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Friday, 02 May 2014 12:42

Prague: City of Music

Written by  Geri Bain

Europe-Chech
With its ancient hilltop castle, picturesque river and cobblestone squares lined with ornate architecture, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Yet what sets it apart for many visitors is the wonderful music that fills the city’s churches, concert halls and streets.

A special year for music
It makes sense that music should be so integral to Prague. The city has inspired and been home to renowned composers including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Czech-born Gustav Mahler. Mozart, whose former home is now a museum, conducted the world premiere of his famed opera Don Giovanni at the lovely 18th century gold-capped Prague Estates Theatre Opera. Seeing the opera performed in this historic setting is pure magic.

This is a special year for music lovers in Prague as the city celebrates the once-every-decade “Year of Czech Music” with special concerts around the city. This year, special attention will be paid to four Czech music anniversaries - composers Antonín Dvorák (who died 110 years ago), Leos Janácek (born 160 years ago), Bedrich Smetana (born 90 years ago), and the Prague Symphony Orchestra (founded 80 years ago). For example, Dvorák, whose works include the New World Symphony, conducted the first concert given by the Czech Philharmonic at Dvorák Hall in the ornate Rudolfinum, and the Czech Symphony will be completing a two year project, performing and recording live all nine Dvorák symphonies in the Hall this year.

Music all around
During the warmer months, strollers are never far from a street entertainer, who might be performing rock music, gypsy ballads or a Mozart string quartet. The biggest crowd-pleaser during a recent visit was a brass band in faux military-style attire with gold-fringed epaulets and big brass buttons; they were playing the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine from atop the Charles Bridge Tower. An ensemble dressed in traditional outfits playing folk songs near the entrance to Prague Palace also attracted an appreciative audience. Be sure to check event listings; there are some wonderful free scheduled outdoor concerts as well. Plus, many restaurants and clubs, such as Café Mozart at Old Town Square, combine great music with fine cuisine.

Prague Castle, perched on a cliff overlooking the city, has several historic performance venues. Classical concerts are held every day at lunch time at the Concert Hall at Lobkowicz Palace and in the evening at St. George’s Basilica, the city’s best-preserved Romanesque church. Concert tickets can be purchased as part of a visit to Prague Castle.

Old town classics
A number of historic churches in Old Town provide moving settings for classical concerts as well. St Nicolas Church on Old Town Square is known for its fine acoustics and lovely white facade, and the 13th century St. Jilji Church is acclaimed for it frilly Baroque interior and 1737 concert organ. Other magnificent concert venues in Old Town include the Baroque St. Salvator Church at Charles Bridge, St. Clement’s Cathedral and the Hybernia Theatre on Republic Square. In the nearby Jewish Quarter, Haydn and Mozart are among the composers who played at St. Simon & St. Jude Church, while the Spanish Synagogue provides a unique setting for early evening concerts.

Many of the city’s concert halls are worth visiting as much for their architectural splendor as their music. One of the prettiest is the gilded Art Nouveau Municipal House, where the Smetana Concert Hall hosts top orchestras, while the Neo-Renaissance Rudolfinum’s Dvorak concert hall is home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. The colorful Mirror Chapel at the Klementium, where Mozart once played the organ, is another unforgettable setting.

Clients who don’t want the music to ever stop will enjoy the sumptuous five-star Aria Hotel. Each room is themed to a different music or musician and music permeates the hotel, from its music library, screening room and cozy music salon to its museum-worthy decor. In fact, the Aria Hotel may be the only hotel in the world with a Music Director, who provides advice about current cultural and musical events in the city. Its spectacular roof garden and private access to baroque Vrtbovska Garden also makes Aria Hotel a romantic spot for honeymoons and weddings.

Folklore and more
Art lovers, shoppers and history buffs will also find plenty to love in Prague, a historic gem of a city. The storied cobblestone streets of Old Town and the Mala Strana areas are lined with interesting shops selling colorful marionettes, antiques, jewelry and other crafts, while Parizska ulice (Paris Street) is lined with elegant stores selling luxury brands.

Clients will also want to explore New Town, a commercial district that actually dates back to the 14th century. With its many department stores, theaters, nightclubs and hotels, the area bustles with energy day and night. This vibrant neighborhood is also home to the National Museum, and Wenceslas Square, actually a grand boulevard where residents gather for important political events as well as seasonal markets and outdoor concerts. One of the most colorful times to visit is during the Prague Folklore Days, an annual three-day festival at the end of July (July 24-27, 2014) which brings free performances by folkloric groups from across Europe to the city’s main squares.

Getting to Prague this summer is easy. Delta Air Lines resumes its seasonal nonstop service from New York’s JFK starting May 23, with connections from many U.S. cities, and in Canada, AirTransat offers weekly (Tuesday) flights from Montreal and Toronto from June 17 to October 17.

For more information, including a music map, visit www.praguewelcome.cz/en/music-in-prague (including a music map) and www.yearofczechmusic.cz (for events in the Czech Republic and the world) and www.czechtourism.com

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