Richard Ozanne

  1959 -
  City of Birth:
St Louis

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"The Music of Prague Czech...A Personal Story" 


Date Range: 03/03/1995 To 03/03/2003   Comments: 1   Views: 12,714
Attachments: Yes [6 Images,3 Audio]

"The German Theater" in Prague
Czech Republic

 Music of Prague
A Personal Story with Metaphore
Richard Ozanne    . c.2003
Memories have it, relating only to journals how the past effects the present, and then the future and back again.
I have made many notes in my journals of the memories of Prague. Indeed music has influenced me, in some ways more than authors or philosophers.
I had the beauty within my heart to create. And how these gems were to be manifested were almost metaphysical.
To the sounds of beautiful things there are many memories,
and to the sound of ugly things not much variety..
Richard Ozanne     96/1997.
When I came to Prague immediately there was a spiritual awakening within me. This was the land of Mozart and honey, Chopin and Smetna as well as many others who had past this way. Could I ever be part of this legacy or was I a mere tourist set to enjoy what was there and leave that world to mystery.
I am an artist. I love music. During the course of my life I had never let my art go, even though things seemed outstanding and almost deliberate. Still I found a place to practice, and enjoy this facility to make the best out of it. How many wonderful things Prague had. Rosters upon rosters of pianists playing every nights and fine musicians playing every night. I saw many names who I knew or had before
on rosters of upcoming performances. Still after all these years music was a part of me.
During my travels as an artist I always would seek a place to practice and play. It was always a balance game. Art-Music-Art, if allowed. My parents were musicians and concert pianists. I am not a "concert pianist" , except in a gesture of some things that I remember, and things I did along the way. Left to mere memory, I go back to prague and remember little opportunities with metaphore, that were signatures between the lines and a few hopes and dreams realized in a vapour of which was the past in chances and opportunities.
When I first came to Prague the immediacy of trying to balance my life between my art and music brought me to a man called Sovoda who had lived his life in the arts being one of the promoters of the former regime, and dedicated his life towards beauty and art. It was from his small shop to his studio that he would organize exhibitions and events from a little office in Wenseslas Square. Sovoda had helped me organize exhibitions for my art both large and small during the time I lived in Prague. He was an aesthete tucked away from the sometimes overpowering "new culture" of rap and wrap, rock and punk...what he called the ironic and disturbing thunder, not necessarily in his own words but those descriptive of his gestures and heavy attitude of "kulture".
Now not many people might remember him. He passed on several years ago, but his memories will go on. His connections used to be vast and the people he worked with so-called legends of days gone past. He was a ghost, a legend and speaker of culture from his commanding post of a small office just left of the clock tower heading down to Starometska and across from the place that was taken up by the modern TGI Fridays. That office had been gutted and replaced the last time I visited Prague and even the strairway had been changed. There was a new clothing shop there and a new botique where there used to be a small art gallery that was closed in on the front and opened on the back with both old and new art being displayed.

Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic)
Are there any memories here by others of this man?

Mr Vasclav Sovoda..age 68 (so he said he was old), A Man with a stern face and trimmed smile, who could speak abruptly and would often snap sharply. He was a direct man with a great unknown sadness written into his face as though it were painted by a fee man and finished off in totalitaranism. There was a feeling of a man whos shadow was so long it could reach the horizion,, yet he would laugh in a very sharp way at silly things. His penetrating eyes were like small beads knitted into his face. He would smoke the bluntest and smelliest cigarettes without a filter, with a scent so sharp it could curl your nostrils.
He was the chief of a Goskoncert style office in Czechoslovakia at one time. (Goskoncert was the Soviet cultural organization...of course I forget the name of the Czech organization, he never refered to one precisely, but one or two that took their place after 89')

  • 1968-1989 Václav Neumann

    Apparently he worked with many conductors and soloists...but kept pointing to Neumann as being the best.

    Mr. Sovoda had a piano, a rare 1950's Concert Grand thickly covered in the back of his gallery that he would only rarely uncover.
    He would demand: "If you can play...Play! If you love music you will play all your life. But if you dont play...dont Play. Let it aside for others who play, and enjoy this "music". Otherwise leave it alone!" (He would command!) as some people would come in and jimmie off the thick colored blanket and attempt to play some jazz or some other kind of music to 'catch some attention' as he put it.
    "Jazz is not music! Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven are music!" he would slam forward. Stravinsky, Bartok, Shostokovitch, Schnicke, Webern were all a part of his vocabulary and he would stitch together how he met 'this-that-and the other" performer who could play them good-better-and the best. He knew Richter and Gilels as well as a host of pianists, violinists and other musicians from the past sporting a special file of black and white photographs of he with these musicians. He also had a file of signatures from concerts of the past and relics of music given to him. He knew and had a long relationship with a composer named Kabalec, and an interesting knowledge of lesser known performers and composers. He would be overwhelming and demanding at times in conversations and sometimes spout or jettison an  inquiry: "What do you know about that!..."
    One didnt come poorly prepared to meet this fellow and he was quite demanding but some points seemed to soften his sure left-handed hook...some knowledge of anything that was good and some decernment for what was bad.
    Sovoda would not...repeat not... work with any of the agencies for selling out concerts in the modern day environment. He had retired from this back in the mid 1980's and would repeatedly boast about this and that "problem"...and dreamed of some progressive cure for the world as it existed.
    I had not met such a die-hard anti-communist as Sovoda when it came to culture. And proportedly he had some reason that he was this way...or that way. Apparently there was some trouble along the way, but this was unsure.
    He organized artists in Prague underneath an organization of his own design. Sovoda had an idea that his organization could be "#1" if somehow his ideas were utilized to some greater extent in a commanding way.
    He was a underdog and underground cultural despot. Many of his people whom he knew were retired and lived their lives in other places in Europe from Poland to Slovakia and Hungary. He was not interested in "so called...modern culture" and made his ideas very clear. He loved modern art and thought the venues should be expanded in Prague and was sad that they were not. His organization seemed sound from coming out of a small office in Prague. His exhibition organization was neat and he offered help for any artist coming to him for exhibitions around Czech, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and sometimes Russia.
    "Exhibition Here!"
    He was certain, not just entertained, that those words would inspire a host of people to look at artwork and purchase or organize little concerts, still, through his network in small communities or cities all over Eastern Europe for a small or rather inconsequential fee when I look back at it all. (I write about fees and the arts...but inconsequential means just this inconsequential-but I will not reveal to the reader how much that sum would be in Koruna as one might laugh and say "why is it not like that here!".
    Yes his network was older and once established with the older regime of former Czech conductors which were no longer conducting or their assistants too who where seemingly dying off due to the shift of culture.
    He took me to the Narodni theater (National Theater) once during a long walk. There were old relics of conductors and performers who played on that stage. He would poke at the pictures and say "I knew this one...dat one...and I werked as assistant to that one...before catching the attention of some older white haired gentleman who knew him there. A friendly embrace would take place and he would remark of "the good days...when the performances were top calibur" under a certain conductor playing on that particular program. "Of too...Czech Republic has the best too he would remark...and still!" he would boast. And from this particular perspective he was correct. The performances, all of the performances I had heard were great and the orchestras tight in their handling of the music. I can not recollect when I had ever heard an orchestra that was not as good as one could imagine one would be in a small town or big city. "Of course it is changing.." he would remark, listing off certain orchestras that were no longer playing and names of these orchestras that had smaller engagements...but pick-up from the big orchestras when events occured where they would play.
    Sovovoda was a rationalist and repeat that..."...there was not the interest or money in some circumstances"
    Of course we talked a great deal when time would allow, during my first months in Czech. He had heard my fathers recording and was impressed, shouting "Liszt!" in an eccentric way that was almost enlightened.
    Now were was this going.
    Mr. Sovoda organized events through his organization and sent me out schedualing quite a few group shows in a number of towns in Czech, Poland, Slovakia and elsewhere during my residence. The first two years he asked me if I needed any help and he provided his influence and meetings with his associates who attempted to give me some reference during my stay as well as exhibitions and yes...concerts if time provided during group events and singular appearances if the case may allow itself. I found a place to stay and a place to practice...
    Oh my gosh...a dark corridor in one of the schools where there was a good grand that was covered.
    I would dissapear during the night for several hours to practice when in residence at the Hotel Europa, the first couple of years.
    During my first stay he auditioned me on one of the concert grands at one of the theaters in Prague. I remember that well.
    Sovoda and I came in to this large auditorium that was almost crumbling. It was gilded and decorated in baroque style with the implementation of some 60's soviet decor. A scaffold had just began to be erected for some work to be done in renovation. I could use this anytime I wished to practice at one time. There was an old worn Hamburg Steinway that had been rolled out on stage. Slowly the black obolisque was uncovered by some workers and prepared with a bench as the lights were turned on. There was this groan of the air conditioning, heating  system that came on and would go off
    during my first audition. I brought my tape recorder ( a near digital quality analog recorder that had been my fathers...Sony Professional) to record the pieces I was going to play for Sovoda.
    In his cantankerous way he wandered on stage and then again off stage...inspecting the equipment and took a seat in the audience that was left of center. "What are you going to play for me?" he asked. I will start with the "set", I remarked-Three pieces of Chopin- E, Minor, Two Preludes, a waltz, and Chopin Etude "Revolutionary" that the cuff and almost on demand at that time. "Some Liszt!?" He demanded and grabbed a cigarette and began to puff insistantly even though there were no smoking signs posted on every corner somehow stenciled on the plaster.  
    I had been practicing...
    If I had not been practicing during these days I could have not managed what I was about to do. The four to six hours a day had me in full facility. I had learned over the course of nearly a year previous some good pieces for my repetoir. One was the "Spanish Rapsodie" of Franz Liszt and the other...still rather weak one of the Anne d' Perilinage 'Venice and Naples' pieces to perform for him.
    I finished the "set" without flaw and then went back to talk to Sovoda. "All good....just good, you play...verrrry good" he remarked as I mentioned my next piece and turned the cassette over and started it. "I am going to raise hell here" I exclaimed as I began to set off to the stage and play...this piece "Spanish Rapsody" for solo piano and then turn around and do Venice and Naples...if I could. "Sovoda laughed and coughed a bit..." I was more nervous than could be imagined. It meant something, this audition. Other than my artwork it was a possibility to make a little money to sustain me in Czech and a point where I could possibly make some name-perhaps.
    I tucked in at the piano. I felt my fathers hands firmly grasp my shoulders and push down.
    My hands flew forward into the keyboard. I had attacked that piano like a lion into prey and began to move forward with vivaciousness and furor thinking that in some way this may be a chance. I played terribly fast...too fast! The nerves took over at that moment and all of a sudden I found myself flying forth.
    I finished and papetations of my heart were very very wild as I almost swung off the seat at the end...."Dobre??" I cried from the stage. Sovoda was half way already to the stage..."Dobre...Dobre!, now do you want to rest? " he said shaking my hand...and going immediately silent.
    "You should be a concert pianist!" he added looking at me with almost boiling eyes and hitting me on the shoulder hard.
    In the weeks ahead he had me play several places in Prague and down in Karlovy Vary for a conductor friend who needed a soloist for an upcoming performance.
    We sat down to talk.
    "Can you play American Gershwin..." his associate who was a manager later questioned, (Whos name was difficult to pronounce but I have it on some short contract that was made...scratched out later for a better version that was in both English and Czech) "No"...I said, "I dont have the music for Rapsody in Blue or Concerto in F"... A day or so passed and I thought the entire performance was off then a message from Sovoda, passed up to me while back up in Prague. "Dont pissed at me.....I sign you up with the Liszt Concerto" the small message humorously arrived stuck in my door. I was anxious and overwhelmed! Which Liszt concerto? I was in a panic.
    I left the hotel and ran down to his office. He was not there. I finally contacted him later....The A Major...Variation. Either there is the A Major concerto or the Variations on a Bohemian Theme-the so called Hungarian Fantasy. I paniced again as he tried to sing the melody through the telephone that kept breaking off. (Czech telephones in those days were noisy and had a big hum...)
    We met...

    He was preparing to have me play the Variations on a Bohemian Theme- So called Hungarian Fantasy (see audio for illustration) right off the cuff in ....two weeks time. It was an engagement I couldnt miss...something might become of it...and making a name for myself was important. I was to replace a young Czech or Polish violinist who bowed out due to an illness and the void in the program was perfect for a change.
    Rushing and practicing six to eight hours a day...ten if I could.
    I had the music, it was worn and marked.
    I had learned this piece on my own years ago and once had hopes of ....playing it. But it was rough and tumble. Notes (and wrong notes at that) kept flying out the basement door. I could only drink coffee and work more.
    It was on a monday that I started and by thursday of the following week it was finished. I called in a second pianist and he helped me put the thing together. "Ye gods and little fishes..." some parts of this came together almost like a dream. 
    2 rehersals later....the houselights dimmed and my presence was given to the audience walking out on stage....I sat down with confidence as the audience noise died down and the timpany began to roll. I took a breath and my mind went totally blank it seemed as the eyes of the conductor met mine. My heart became a metronome, my focus undimmed for the remainder of the concerto. Were they clapping for me? (It seemed such a short time) For the music that had been presented? I did a repeat of the concert.
    Anxiously I awaited the review...but did not seem to get one. I saved the billing.
    Over that  year and the next couple years I had played a number of times in small villiages as well as in Prague and Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. How many times will the competition ask? And moreover where?
    I say that the music still wore with me.
    The etudes of Chopin on occassion
    Several Liszt pieces
    Kabalevsky and Shostokovitch in a burning draw...
    The Prague 4th Piano Concerto Played
    Chopin wonders.....
    Recordings of Grieg, Mendelshon, Prokoffiev...others.
    But then....
       And then....
          Some element hit that I did not expect...right out of the blue.
    As if learning pieces and practicing were not enough as well as the art....something came out of somewhere, like a hand in the night.
    I went in early to practice. I had as much time as was needed to practice, but there was an unusual tension, a tension that seemed ominous.
    Really I can only remember going into practice in 1998. I had another set of appearances that were almost intended by fate as many of the performances were getting thinly attended...and I must have admitted to myself that getting into the popular music scene was a better posibility altogether.
    I had just come back after 3 days in Slovakia playing and preparing exhibits. I was tired.
    I felt my hands on the keyboard begin to tense.
    Like a flower folding in on itself.
    Then came the dreams....
    I had just learned and was preparing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #1 for a date that would have brought me directly into the spotlight in Central Europe after months of hoping...
    Also I had the Rachmaninoff 4th ready for what I thought...then...would become a dramatic debut, deciding in the chapter of things to go for it...
    Then came the dreams....repeatedly throughout the night...dreams.
    They were of a gigantic exhibition of faces, each one more powerful than the rest and each more ominous.
    I swear I saw Rachmaninoff himself in a vivid dream in the cooridor of the practice room.
    Each night it became more and more vivid.
    And each practice session I felt like the great faces were more and more apparent...
    "Watch that motyive!"
    And then the fingers would tense up like never before....
    Closing to tight fists in the last movement of the 4th Piano Concerto of Rachmaninoff after literally flying colors...tightly clenched fists...joints and fingers like claws.
    Something was a matter.
    I kept it a secret thinking "this too shall pass"...but a day would go by and then....zammmmmo!
     I went home to my apartment and told my girlfriend at that time what was going on. I didnt tell her what was at stake.
    Was it that Tlechenka that I had been eating? (Raw meat in jelly)
    I had an interview for another porject and just by chance there was a senior neurologist from Charles University that noticed my hands crinkled up.
    At the advice of him as well as others I took heed in the event. I was past.
    Perhaps just a virus that was going was a serious issue...and I was told whatever I do
    One last concert.....
    Then I acertained what was more health or that work.
    I would go on without the stress attached, and play for my own lessons when I could.
    Afterall music if it is to be free is to be about enjoyment, right?
    I returned to my studio doing the series of faces that I had seen in the nightmares. The exhibit was quite large and intense. People entering the room felt what I had seen or sensed.
    Of this exhibit there are some loose 4X5 images of about 15 works.
    I will never forget the experiences I had felt.
    But I feel the need to say that similar experiences have happened to several artists that I know.
    I look back at Alexi Sultanov...
    a wonderful pianist and seem to know....
    During the last years I havnt pushed myself into the arena for various reasons, all personal. (2008  looking back with much irony) That there are spectacular performers out there is a given and some who play at a level unprecidented too few opportunities...

  • Looking back, from 2012 to the past, relating to the basements of Prague, and those cooridors of entertainment-that I challenged once- and gained:

  • It is difficult if not impossible to regather some of those memories of performance as they started and ended so quickly...seemingly a few brief moments on stage, allot of practice in silence for such brief moments of a 'wanted' spectacular. All to mention briefly of these days, the Halceyon days of playing! As of 2007, my return to the USA began a "Road Across" vastly difference from my residence in Europe- Czech or Italy. I entered a world in 2007 that was completely different to any past I had remembered, weighing on one to constantly travel, another city every day for months on end-an end--This world that I had arrived provided a great deal of discourse as to why, reasons for being, etc for the arts in general but especially for the classical music I had generated, played and continued practicing. This world I let pass for the road, slowly being etched away, piece by piece as I was subjected to 'commercial' use, rather than practical art worth in my work. With an arts agent in New York trying to facilitate and a good 10,000 miles across the country which seemed almost a battlefield of popular-culture (against the artistic realm) it was not long indeed before one--perhaps anyone would be worn down for lack of the so called gigs (today) and infact probably fewer than I could imagine--American culture seemed to edge out classical for pop in a reverse and retrograde shift as though from the days when we didnt like 'rock' now we somehow protest the classical. (why I dont know--its the times, a period of dramatic and climactic shift-to unknowns) I played and kept confident in my practice and keyboard until 2007, made several private recordings through the beginning of 2008---My hands giving me the same problems in Prague was a continual excuse to settle in--play less-less and less- Today after a number of wild and wooly promises, all not gainful in any arena of the musical sort, only providing, perhaps,. background music--

  • Needless to say, both my parents were concert pianists of the highest calibur possible. Today those venues for performance of classical music are perhaps as rare as a VF Diamond...this goes as well as teaching the instrument, which I did on occasion-but lacking serious students or interest- here, it was total shock to the sentiments. Stories were told and passed from generation to generation as to time such as these. There were other ages that were similar to our own most particularly at the beginning of the 20th century when any formal entertainment was rare to the popular ideas in those days of dance-halls and bar-room music. The challenge is the same in our era as one feels sophistication is lacking, the era swallowing up the greater ages of the past into a period of undecisiveness and a a sense of oblivious sentiments when it comes to listening to music. Good music and art is as rare as a VF Diamond in this current age...and is likely to become extremely rare in the years with art in general, especially in the dynamic of a pressing economy which is continually failing in an ensuing Depression Economy which shows no end in sight.  What to say here.

  • Stories of between the world wars of musicians and artists were not rare in the household of my grandfather who was a performer with the San Francisco Symphony between 1928-1964 when he passed. My grand uncle whom was a local concert pianist in San Francisco in its early days c. 1910 had his stories of how the entire venues were difficult especially in bad economic times. I suppose these days are absolutely seperated from the days of yore, those that we called the good-ol days, either in Europe or in the empire building of this country from the beginning of the 20th century...Back to the Future, has a very special meaning in this case. Of course we must realize that Great Art will not cease to exist in any era. But it might be among the supressed variety, the artistic variety that doesnt get much in the way of fame in its own time. To "Never give up the road..." has been an anthem for many generations in my family, and is the same truism in this current generation. However, during some situations- in brief- recording some of my Great Grandfathers statements ( a violinist who came here escaping Bismarks encroachment in Germany 1880's) he had to make a comprimise in his circumstance, but all of his children studied music in the new America, and gave promise to the new country for many via thier pupils.  As of the current date 2012, I realize the serious consequence of the arts and music (classical music) during this time and have stepped aside, one of many during this era, for perhaps another better one some time in the remote future. This dosent mean giving the instrument up, rather stepping aside...which I believe quite a number have.

  • Give them the chance!

    Memories in Czech Republic (Music)

    *Playing the Prague Concerto #4 by Dimitry Kabalevsky
    in Prague and someone remembered the melody and told me they remembered the theme as a child.
    *Remembering a piano that was so out of tune and the dust was nearly one inch thick, and a concert somehow had to be played on it. And then the new Petrov appeared and so assembled the audience.
    * Lighting into the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor and finishing with flying colors only to find that my name was spelled incorrectly on the Marsch
    * Endless three or four piece programs on the roster of the composers name only. Especially if my name were Chopin Etude "Revolutionary" I knew it!
    * Playing the Franz Liszt Venice and Naples with such justspa that someone tapped out the rythm in the background so loud it sounded like they were pounding nails and they were!
    * (Special) The time in southern bohemia that I was enlisted to play a program...and it went well...afterward someone had just heard it and commented: "Come to my house...and play for us on our 1908 Concert Grand of German origin. I was tired and I went. A beautiful instrument I may add..but out of tune. "Imporvise!...Play that piece you were playing! Ompa..Pa Ompa...Liszt! Wagner! " I went into a rendition of Flying Dutchman of Wagner, that was interspersed with little signets of Die Walkure! It went on....I turned around and this fellow was in a WWI Uniform with a spiked helmet and sabre. He placed the helmet on my head and laughed...irony went from there.
    * A young fellow of 12/14 who played nearly every piece imaginable, rather lyricly who had a technique that was almost unbelievable
    He turned to me...and said where can I study now, music being the thing he enjoyed, beyond sports or reading as sad eyes pulled forward tears, his mother standing idley by.
    That music should be free and clear enough to be enjoyed is one issue. And being kind to oneself another.
    Enough for the critics! Enjoy what is beautiful! 

    Some Interesting Quotes:

    "Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand."
    Dr. Karl Menninger
    It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.
    J.S. Bach
    Just as a cautious businessman avoids tying up all his capital in one concern, so, perhaps, worldly wisdom will advise us not to look for the whole of our satisfaction from a single aspiration.
    Sigmund Freud

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    Member Since
    Aug 2007
    Kristen Kuhns said:
    posted on Jun 08, 2010
    Love this

    Kind of living vicariously through your stories as an artist here.