In mid-July, Ennio Morricone visited Prague as part of the Prague Proms concert series, which this year celebrated its 14th edition (read news).
Jorge Ortiz has collaborated with SoundTrackFest writing this extensive and detailed article, where he tells us how he lived his first Ennio Morricone’s concert, and the characteristics of the venue where it was held: the Prague Municipal House – Smetana Hall.
This past July 15th, 2018, Ennio Morricone gave a concert at the Proms festival in the beautiful city of Prague (Czech Republic). It was an atypical concert, for not being part of the ones “formally” programmed in his “The 60 years of Music Tour”.
This international festival, inspired by the famous London BBC’s concerts known as the Proms, brings to Prague every year the best of the classical music and jazz music. The core of the festival is the renowned Czech National Symphony Orchestra, capable of performing in the most diverse modalities of musical genres. The program traditionally also offers the performance of well-known foreign soloists, famous singers, or top quality ensembles and, it couldn’t be otherwise: Ennio Morricone. The Prague Proms gives to the summer in Prague a special touch.
Important conclusions that we can extract, because they concern us directly: Morricone did not work on this occasion with his inseparable orchestra, his usual choirs and accompanists, but with the nothing despicable help – although Morricone had already played before with them – of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and the Kühn Choir of Prague with Stefano Cucci and Lenka Navrátilová as choirmasters. Some time ago, Morricone became a regular guest year after year in Prague, but he had missed the last seven editions, so his intervention in 2018 was even more special and expected.
Here, in this section of the prologue, if we took into account the history, architecture, and foundations of the building, we could recall even the historical events that caused the great contest of the “30-years War” but the only relevant thing for this article is the music, and how over the first Royal Palace, after many catastrophes and fires, was built later what is now “The Municipal House of Prague” and the “Smetana Hall” where we anxiously awaited the start of a great concert.
This splendid concert hall is one of Prague’s most impressive and important architectural achievements. Classical music is usually recurrent in this room where the decorative details and its majesty, do not detract from the splendid acoustics -which is the highest goal that any concert hall must hold and, of course, the Smetana hall, as I’ll recall later, accomplished with honors.
As you can see from the photos, this is not Morricone‘s typical concert from his 60-year-old tour, in huge auditoriums and with his most famous pieces. Here the audience barely exceeds a thousand listeners and as I will detail below, the repertoire is not the typical (although it is true that a part of the program is played and shared in his tour, as you can see in the articles written by Gorka Oteiza about other Morricone’s concerts on his tour – like the one in Rome [link] or the one in Turin [link] -).
The anxiety to get to the concert did not make me conscious to arrive in due time. Only three minutes separated me from Krizikova metro station and, in just two more stops -other three minutes- I would be in Namesti Republiky, very close from the majestic blackness of the historic “Powder Tower” -with an original Gothic door of the city of the fifteenth century that is still preserved- (adjoining to my destination: The Municipal House). I saw it so close in time that I was almost late.
But it really was not my fault, especially because the problem was that I did not expect the slowness of the tremendous queue waiting to take a seat. The tickets were QR codes and I thought that with a reader everything would go very fast, but instead, I found that the tickets were checked one by one, by name and surname on a classic list of paper with a pen. This, of course, made the entrance to the venue very slow and long.
Once inside, the lighting only changed to a neutral blue during the whole concert, without great developments, especially to separate the orchestra area from the choir. So we had a very sober lighting throughout the performance, highlighting only what is really important: the music of Ennio Morricone.
During these days, the unique and famous astronomical clock of Prague was stopped and covered for renewals. And there is an old Czech legend that says that every time this clock stops it is because something terrible is going to happen to the country. This preamble is to justify that noting when the concert began, how much it was delayed, how long the intermission lasted, or the time of the encores… well, I thought about taking it into account and writing it down, but once in place, if there was something that I intended ignoring was, without a doubt, time. I cannot fully engage in an event at the stroke of the clock because genius cannot be measured in minutes and, of course, I wanted to feel total freedom of movement. I had not planned the time of the metro back to my hotel and, to be honest, I didn’t even know if I was going to return straight away after the event.
In fact, I can say that I thought about recording the concert, even if it was in very poor quality for two reasons: the first to be able to completely get lost in the concert, and secondly, because then I could always make a small reminder of such an important moment and, in addition, just in case it was necessary to write a few lines (as I finally have). However, before anyone left the stage, they warned in Czech and English that it was absolutely forbidden during the concert to take photos or recordings… Which killed my initial idea, and that is why writing about this concert is more difficult for me than the usual.
After this announcement, the choir came on stage with the orchestra sitting in their respective chairs. Ennio Morricone came shortly after, receiving, as it could not be otherwise, a huge and strong applause from the audience. After corresponding, he sat down in an ergonomic office chair (there he had a bar where he could hold to stand up, stand down, turn to thank the audience or, even, as in the end, greet the main orchestra musicians).
The program was the following:
Although I will not be very strict and rigorous, I will try to follow, in the best way possible, the program of the concert for this article:
The first part before the intermission consisted of two grandiose themes (mix of different fragments of whole works) where Ennio Morricone built a great foundation for the concert: The Bible “Creation & The Babel Tower” and Vuoto d’anima piena (Mystic Cantata for choir and orchestra).
The theme The Bible “Creation & The Babel Tower” mixes Morricone’s “The Bible” (TV) and “The Creation” and “The Tower of Babel”.
What do we find when we start with Morricone baton in hand? After reading Gorka‘s articles from Turin and Rome I would have preferred “The Legend of the Pianist in the Ocean” – one of my weaknesses-.
However, I did not disdain to be given something new and so great. Therefore, Morricone began with a splendid theme of choir and orchestra. The orchestra supported, especially with the help of the strings, some magnificent choirs like I had never heard before.
We can believe in the symbolism of the Creation according to the Bible or be more of the Big Bang and the scientific level, but no matter how much our beliefs separate us, if there is something that we would all always reach an agreement with, it is that while the Universe was being created, if any music had been played, without a doubt would be this theme by Morricone with a great show of choirs. There were times when the choir worked with three and four voices (up to four and five choir directors).
And an extremely remarkable moment was when, in the middle of the first part, Morricone conducted “The Tower of Babel”. During that brief moment, all the components of the choir performed on their own “risk” in a different language independent from the rest. And in spite of such diversity of voices there reigned an absolute harmony. I remember as an anecdote how a woman of the choir, while performing one of the languages (in which God confused the man for his arrogance wanting to become his own God reaching to heaven), smiled while singing as she realized the great vocal challenge that they were executing in that precise moment: a picaresque smile of beautiful madness, before such a challenge to the music, that Morricone had made possible.
Impeccable and unforgettable “The Bible” by Morricone. And yes, during this long theme, happened the only solo – and in fact, the only intervention – of the substitute of Susanna Rigazzi, who by the way, was fantastic. (Without a doubt, I think she could have been of more use in many themes that we missed during the concert)
After a brief pause the theme Vuoto d’anima piena (Cantata Mistica for flute, chorus and orchestra) came, where the choir was the great protagonist, as in the whole first part. And of course, it would be unfair not to mention the flute with some very significant passages.
It was time for the intermission, and before entering the venue we had noticed the ladies’ evening gowns and the gentlemen’s suits, typical of an opera session, although, being in Prague, diversity reigned without giving truce (in fact neither Morricone wore his typical white bow tie, and he was wearing his classic jacket and dark gray sweater as in the photos of the program).
Although I consider myself a Castilian-Spanish gentleman, I did not mix with the Prague elite. But that did not stop me from taking a white wine -the occasion deserved it- while I remained mixed and lost in something that was totally new to me, and only made everything more delightful in that unique but unrepeatable moment.
The bells rang, announcing the beginning of the second part, where, for better or for worse, the chorus sat and just listened to a sequence full of exquisite and strange themes – strange at least for me, with my limitations on the knowledge of the neat and vast work from Ennio Morricone -.
Giovanni Falcone, l’uomo che sfido Cosa Nostra – “Varianti su un segnale di polizia” (dir. Andrea & Antonio Frazzi – 2006)
It is true that I hardly knew this piece and for me it was another good discovery. Morricone never plagiarizes himself and here a darker Morricone could be glimpsed, closer to the fear that produces the danger and the constant threat. A very dark theme that showed us, again, the wide range of Italian maestro.
Sicilo e altri frammenti (2007)
The epitaph of Sycilus dedicated to his wife, is considered the oldest musical fragments preserved today. This theme and other fragments help me point out that, during the whole concert, Morricone did not stop after each theme, but he used to mix several of them in a long suite. Hence, it would be difficult to recognize where one ended and another began. I do not justify myself, I only accept my limitations – since I did not know this piece beforehand – and I did not recognize this composition in the second part of the concert. Therefore, I cannot add anything about this mythical theme and the arrangements Morricone prepared.
Ostinato ricercare per un’immagine (2009)
It would translate to “stubborn search for an image”. The title tells us that, but what does music tell us?
From my ignorance I think that this piece does not belong to any film but was composed for the 80th anniversary of maestro Morricone… but I might be wrong.
But what does the music tell me? Stubborn sounds very repetitive and sharp, but the music tells me that the image that Morricone is looking for is not that of an obsessive compulsive but that of someone who looks for a beautiful and luminous image, that can justify those 80 years and many years in film music. I feel free to guess, because Morricone’s music is for dreaming and for flying. Morricone used to compose for Leone without having seen any images, and then he score during the filming, but it is normal for the composer to write the music on the images that the director prepares. Is this a remembrance of his beginnings?
Bugsy (dir. Barry Levinson – 1991)
This theme is usually played in other crowded concerts and I will not go into too much detail. Trumpet, elegance, evocation, a bit of love, and to believe firmly in arriving (achieving), at all costs, the goal (the marked objective).
H2S (dir. Roberto Faenza – 1969)
This piece also tends to be appear from time to time in his multitudinous concerts, but it should be noted that the piano, hidden during almost the entire concert, resurfaces here not only accompanying, but with a solo passage, screaming for that opportunity that it lacked until then.
Metti, una sera a cena “Uno che grida amore” (dir. Giuseppe Patroni Griffi – 1969)
I always wait when I read the show and I see “Metti, una sera a cena” the tremendously sensual vocalized theme of the original movie with Florinda Bolkan as an actress. In fact I have it on my YouTube channel but it is normal that sometimes, like this concert, can be quite out of tune. Lately it is very normal at Morricone’s concerts to hear the instrumental theme without that sensual voice. “Uno que grida amore” is a theme that is good but very far from the magnificence of the aforementioned theme.
It was welcome, although we would have preferred the classic theme of the film.
Baaria “Tarantella” (dir. Giuseppe Tornatore – 2009)
Here we did not see the most reactionary and Tarantinian Ennio Morricone (as in “Inglourious Basterds”) but at times it was very close. Although it encompasses everything, he puts music -not to mention hymn- to the Italian people and their evolution through history. Morricone is Italian and Italy would not be the same without Morricone; and the profound portrait of his country made by the maestro in this melody, is not too light to finish the concert but, of course, it makes up for it, by being cheerful and revitalizing.
Ennio Morricone is not exactly one of those who leave the public dissatisfied. Normally he is generous after finishing the concerts, performing several classic themes that people expected to hear.
In Prague you also have to understand the situation and the place, and the concert will not be specially remembered by the maestro’s encores. He only came out once to perform, completely, and as you can see in any YouTube video, a suite from ‘The Mission’.
And finally we were able to listen to the oboe and, once again, that magnificent choir, but at full capacity, dancing back to its rhythm after being silent in the second half.
After the encore of “The Mission” -which I understand is epic and incredible- he said goodbye, making clear that it was the only one and that he really was going away, no matter how much we applauded. I do not know, it was my first Morricone concert and I leave it to your opinion but I did not like the way he did it… but he is Morricone and he has earned the right to do whatever he wants. Even my new Galician friend (who I met at that concert), missed some of the western movies pieces such as “The ecstasy of gold”. And yes, I have said it well; to go to a foreign country to listen to Ennio Morricone and find that your seat mate is Galician can only happen in Prague.
It was a special concert outside of his regular tour, yes, but… when I read the programs of his usual concerts, I see that we had so much to listen and to live…
At the beginning I say that I would talk about the wonderful acoustics of the Smetana Hall, and I only have my word to prove it, because my career is not very extensive attending live concerts, but as an anecdote, I can say that I was sitting so close to Ennio Morricone, that in a certain moment of silence I could listen to him doing it: turning pages of his score (completely true).
Of course the acoustics was marvelous and only the faint random and distant crunch of the old wooden chairs, broke the majestic sound of the hall. And talking about the orchestra, choirs and others, I can assure you that the pieces we heard at the concert, sounded exactly the same as they can be heard on the CDs (not like in other videos of other concerts, where some instruments were not fine-tuned).
At the end, my new Galician friend and I left the Smetana Hall, and ended up, at his suggestion, in a typical Irish Pub nearby (as if nothing had happened, as if nothing had changed) where they were playing Guns’N’Roses while it was time for an insignificant group to play live any nonsense music with insipid lyrics. It was not the desired epilogue after such a dream concert, but we were in Prague and life, paralyzed for almost three hours, continued and… yes: despite going back to reality, everything had changed, I was no longer the same and there was no turning back.
Despite the “cons” exposed, it was a magnificent concert where, of course, we always want more because we have our predilections, temptations, weaknesses, or themes that meant something very special in our life… and we would always like to hear them, to remember other moments or fly to wonderful future eras. But the inexorable and damned clock, did not allow it. And Morricone continues tirelessly with his last tour, until one day… it will be the last and final concert.
It is not being pessimistic, it is knowing that I have had a unique opportunity to hear and see, live, the great maestro, and I have fulfilled one of my dreams!
I could enter into my personal story and say how, as a child, I heard, played and enjoyed with his album “For a Few Dollars More”. I can even put a sentimental flavor when I remember that golden sticker on the album that had a magnificent and innovative “Stereo” mark, or my father’s prohibition against scratching the record, and so many other details… But I’m not going to fall for it because everyone reading this article… well, we have our own story.
At least there’s something that is clear to me, and it is that if I have the opportunity to see him again… I will do it! If I have to go back to Prague to see him, with my Galician friend, in the huge O2 venue in Prague in six months, I’ll go if I can afford it.
And just one accurate conclusion to end this article: we cannot waste any opportunity to see maestro Ennio Morricone performing his music live, for as long as we can.
Article by Jorge Ortiz