Event brings Czeck, Slovak arts to forefront

Josh Brunsting

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The Czech and Slovak Music and Related Arts Conference makes its debut this weekend in an effort to bring to light the deep history of arts from the two respective cultures.

The conference held at Grand Valley State University will explore the music, dance and theater that have come from the Czech and Slovak regions. It will feature performances, lectures and meals all relating to the different cultures.

Discussion and performances featuring works by composers Jans Dismas Zelenka, Jan Vanclav Vorisek and Alois Haba will be among the weekend’s special events, with a trip to Lake Michigan rounding out the event on Sunday.

The featured composers are of particular note with respect to the historical turmoil that took place in region. In the 19th and 20th centuries, much of the composers’ work went unnoticed or was shunned due to dissent toward the Roman Catholic Church by the communist Czechoslovakian government and the rise of Stalin’s Iron Curtain during WWII. Also the firebombing of Dresden, Germany on the Czech border, which some may recall as the subject of famed author Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Slaughter House Five,” invaded the cultural commentary of the time.

“This is a pure celebration of the arts of two lesser-talked about regions,” said Marlen Vavrikova, assistant professor of music at GVSU. “The conference will focus primarily on arts from the 17th and 18th centuries, but there is quite a variety of material that will be looked at during the three-day event.”

The conference will feature two keynote speakers, Bruno Nettl and Michael Beckerman, who are well known within the field of Czech and Slovak arts.

Nettl was born in Czech Republic and is currently professor emeritus of music and anthropology for the University of Illinois. Beckerman is a writer who has written several pieces of literature on Czech topics, primarily focusing on music.

Professors from universities such as Bowling Green and Northwestern will also speak during the event.

“One of the conference’s greatest aspects is that, while we have truly gifted and talented people here at Grand Valley, this has allowed us to go out and get experts on many different fields to speak here as well,” said Lisa Feurzeig, GVSU associate professor of music. “This has not only allowed us to give the public three days of interesting arts, but it will allow students, teachers and the general public to have a chance to hear world renowned scholars speak on lesser-known aspects of culture.”

The conference will feature performances and lectures on less-explored composers and will also feature a performance by the Symphonic Wind Ensemble led by director of bands at GVSU, Barry Martin.

“This is not only a great chance for students to hear their professors perform music that isn’t necessarily taught during classes, but it’s also a chance for the general public to be exposed to a much larger world,” Feurzeig said.

For those close to the production, it has also been a personal venture.

“I’m Czech myself, and after coming here in 1996, I began researching a lot of music from the region,” Vavrikova said. “I did my doctoral thesis on Czech music, and while this is the first time for the conference, there seems to be a lot of interest in it, so it’s been a really great experience putting this together.”

The conference runs until Sunday and will wrap with a recital featuring performers from the University of Akron, University of Michigan and the Flint School of Performing Arts.

For more information, and to register to attend the event, visit http://www.czechmusic.us.

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