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Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava music at its best

21. 11. 18

Interview for Magazine Maxpositiv

Ma Jan Žemla, CEO of the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava (JFO), was born in 1981 in Brno and lives in South Moravia. he graduated from Masaryk University in Brno (Master of arts in Music theory) and since 2007 he has been the Programme Manager of Brno Philharmonic. Mr Žemla was appointed ceO of the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava in 2012. he is a member of the artistic Board of the Faculty of arts at the University of Ostrava and the artistic Board of the Brno international Music Festival. He is a member of the core team preparing the construction of the new concert hall in Ostrava and has recently been appointed as a member and chairman of the Managing Board of the cultural center, Dům kultury města Ostravy.

Are you more of a musician or a manager? How does it feel to manage such a great orchestra?
I would love to say that I am definitely a musician, yet my current job is mostly managerial. I am a manager in a very special field in which I am well qualified. Basically, all my managerial activities are closely related to arts, and a result is an art form, a concert in our case. Art and music in their best form and performance possible is my main managerial motivation. Managing an orchestra is very fulfilling, and meaningful responsibility. From time to time it just gets to be routine, but occasionally it’s a bit uncomfortable, especially when I have to make compromising decisions not fully corresponding with my point of view. Fortunately, this does not happen often. Being the orchestra CEO is being a diplomat, a psychologist, a good economist in a business, and of course, a master in some social intelligence, making everybody understand that what we do makes real sense. Despite working in the sphere of the arts, I still try to keep a down-to-earth attitude. Again, let me stress that I cannot imagine anybody doing this job without a proper education in the field.

Our magazine aims at an international audience, and because JFO is one of the best exports of the city and our region, please, describe what you offer to foreigners in our region and abroad. Summarized briefly, we deliver quality which can be found at the greatest international stages. I often see that Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava stands comparison with world-famous orchestras. JFO has an artistic potential which (supported by time invested in preparation of individual projects and developed by a conductor who shapes the music with their own idea and form) often brings the most extraordinary experience. We also introduce guest artists who now perform in Ostrava as well as in Prague, Vienna or London equally often. In my opinion, going to a concert of JFO has already become an exclusive experience. Artists like Nikolai Lugansky, Federico Colli and Danjulo Ishizaka are leaders in their field. Sports fans are excited when star athletes like Usain Bolt come to our city, music fans can meet artists of such a high rank twice a month, not only once a year. In my opinion, going to a concert of JFO has already become an exclusive experience.

Which unusual locations have you played recently, and where would you like to go next?
JFO has already played on every continent, the orchestra travels abroad on a regular basis, and often plays at festivals primarily focused on different genres, such as Colours of Ostrava, Štěrkovna Open Music. My dream came true quite recently: JFO performed at the Prague Spring festival, which was one of my key targets as JFO CEO. We are preparing a tour with singer Tomáš Klus and concerts with many leading world artists. Of course, many of them will take us to very special places. Our recent destinations included Bilbao in Spain whose atmosphere and omnipresent arts left me with unforgettable memories. I am looking forward to the tour in November 2018. The destination is “only” Poland but we will play in a few new concert halls built recently in this promised land of culture;, and I am really curious what the acoustic confrontation will be. We will also play with Lukáš Vondráček, one of the most remarkable pianists of our time, in Bratislava in early October. Those will undoubtedly be outstanding concerts. We regularly play in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and in Asia, we often go to China and Korea. I want to bring Japan to our international portfolio. Other places of my managerial interest include Scandinavian countries and Russia, targets which orchestras typically do not aim at very often.

The effects of classical music grow stronger with the place where it is played. Music and architecture often interconnect in the genius loci. JFO deserves a new concert hall, do you agree?
Definitely yes. Ostrava is the third largest city in the Czech Republic, an important centre of culture, a very specific hub. Local live arts flourish. 65 years of JFO tradition proves that Ostrava has a sound position in the map of European culture. Good quality concert halls have become a standard feature in cities of similar size in Poland where over dozen concert halls have been built recently. A concert hall is a public building of great significance. A building open to the public, providing service to inhabitants of the city, helping to define the city itself. It is not a room for a limited number of keen musicians providing them with a place for work. It is not like that. Of course, a good concert hall with perfect acoustics will help the orchestra develop and attract more international artists who otherwise would not come to Ostrava at all. Moreover, such a hall would not only serve the JFO. There is the International Music Festival of Leoš Janáček (former Janáček May), Ostravian Days of New Music, and more. I recommend everybody go and see the new NOSPR building in Katowice, Poland to understand better what we want for Ostrava. A recently announced tender (the third attempt since 1969), however, brings hope that the construction of the hall will actually come true.

My idea of a manager of a great philharmonic orchestra is a gentleman wearing tails. Who is Mr Žemla outside his job, what are his personal interests and desires?
I think I am an ordinary person with normal interests, it is only my good luck in life that my hobby, music, is my profession. It fills up most of my life. I live with my family in a village 35 km north of Brno, in a house which also requires some care and attention. Looking after the house is another hobby of mine. Then there are some particulars at the very edge of obsession: recently I have become enthusiastic about what is going on in Czech fine arts. I also do sports: both for fun and to keep fit, healthy (and sane). My most recent joy is Austrian via ferrata. I enjoy following Marvel Studios productions with my son. I used to have a classic motorbike. That is me in brief.

By the way, does JFO have a fan club?
I would not call it a fan club but we do have our true fans, a group that keeps growing. I believe people have learnt to understand that the arts in their lives are of increasing importance. I feel that concert-going is a trend again. Good quality performances should become a standard ingredient in our social lives. And I can tell they are closely related to business: do you want to impress your business partners, or just hold an informal smart meeting? Take them to a classical music concert.

You came to Ostrava from Brno. What have you found attractive in Ostrava and the region?
When I decided to work in Ostrava, it was nearly a foreign city to me. And a challenge. Even though I work in a position which makes me feel at home, I am in a new environment. I was looking forward to working in Ostrava and was curious about which direction my job would go. Six years later I still feel that energy and drive at work. Basically, Ostrava has been a lovely surprise. The key factor is the people around me, the close and wide circles. I feel very lucky in this: I meet people who are nice and easy to work with, to help create something together, to grow and to make visions come true. Ostrava enables me to achieve that and I am very grateful for the opportunity. The region is closely connected to Leoš Janáček in my mind, that is my definition.