Our region’s major festivals include
Prague Spring Festival, Dvořák’s Prague, Janáček Festival Brno, Smetana Litomyšl
Opera Festival, Leipzig Bachfest, Dresdner Musikfestspiele, Eisenach Bach Weeks,
and the Bratislava Music Festival.
The Czech and Slovak Republics are neighbouring states in the heart of Europe, joined by a common history and by friendly relations between their peoples. They are proud of the richness of their musical tradition, reflected in many concert series and music festivals. International guest performers from around the world are drawn by the appreciative audiences and the beauty of the concert venues.
Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and its most popular tourist destination. The city has an exceptional number of historical monuments, and its architectural heritage and magical atmosphere are unique in Europe. At the same time it offers visitors a broad range of cultural options whether in the visual arts, theatre or music. Amongst the most important dates in the festival calendar are the Prague Spring Festival, Dvořákova Praha and Strings of Autumn. Opera performances in the three historic buildings of the Czech National Theatre take place all year round. The Estates Theatre, famous for its Mozart productions, is the only surviving venue where Mozart himself conducted, most famously at the premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787.
Brno, known as the Moravian metropolis, is well-known for its relaxed ambiance and lively cultural scene. The biennial Janáček Festival (in November) pays tribute to the composer, who spent much of his adult life in the city, and attracts a wide range of enthusiasts from far and wide. It features opera productions and symphonic concerts, as well as chamber music in Janáček’s former house. The Moravian Autumn Festival, held annually in October, features international performers in a range of symphonic and chamber concerts.
The Slovak capital is picturesquely located on the River Danube near to the border with Austria and Hungary, which makes it a great base for exploring the entire region. For example, Vienna is a mere hour’s drive away. However, Bratislava itself has plenty to offer by way of historic charm in the compact Old Town full of pavement cafés and quirky restaurants. There is a brand-new opera house, as well as a charming historic one, and the Slovak Philharmonic orchestra organises the Bratislava Music Festival, which takes place each year in September/October. The nearby Little Carpathian mountains, famed for their vineyards and good food, are a popular destination for day trips.
Germany’s varied cityscapes offer a wealth of both historical monuments and keynote modern buildings. Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig can boast exceptional museum collections and art galleries and first-class concert halls. Festivals such as the Leipzig Bachfest or the Dresdner Musikfestspiele are a guarantee of top quality programming and feature leading international artists.
The German capital is a city buzzing with creative energy, forward-looking but still marked by the signs of a tumultuous past, whether as political centre of the Third Reich or as a divided territory during the Cold War. The city has exclusive shopping streets, trendy alternative districts, smart restaurants, cosy pubs and cafés, world-class museums and a cultural life that offers something for everyone. Music lovers can take their pick of two major symphony halls (Philharmonie and Konzerthaus) and three opera houses (Deutsche Oper, Staatsoper and Komische Oper) as well as a host of less conventional venues. The excellent Museum Card gives access to almost all the city’s significant collections, including those on the famous Museum Island.
Leipzig, a city with a great mercantile history and a corresponding sense of civic pride, is likely to draw music lovers with its unparalled range of connections to some of the major figures in German – and European – musical history. Bach, Wagner, Mendelssohn and Schumann all spent productive periods here, and festivals celebrating their contribution are based in the city, the most famous being the Bachfest, centred on performances in Bach’s Thomaskirche and the Gewandhaus concert hall. The choir of the Thomaskirche can look back on an unbroken tradition of liturgical music going back before Bach’s day and the Gewandhaus Orchestra dates back to the 18th century. Their traditions combine in annual performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in December or the St. John and St. Matthew passions at Eastertide. A visit to Leipzig can easily be combined with an excursion to nearby Dresden.
Known as Florence on the Elbe thanks to its magnificent baroque buildings, the city suffered devastating bombardment during the Second World War, but many of the majestic palaces and imposing churches have now been completely restored or rebuilt, including the famous Frauenkirche and the Semper Opera. The Dresdner Musikfestspiele every May features concerts in these and other historic venues.
The list of Central European cities which repay exploration by the culturally-minded visitor is a long one. Vienna, Krakow, Zagreb, Budapest are just some of the most obvious.
In the whole of Austria there are over 200 festivals of music and dance annually, ranging from world-class events to smaller regional enterprises. Vienna itself is widely considered as the city of music par excellence. Its musical institutions from the Vienna Opera to the Musikverein have fostered a stunning range of musical talent and the tradition is very much alive today.
Krakow is Poland’s most important cultural centre with countless theatres, museums and galleries. Amongst the numerous festivals are the Summer Opera Festival, the International Theatre Festival or the Krakow Festival of Early Music. The Jewish Cultural Festival takes place in September.
Whilst Croatia’s pristine coastline has drawn tourists in recent years, the picturesque and historic country of the interior has received much less attention. Zagreb, the capital, has much to offer by way of monuments, bustling markets and a lively cultural scene, including the Music Biennale Zagreb, dedicated to 20th century and contemporary music.