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Vazny zajem: Music in Your Slippers.

The phenomenon of house concerts--brought to the Czech Republic by cellist Tomas Jamnik--makes use of 21st century means to resuscitate salon culture in Czech homes. It's eminently common to use a phone app to order a pizza, take out a loan, or hire a handy man to fix your toilet. Now, you can use your phone to get a string quartet to your home, or to find out who near you is hosting musicians at their home. Vazny zajem--the name can be translated as Serious Interest (a play on the Czech term for art music; vazna hudba or serious music). Since its launch, the project has proved extremely popular--so much so that they do not hesitate to call it a movement.

A Musician Who Just Can't Let It Be

Tomas Jamnik could simply be satisfied with his career as a cellist. He drew attention to himself when he won the Prague Spring competition and then put out his debut album. Top orchestras invite him to perform as a soloist and he also performs regularly with the Dvorak Trio, where he is joined by violinist Jan Fiser and pianist Ivo Kahanek. He lives with his family in Berlin, a city sworn to music where he was once a member of the Berlin Philharmonic's Academy and an assistant at the Universitat der Kunste.

But for Jamnik, being a musician means more than playing an artful concert or making an excellent record. He feels a need to express his position on musical life, politics, society.

His many talents--in addition to the musical, also the organisational, creative, and technical--came into a perfect confluence in Vazny zajem.

This is not the first time that Jamnik has attempted to improve the social climate or to intervene where he sees fit. He also established the Academy of Chamber Music, an institution with international outreach which awards stipends to young musicians. These allow them to study with top pedagogues, further their education, and acquire new contacts. Jamnik makes no effort to conceal how much German musical life inspires him. The house concerts also have their model in Berlin. "In Germany, it's normal that when music students meet, within ten minutes, they're talking about house concerts," relates Jamnfk, adding that Berlin's music-loving senior citizens also welcome the initiative. "The support senior citizens give musicians is considerable. They often relive their own careers. This is one of the beautiful effects of these happenings," says the cellist.

How does it work? You register at Vazny zajem as either listener, host, or musician. If you want to host, it's best if you have a piano at home, but it's not a must. Then you simply choose from the offers you have for any given date and create an event to which you can invite your friends. "The host provides the space. The listeners bring some refreshments and a voluntary donation--this should be a bill, at least," says Jamnik. So there's no reason to mope if you're not a rentier and you don't own an apartment where the salon is the size of a smaller gymnasium. The basis is good will and a few music-loving friends. "Each concert can be completely different," said Jamnik in one interview. It depends on the place and the audience you get. "One time, I had sixty hipsters in a flat in Vinohrady in Prague, each of whom brought a hundred crown bill. On the opposite end of the spectrum was an event in Kutna Hora organised for doctors. The customer had the event catered and the welcome drink took place on an enormous terrace with a view of the Cathedral of St Barbara."

There are several reasons which led to the creation of Vazny zajem. The reason that is always included in the blurb is popularisation. The initiators explains: "If you ask someone who does not listen to classical music about classical music, they'll often say they don't understand it. This, however, is often simply because of the barriers classical music creates itself, and which drive listeners away from the concert hall. Classical music is easy to understand, it is a world full of stories and emotions which music allows us to experience together. We want to open this world to anyone who's interested!"

Home music, or, if you like, salon music, is nothing new in the history of performance. Chambers and salons always played an important role in music. Whether these were private music lovers like Gottfried von Swieten who patronised Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, or the salons of Romantic Paris, such as George Sand's, where poetry was read, music performed, and lofty conversation had. Both the First and Second Viennese schools owe a number of their premiers to private individuals who provided the space. Vazny zajem is merely continuing in this tradition using the means of the 21st century.

Community Supports Community

"In 2016, we had no idea how big the response would be," says Jamnik. "It didn't stop at house concerts, we organised performances in hospitals, social facilities, cafes, gardens, parks, children's rooms, a literary festival, an art awards ceremony, a philosophers' salon, a shopping mall..."

At the beginning of the creation of this non-profit stood enthusiasm and many hours of unpaid work, but the project was set into motion by a crowd-funding campaign. It was successful to an unexpected degree, giving the team courage to getting the project all the way there and developing an application which makes organising concerts easy, intuitive, and quick--while also connecting you with similarly inclined people in your vicinity. It is a relief to discover that there is a concert happening on your street and the lady you meet in the park with her chihuahua is a former opera singer who is hosting it.

Over the past two years, the organisers have collected a number of stories and anecdotes. "There are often more tears at a house concert than at the Rudolfinum. It is because the music goes directly to the listener, who then has a greater chance of getting immersed in it. What's more, they often don't even have the chance to avoid getting immersed..." Tomas Jamnik is now officially considered an influencer--in 2017, he presented a talk on his popularisation skills at Prague's TEDx conference.

Multiple Effects

For the musicians themselves, house concerts are not that interesting financially, but rather in terms of getting in touch with interesting people with whom they can converse after the concert, mutually enriching each other. The opinions of informed laymen are often fresh, as well as very informative for someone whose profession will one day consist of engaging audiences. At a home concert, you can "play out" (try out) new repertoire for an exam, audition, or important concert. And what do the concerts bring the hosts? An unrepeatable experience, an immediate contact with music created here and now--chamber music can never resonate as well in large halls as it does in the small dimensions it was created for. A feeling of intimacy, togetherness, continuity, and community. And also a welcome de-mythologisation of classical music, a loss of inhibitions, and a removal of the barriers between the "experts" and the "laymen". The project has already had considerable social outreach. What started as a concert for a few slipper-clad friends around a canape table has grown into a series of events for seniors or people with health problems. To a certain extent, Jamnik is thinking about how to acquire more attendees at the "classical" concerts. "When you have fifty hipsters in front of you, you've got fifty potential fans, and not just on Facebook. You can take them to the concert hall with you. Incredible bonds are formed in every performance," he claims. After all, this was how he met the patron who bought him the rare violoncello he now performs on.

by Dita Hradecka
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Title Annotation:phenomenon
Author:Hradecka, Dita
Publication:Czech Music
Geographic Code:4EXCZ
Date:Apr 1, 2019
Words:1303
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