozart, A. Dvorák, J. F. N. Seger and others played this historic musical instrument.
Time and space preclude listing all the gems in the wonderful city of Prague but above are just a few to whet your appetite for a glorious organ crawl in the magnificent Capital City.
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Regent Classic Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.