First up, my most sincere apologies to the Czech readers for the loss of all the inflections in the name Obecni dum (Municipal House). I'm just a sad English language native, and it have nightmares trying to write out all those little things on an English keyboard! Probably, I should try to find an internet version of it and just cut and paste the name, that would be easier! Obecní dům, there you go!
The Obecní dům is one of the older locations of Prague, having served as the Royal residence in the 14th century. The current building is a newer construction that was built in 1905, after the previous royal residence was abandoned and demolished.
Anyway, this post is less about the actual building, and more about the famed concert hall that it houses, the Smetana Hall, a place that I recently had the pleasure of playing in as part of the opening concert of the Prague Spring Festival.
Like many of my concert hall posts, you see a slightly different perspective to the places in comparison to what you might see as an audience member. As a musician and performer you are always entering in from the artist's entrance... the servant's entrance if you will! That means that you always have a much less fancy façade to enter through, and sometimes some problems with security if they don't realise that you are there to perform, and you don't speak the local language very well!
After passing the security, there was an interesting gate pinned up on the stairwell up to the stage level. At the time, I was wondering what it was all about... after all, it is a bit of a strange decoration to hang on a wall! Now, after reading a bit more about the history of the building, I wonder if it is a fragment of the original royal residence?
Ahhhh... these older buildings, they can sometimes have some really pleasant backstage areas. Of course, this is quite unusual.... most of the time, the backstage areas are incredibly functional, as they don't need to impress a paying public!
I'm afraid that the seats in the audience area are a lot less comfortable than your usual concert hall fare... in fact, they look more like things that came out of a antique furniture store rather than the comfy armchairs that other places can have!
The stage area was a touch cramped for a full sized Romantic orchestra. This performance was the traditional opening program of "Ma Vlast" (My Homeland) by the Czech composer, Smetana... this is always the opening concert of the Spring Festival, performed each year by an invited guest ensemble. Unusually enough, this year, they used a home-based Czech orchestra... with some additional international sprinklings!
Ma Vlast is a piece that is very familiar to most Czech players, but for international players, it is much less common to play the entire suite of symphonic poems. In fact, most musicians and audiences will only know the Moldau (google it, you probably have heard it before!).
The sides of the stage are flanked by these interesting sculptures, I'm still not entirely sure what they are supposed to be depicting... either it is a some sort of heroic and almost nationalistic posture, or a demonic melting fever dream?
When in these ornate old concert venues, I always enjoy looking upwards. Often the ceiling is just as intricately decorated as the ground level, in many cases, even more so as there is more uninterrupted space for the creators to do their thing.
Like many old European buildings, the Obecní dům really shows off in the night lighting! There is something really quite beautiful about the buildings when they are lit up in just the right way, that enhances the stateliness and grandeur that is hidden away in the mundane daylight.