Czech it out: Norman Philharmonic to celebrate Czech composers with concert Sunday

The Norman Philharmonic performs during a past concert at the Nancy O’Brian Center for the Performing Arts. The Norman Philharmonic will perform a MLK Day Meet the Composer concert at 3 p.m. Monday at Catlett Music Center, 500 W. Boyd St.

The Norman Philharmonic will take listeners on a musical journey Sunday with a celebration of Czech composers.

The 3 p.m. concert at the Nancy O’Brian Center for the Performing Arts, fittingly called “Czech it Out!,” will feature works by two famed Czech composers — Bohuslav Martinů’s “Toccata e due Canzoni” and Antonín Dvořák’s “Czech Suite Op. 39.” There also will be a performance of Mozart’s “Symphony No. 38 in D Major,” aka the “Prague Symphony.”

Mozart isn’t Czech, but guest director Wallace Hinson said he was very popular in Prague, which makes it fit. Like Mozart, Hinson has many Czech connections.

The Little Rock, Arkansas, native has family there and has spent time studying there.

Norman Philharmonic music and artistic director Richard Zielinski is on sabbatical this semester. When he approached Hinson about conducting the orchestra, his old grad school friend from the University of Illinois leapt at the chance.

“When [Zielinski] is enthusiastic and excited about something, it’s worth, at the very least, paying attention to,” Hinson said. “Having the opportunity to do this is really a great thrill for me.”

He already had some ideas brewing when he got the call.

“When Rick asked me to do a program, I thought about a Czech program,” Hinson said. “I’ve become very enthralled with Czech music … Music is a big part of Czech life. Children are taught to sing at a very young age. I’m drawn to it very strongly.”

Zielinski said Hinson’s vision and excitement were contagious. The fact that Hinson had studied in the Czech Republic and was steeped in the music and tradition only added to that excitement.

“Having been there and studied with some of the well-known and famous Czech conductors, I thought it would be the perfect thing to bring to our season,” he said. “I think it’s good to bring in guest artists and composers with fresh ideas, creative ideas and new rep. That’s exciting for the players, the audience and the community.”

Hinson had his first rehearsal with the orchestra Thursday. There was a second rehearsal Friday, and the orchestra will meet again today, but that’s all the rehearsals it will get.

That may seem like a quick turnaround, but the show has been in the works for months. Hinson began score study over the summer, and when he showed up in Norman, he was ready to hit the ground running.

It doesn’t hurt that he has a wealth of experience working as a guest conductor.

“With that little space of time, it’s important that I come prepared,” he said. “There’s no time for us to work that out together. Being prepared is paramount on my part.”

He said that doesn’t mean coming in and barking orders to an accomplished orchestra of 38 strangers. He said it’s about highlighting what subtleties to bring to the forefront.

“Those people are there to play,” he said. “They’re not there to hear me talk. My job is to bring the music out for the listener, based on what I hear in the score.

“In the Mozart, for instance, there are these wonderful themes that he stacks upon each other in the first movement. It’s very complex and exciting. Another conductor might bring out a different theme in a certain place than I would.”

From Mozart’s beautiful themes to the rich harmonies and rhythmic energy of Martinů and Dvořák’s iconic “Czech Suite,” Hinson said it’s been an exciting concert to prepare. He said he hopes the audience will enjoy listening as much as he enjoys conducting.

“It’s about the sound, and I’ve always been — even as a child — just captivated with the sound of the music,” he said. “Before I knew anything about theory or music history or anything like that, I was taken by sound. It’s always a real thrill.”

The program is expected to last about an hour and a half. Tickets are $10 at the door. 

If you go

What: Norman Philharmonic in concert

• When: 3 p.m. Sunday

• Where: Nancy O'Brian Center for the Performing Arts

• Tickets: $10 at the door

Mack Burke is an investigative reporter and award-winning feature writer and columnist for The Norman Transcript. An OU alumnus, he has lived in Norman since 2003.