The CPCO: A Triumphant and Continuing Story
The "Velvet Revolution" of 1989 brought about a resurgence of artistic activity in Prague which, along with Vienna, has been one of the two central European hubs for intellectuals and artists for over 800 years. With this resurgence came the unrestricted rejuvenation of international touring by one of the world's major chamber orchestras, the celebrated Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra.
The orchestra presently known as the CPCO was founded in 1977 by Pavel Prantl and colleagues from the world-renowned Czech Philharmonic. There were a number of short-lived precursors in the preceding 100-odd years. The orchestra debuted successfully under a series of internationally respected conductors including Josef Suk, Vaclav Neumann and Libor Pesek, though in general the CPCO performs without conductor. The orchestra has since come to be internationally known and lauded for the characteristic sound of its "Czech Strings" -an expression that applauds the Czech tradition of sensitivity to sonority and unique tone color (something often lost in today's climate of homogenized sound whether it hails from London, Rome or New York). Not surprisingly, this unique sensibility and mellifluous sound are pedigree traits from the CPCO's namesake, the Czech Philharmonic. Today the CPCO includes prominent musicians from both the Czech Philharmonic and Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra (SOČR).
The CPCO's international reputation broadened with its 1983 tours of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Italy, though these tours were still under the strict control of the Soviet-based regime of the time. All repertoire and soloists were subject to 'approval' by apparatchiks and all tours were chaperoned by Soviet 'minders.' Still, the CPCO enjoyed critical and popular success at that time and those early tours lead to return engagements. In the mid-1980s, the political landscape in Prague began a profound change; before the end of that decade exiled Artistic Director Pavel Prantl (then concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony and Director of the Hong Kong Arts Academy) was invited to resume his post. Prantl immediately lead the CPCO on a series of tours throughout Europe and Asia. Finally, after an absence of many years, the CPCO returned to America under the auspices of Stanton Management to mark the 10th Anniversary of the "Velvet Revolution" in October 1999. The triumphant success of that tour lead to successive CPCO tours to the USA in 2001 and 2003. Now CPCO looks ahead to its 30th Anniversary with a North American Tour in October 2007.
The CPCO has recorded for many major and independent record labels since its inception and regularly garners such awards as the "Grand Prix du Disque." Since the late 1990's the CPCO has found new fame in diverse recording situations. Recent and coming DVD releases have included the "Bride of the Wind" (the life of Alma Mahler, soundtrack on Deutsche Grammophon); Gounod's opera "Romeo & Juliet" (for BBC4 and PBS Great Performances); "Land of the Mammoth" (Discovery/Artisan DVD); and the Academy Award nominated film "Most" ("The Bridge" in English), among many others. At the same time, the CPCO has continued to record both standard and contemporary repertoire with artists and composers ranging from Finland to England to the USA to Australia for a broad variety of record companies. In May 2006, MusicWeb (the UK's major classical review site) wrote that the CPCO recording of the formerly obscure York Bowen "Viola Concerto" with violist Doris Lederer "is the choice offering a truly vibrant recording" among no fewer than three recordings of this wonderful Romantic gem released within 12 months of each other.
Soloists for the 30th Anniversary tour in October 2007 are the much-recorded oboist Jana Brožková (solo oboe of the Czech Philharmonic and the CPCO) and the young Czech violin virtuoso Barbora Kolářová, who has performed as soloist with the CPCO on multiple tours in the EU.
[Note: listed credits on some film and television DVDs and CD soundtracks note CPCO's alternate title, "Czech Screen Orchestra," often used due to contractual matters with various film and television entities.]
"Yet another artistic triumph for our treasured Czech Philharmonic
Chamber Orchestra under the leadership of its Artistic Director Pavel Prantl."
- Prague Post (C. R.)
"The exquisite artistry and unmistakably Czech sound of the performance,
which could exhaust one's supply of superlatives, rewarded the full hall."
- Luzerner Tagblatt (Switzerland)
"Our neighbors from the Czech Republic proved once again that the string
sound for which they are famous is indeed thriving. From Haydn to Dvorak
to more contemporary offerings, the finesse of the playing (without the aid or hindrance
of a conductor) was a truly artistic experience."
- Westfalenpost (Germany)
"Both evenings of the return of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
provided very different programs than their previous appearances. The
Mozart Divertimenti received flawless execution...their Rossini would rival that
to be heard anywhere in our country. We hope that we must not wait another
five long years for the next return."
- Il Tempo (Italy)
"The precision and artistry of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
are a wonder to behold. Not only is each note perfect, each phrase is a
study in musicality. And, the musicality is very distinctly Czech and not
a copy of the current prescribed method of performing a particular work." -
Journal de Geneve (Switzerland)
"TANTALIZING INTIMACY [Headline] This week, two [similar]
ensembles performed here. The two programs were prepared in diametrically
different ways, but the intimacy and finesse of the playing of both ensembles
was ample testimony to the value of the exercise...
The Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1977, performed 16
concerts over 22 days in Japan. Composed of members of the Czech
Philharmonic Orchestra, the ensemble was making its fourth appearance here.
The program included a number of melodic chestnuts. A case in point was
the opening work, the slow movement from Bach's Third Suite for orchestra,
marked Air, commonly referred to as the "Air on a G String." It
was far from a casual rendition, and the delicacy of bow strokes and sensitivity
of the ensemble were transfixing. Pachelbel's beloved Canon was
interpreted with judicious subtlety. The contrapuntal mix was made to
sound not only beautifully expressive but also beautifully balanced.
“An early Beethoven Symphony and a
late Mozart piano concerto were featured as the Czech Philharmonic Chamber
Orchestra presented an impressive concert. The [orchestra], led by
concertmaster and artistic director Pavel Prantl, was in excellent form all
The concert began with the so-called “Hippochondria Overture” by 18th
century Czech composer Zelenka. The ensemble produced a sound of substantial
resonance that maintained intensity even at the lowest dynamic levels.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, composed in 1786, featured the young
Welsh pianist Richard Ormrod in the solo role. The first movement was all
genteel elegance, and Ormrod negotiated his part with clarity and evenness of
tone. Ormrod’s hands fairly floated above the passagework, rendering it with a
graceful fluidity that would be difficult to surpass. The slow movement
was impressive. The conductorless orchestra captured the expressive melancholy
perfectly, caressing the passing dissonances affectionately before surrendering
them reluctantly to the next phrase. It is hard to imagine a more sensitive
treatment of this movement, by soloist or orchestra, with or without a
As successful as the Mozart concerto was, the performance of Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 1 may well have been the highlight of the evening. The ensemble’s
crisp, neatly accented phrases and careful use of dynamics kept the work lively.
The finale was delightfully coquettish and invigorating. An enthusiastic
audience demanded an encore, and the orchestra obliged with a zestful
performance of Mozart’s overture to “The Marriage of Figaro.”
- Green Bay Press Gazette (02/23/2001)
To borrow from one of their country’s outstanding writers, they play
with an unbeatable lightness of bowing. Lightness of spirit, radiance – these
are the qualities this extraordinary ensemble projected in Sunday afternoon’s
program for the Los Alamos Concert Association.
Their playing is distinguished by something far beyond their dazzling
technical ability and faultless unity, which seem taken for granted. There is a
quality of the heart, one might even say the soul, that binds the group. They
aim deeper than the adrenaline-high favored by many performers these days. As
natural as breathing, Sunday’s performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony
flowed with an easy restrained grace that at the same time had sinew and
- Los Alamos Monitor (10/20/1999)
Available for Fall 2007:
Pavel Prantl, Artistic Director
Jana Brozkova, oboe
Barbora Kolarova, violin
Sample venues from 1999, 2001 and 2003 United States tours are listed below.