Gap Year Travels: Modern Jazz in Prague, Mozart in Vienna

[This is the second of a series of posts about my travels through Western and Central Europe and Southeast Asia this Winter/Spring as part of my self-designed Alternative Gap Year. Click here to read more.]

I’m delighted to find similar threads emerge during our time visiting the sites here in Central and Western Europe. In Prague, Czech Republic and Vienna, Austria, we followed the thread of enchanting live music performances and performing arts events in general.

In a stone vault space with adjoining bar turned cozy and wired jazz club AghaRTA Jazz Club in Prague, we discovered the hallucinogenic power of jazz music. We lost track of time sipping Czech Pilzner beer at our candlelit café table while the modern jazz quartet tweaked at their instruments on their way to oblivion. We were transfixed by the Vibraphone (jazz Xylophone) player, who performed unspeakable musical maneuvers with four mallets in two hands. [Listen to a selection of the musician’s work here.]

Also in Prague, we saw an experimental ballet performance of Casanova by a national performing arts group called Laterna Magika (self-proclaimed first multimedia theatre) in conjunction with the Czech Republic National Theatre. The performance encompassed music and film features as well as fascinating stage design including a large mirror that was lowered and raised and angled at different points in the performance and a large sheet hung in a taught semicircle which served as a projection for the sometimes campy, other times fantastical film montage segments. Of course most interesting (and surprisingly unforeseen) was the slightly more graphic ballet interpretation of love scenes between Casanova and his various conquests, particularly the scene involving multiple parties. It was a performance of Casanova, after all.

On a side note, my enthusiastic attempt at cross-cultural literary exchange floundered: Of the five Czechs I asked, none had read any books by the Czech writer Mila Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. All merely nodded and smiled politely in acknowledgement of his name. It was good reading anyway!

We were equally charmed and astonished upon seeing a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in the dramatic St. Charles Cathedral in Vienna. [See a clip of the performance here.] The evening was made even more dramatic in that we could see our breath escaping in cool tendrils from our mouths throughout the performance. Such spaces are beyond the reach of any worldly heating apparatus, we mused. However, we were summoned from our preoccupied, shivering bodies to a place of beauty in the lofty cathedral space by the holy sounds of the instrumentalists and vocalists, who were presided over by the most stunning altarpiece I’ve ever seen: alabaster figures dancing in an asymmetrical arc, leading them up and around the gleaming gold sunburst hanging high above them.

Also fun would have been to see the performance of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Vienna English Theatre, though we did not get around to it. We’ll save that for future viewing upon our return to the States!

See more pictures on my Facebook album.

Also seen:

Strahov Monastery Brewery and Library, Prague — Beautiful library just beyond the “Cabinet of Curiosities” (read: many stuffed dead animals and insects) and an equally beautiful cheese tray at the Brewery consisting of cheeses from the Moravian and Bohemian regions of Czech Republic.

Frank Gehry’s Dancing House, Prague

John Lennon Wall, Prague — a “source of irritation” for the Communist regime in the 80’s

Old Town Prague Architecture Lit at Night — Amen.

Jewish Museum, Pinkas Synagogue, Prague — Exhibition of drawings by Jewish children undertaken through an underground art school organized by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. The art education was conducted alongside additional cultural and academic training arranged by the Jewish self-government in Terezín, the ghetto and transit camp where Jewish children and adults were housed before shipment to concentration camps beyond Czech Republic.

Haus der Musik, Vienna (House of Music) — “a discovery trip into the world of music.” What can I say? It was a charming place. One fun feature: act as virtual conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic.

Kunsthaus Wien, Vienna (Art House Vienna) — “The flat floor is an invention of the architects. It fits engines — not human beings.” This is the declaration on the “About the Uneven Floors” plaque just as you enter this museum. The exhibition dedicated to the Museum’s founder, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Austrian painter, environmentalist, architect and all around groovy eccentric, is excellent.

Technology Museum, Vienna — We spent the good part of an afternoon wandering through the interactive Energy exhibition at this extensive Museum. Also fun: the special exhibition, The Power of Music.

Butterfly House Vienna — Click here for a 3D virtual tour!

Givens:

Prague Castle Hill and Royal Gardens

Charles Bridge

Old Town Square and the Astrological Clock Tower

St. Stephan’s Cathedral and Catacombs

Schonbrun Palace and Hoffsburg Palace

Next up:

Budapest, Slovenia and Rhine Valley of Germany!

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