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Making music with the Philharmonic

"From the top . . . ," he says. All 124 musicians respond promptly in tandem to the authoritative voice of master conductor Ondrej Lenárd. His hands wave in simple time at first, but then, as the music builds, they quicken, maniacally slicing and dicing the air between the music makers and himself.
Time is running out to catch the sounds from the 48th season of the Slovak Philharmonic since their concert series ends in June - though it was extended due to enthusiastic but small audiences demanding more.
A great deal of that success and enthusiasm rests on the shoulders of one man. Lenárd has been the principal conductor for five years, having previously been the conductor of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years. His résumé of over 1,200 recordings for radio and stage productions speaks for itself.


Can't keep those hands still. Conductor Ondrej Lenárd is enthusiastic wherever he goes.
Ron Severdia

"From the top . . . ," he says. All 124 musicians respond promptly in tandem to the authoritative voice of master conductor Ondrej Lenárd. His hands wave in simple time at first, but then, as the music builds, they quicken, maniacally slicing and dicing the air between the music makers and himself.

Time is running out to catch the sounds from the 48th season of the Slovak Philharmonic since their concert series ends in June - though it was extended due to enthusiastic but small audiences demanding more.

A great deal of that success and enthusiasm rests on the shoulders of one man. Lenárd has been the principal conductor for five years, having previously been the conductor of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years. His résumé of over 1,200 recordings for radio and stage productions speaks for itself.

Since 1978, Lenárd has been a regular guest conductor at the Shinsei Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, Japan, and became their music director and principal conductor in 1993. "It's very interesting work for me because I am glad to bring the Slovak interpretation of music to Japan," he said. "Japanese musicians are technically perfect, like clocks," Lenárd says as he mimics a violinist. "But they need to warm up their hearts and create music, not just read the notes."

If all that weren't enough for one man, in January, Lenárd became musical director of the Slovak National Opera. "I feel the symphony and the opera go hand in hand," he said, giving himself a handshake.

Juggling three positions at once doesn't seem to tire the 52-year-old maestro. In fact, Lenárd is very energetic about working with new music and new artists. "For me there hasn't been a particular musician or opera singer that I could say was the best to work with," he said. " I value all of these music-making experiences."

The burden of preparing the company's repertoire is not on Lenárd's shoulders, but largely on dramaturg Anton Viskup. Viskup played double-bass from 1972-95 until the nerves in his fingers became numb and he had to give up playing. Since that time he has been one of the Philharmonic's two dramaturgs.

Viskup's personal idea of what the musical selections should be is a little different than the final pieces. "We have a problem with contemporary music," Viskup related as he reclined in his office chair. "Through questionnaires we've found out that audiences just aren't interested in it. They have a problem with adapting from old ways and socialism to the contemporary. Nothing heavy."

Lenárd agreed. "Our listeners mostly prefer romantic music, so we have to play symphonies like "Requiem" to adjust to what they want," he said. "If the music is too difficult, like most contemporary symphonies, the listeners don't want it." he said.

Staring out the window Lenárd mused, "When the economy changed after the Revolution, we had to pay more attention to what people wanted and will come listen to."

Each new piece may be rehearsed a few weeks or only a few days before it is presented. An hour or two before each performance, a rehearsal starts showing the orchestra's true oddities. Some take their seats on the stage and play full out while others pace the room blocking out all other sounds and concentrating only on their own notes

Over the years, The Slovak Philharmonic has formed several offshoots, each having a particular style or musical emphasis. "Musica Aeterna," a chamber ensemble which started in 1973, plays music from the beginning of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century. The Philharmonic Choir also has a wide repertoire of cantatas and oratorios from the early Baroque period through the Romantic era, and up to contemporary.

But the highly popular Moyzes Quartet seems to have drawn the most attention in the classical music world today. In their 30 years of existence, the quartet has performed over a thousand concerts and recorded more than a dozen CDs. While initially playing works by the late Slovak composer Alexander Moyzes, they have managed to outlive many other quartets, such as the Slovak and Philharmonic Quartets, which came into being in the same era.

Already preparations have begun for the philharmonic's 50th season in 1998-9. There is also a great deal of hope that the weak ticket sales will get a boost due to performances of guest artists from abroad. But don't wait until next autumn to enjoy the splendors of classical music.

The Slovak Philharmonic has regular new performances until June 20th, which was extended past their usual October to May season plan due to demand.. Tickets vary from 50 to 120 SK and 50% discounts are given to military personnel, students, senior citizens and even to the unemployed.. The box office is located at Palackého 2 (Reduta) and is open Monday through Friday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.. Tickets can also be reserved by phone at 07/ 533-3351 ext. 233.

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