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Martin Smolka

CountryCzech Republic
OccupationComposer, Performer, Teacher

Martin Smolka (b. 11 August 1959, Prague), studied composition at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and privately with Marek Kopelent. His work has won him recognition both at home and abroad. In 1983 he co-founded Agon, an ensemble specializing in the present and past of the musical avant-garde. He worked as its artistic director and player of prepared piano until 1998. In the course of Agon projects he has worked on realization of graphic scores and concepts, and together with Petr Kofroň published a book and compact disc titled Grafické partitury a koncepty / Graphic Scores and Concepts (Czech-English).

Starting from two differing points, webernism and repetitive music, Smolka reached a certain „concrete sonorism“ – he worked with instrumental sounds, that resembled sounds of our environment such as a hooting of boat- and railway-horns, a rumble of machines, a dropping of rain and many others, while these sound memories determined the expression of his music, which was often nostalgic, sometimes grotesque (e.g. the pieces Rain, a window, roofs, chimneys, pigeons and so…, and railway-bridges, too, 1992; Rent a ricercar, 1993, and others). After the year 1998 came a style change out of sonorism to work with pitch, including even the typical elements of tradition such as minor triad or string cantilena, which were deformed by microintervals as well as by collage-structuring (e.g. the quintet Lieder ohne Worte, 1999; Remix, Redream, Reflight for orchestra, 2000; Oh, my admired c minor for ensemble, 2002). Since year 2000 one of the focuses of Smolka’s interest has been vocal music and particularly opera (Walden, the Distiller of Celestial Dews for choir, 2000; Nagano – opera 2001-3; Das schlaue Gretchen – fairy-tale opera for children, 2005). Nagano (opera about ice-hockey), written on commission of National Theatre in Prague, won a national Alfred Radok Prize 2004.

Martin Smolka has written for prestigious international festivals, such as Warsaw Autumn festival, the Donaueschinger Musiktage, Musik-Biennale Berlin, Nov-Antiqua Cologne, Eclat Stuttgart, Bang-on-a-can-Marathon New York, Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik, musica viva Munich, Velvet Curtain Cracow, Prague Spring Festival, Festival Rümlingen, Klangspuren Schwaz etc., and for other important institutions and performers: French Ministry of Culture for Ensemble 2e2m in Paris, Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart for Neue Vocalsolisten and Arditti Quartet, National Theatre in Prague, Staatstheater Nürnberg. The Agon ensemble has performed his music in many different venues, for example Berliner Festwochen, Budapest Spring Festival, South Bank Centre London, Musique Actuelle Victoriaville Canada, Rotefabrik Zurich, Melos Ethos Bratislava, music festivals in Vilnius, Tallin, Reykjavik, Paris and elsewhere.
Many chamber works have been recorded by Agon for Arta Records and Audio ego. Rain, a window, roofs, chimneys, pigeons and so…, and railway-bridges, too and Walden, the Distiller of Celestial Dews have been selected by col legno for the yearly published portrait CDs of the Donaueschinger Musiktage.
Since 2000 Smolka’s scores have been published by Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden.

Composition of concert pieces and operas is Smolka's main occupation, but he also worked as a musical improviser – for the Vizita-Theatre in 1983-86 and 2002-5, for Ivan Vyskočil’s Kuchyň [Kitchen] in 1988-89 and for the theatrical studio čisté radosti [Pure Joy] from 1994 to 2001. He arranged for and played in the group led by the Chinese singer Feng-jün Song (cd Horská karavana [Mountain Caravan], 2001). He also composed for theatre (e.g. Nachové plachty [Scarlet Sails] of theatre ensemble Forman Brothers) and for film (Vojtěch řečený sirotek [Vojtech, Called the Orphan], dir. Zdeňek Tyc, 1989; Sentiment, dir. Tomáš Hejtmánek, 2002-3; Kousek nebe [The Piece of Heaven], 2005, dir. Petr Nikolaev; Zlatá karta, dir. Petr Nikolaev, 2005). Music for film Kousek nebe was nominated for annual prize of Czech Film Academy 2005.

During last years he has been active as a lecturer.

Martin Smolka