International Music Festival Janacek May

The history of the music festival in Ostrava goes back to the post-war years of the previous century when we can identify the first attempts at reviving a musical life that during the inter-war years had been both rich and interesting. The city could be proud not only of the many great premieres but also of visits by world personalities such as Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith. The entire Czech performing elite played in Ostrava and the last recital of Rudolf Firkušný before he emigrated took place in Ostrava.

For the long time the festival was a normal part of the Ostrava Symphony Orchestra’s (today’s Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra, Ostrava) activities represented nothing unusual from the other numerous spring music festivals which too place in Czechoslovakia. However, in 1976 a major change took place. The festival remained under the control of the local orchestra whilst gaining the official designation ‘Janácek’s May’ and the sub-title: ‘Festival of Socialist Countries’ which enabled the organizers of the festival to introduce to Ostrava audiences the most distinguished soloists, conductors and ensembles of Central and Eastern Europe within the framework of the ‘cultural policy’ of the time.

The important break in the development of the Janácek May International Festival came as a result of the events of November 1989. The festival abandoned its sub-title and opened itself up to the entire cultural and music world in terms of programming and performance. The festival office personnel gradually became more professional and devoted all their energy to persuading the Czech, European and world musical elite to perform in Ostrava while constantly battling to obtain the necessary funding.

In the 1990s, the former prime minister and today’s President of the Czech Republic, Mr. Václav Klaus personally attended festival openings with the Lord Mayor of Ostrava. The guarantee of the Mayor of the Statutory City of Ostrava became a tradition, a lasting benefit and symbol of the important status of the festival in Ostrava and the entire region. The most distinguished international names in musical culture began coming to Ostrava, and works that it might have been unthinkable to perform at the festival previously were now being heard on a regular basis. Ostrava audiences started becoming familiar with the names of composers they had previously known only from music dictionaries. In 1996, the festival became a founding member of the Czech Association of Music Festivals and a year later a member of very prestigious European Music Association (one of the founders was the legendary Herbert von Karajan!) as the third member from the Czech Republic.

Since the early years of this millennium the festival has been represented at the most important institutions of Czech musical life such as the Czech Music Council and the ‘Czech Music 2004’ Committee and continues to cooperate closely with the most important music festivals and institutions in the Czech Republic as well as abroad. During the same period, the Janácek May International Festival has regularly appears on Czech TV and on Czech Radio. Its cooperation with daily newspapers and specialist magazines has also significantly widened. All this has contributed to a strengthening of the recognition of the unusually high quality of the Janácek May International Music Festival.