Remarks by David Hoose

Dec 5, 2016

Cantata Singers Music Director David Hoose received the Silver Jan Masaryk Honorary Award from the Embassy of the Czech Republic for his instrumental role in raising the profile of Czech Baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka's music in the United States. These are his remarks upon accepting the award.

"Sárka and Igor, Děkuji mnohokrát. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.

Jennifer Hughes asked me to say a few words, so I will.

About a week and a half ago, I had a dream, the kind of dream any musician, or anyone who appears on stage or talks in public, has probably had. It’s the one in which you come out on stage and open the music, only to realize that you’ve never seen it before. And then you notice that you’re wearing your pajamas, and that the violin you’re supposed to be holding is actually a saxophone. It was your standard anxiety dream. I don’t remember its details, nor are they important. One thing I do remember, however, is that there was music, beautiful music, playing during the dream.

I don’t know whether the musicians who are here today dream about music, but I really don’t. Instead, I just dream about all the terrifying stuff around the music. But this time, there was music, and when I woke up, I knew exactly what it was, a composition that Cantata Singers will be performing next season, in November, a gorgeous, optimistic, life-affirming mass, Missa Divi Xaverii, by Jan Dismas Zelenka.

The only reason I’m telling you this—you certainly don’t need to know about my dreams—is that my knowing exactly what the music was confirmed what I had immediately thought about its quality, particularly because I barely know this setting of the mass. The character, personality and spirit of the Missa Divi Xaverii are so potent that, without much probing on my part, they had embedded themselves deeply in my unconscious. What I had already thought about this music and this composer was confirmed: they had the power to enter my dreams.

The aspect of getting to know Zelenka’s music over the last few years that has made me the happiest has been the curiosity and engagement that so many people have shown about it—our audience (young and old, musically trained and not), and our performers (young and old.) In fact, it was the curiosity of a founding member of Cantata Singers, Eugene Gover, that led, and eventually pushed, me to explore Zelenka’s music.

Today, too many of us know just what we like, and we like just what we know. Curiosity and openness are not qualities that everyone reveres or even possesses. I have often noticed that young musicians, students in particular, think that there are about fifteen or twenty really great composers who are worth their time. Anyone off their beaten path, not right in their sights, must not be good enough to take very seriously. This is a trait not limited to music majors at a conservatory. It inhabits many of us, and I am saddened.

But everyone I know—again, old and young—who has heard Zelenka’s music has found it engaging, not simply as some curiosity to be dusted off and looked at occasionally, but music shot with vitality, sophistication, and a level of accomplishment that allows it to sit comfortably in the company of J.S. Bach (who knew and admired Zelenka), or beside the music of F.J. Haydn and W.A. Mozart. My and others’ excitement over this relatively unknown—in the United States, anyway—composer has been the greatest reward in getting to know about, and getting to share, his marvelous music.

However, the aspect of receiving the Silver Jan Masaryk Honorary Award—for which I am extremely grateful—that makes me the happiest is what it says about the governors of the Czech Republic. For me to receive this recognition means that there are people in the Czech Republic, and certainly not all musicians, who value Jan Dismas Zelenka’s contribution to their own culture.

That there are Czech Republic government officials who even know about Zelenka at all is amazing enough. How many of our own government officials, local, state or national, know who the most important American writers, poets and painters are? Or who America’s most important classical composers are? How many of them know who Charles Ives was? Or Aaron Copland, or Elliott Carter? And these three composers lived in the twentieth century. They are not, like Jan Dismas Zelenka, 337 years old.

So, to me, the real recognition today should go to the Czech Republic, for it demonstrates that it knows and values a composer whose work easily could have disappeared, someone who lived at the time of J.S. Bach and might have remained hidden in his shadow, and someone who had no descendents to carry on his name, as Bach did. It is entirely through Zelenka’s music that his name has life today, and it is his music that has inspired and moved those of us who are lucky to know any of it. It gives me hope that the Cultural Attaché of the Czech Republic is here with us, not for me, and not for Cantata Singers—without which my interest and exploration would remain a mere fantasy—but for the benefit of helping a Czech musical icon, Jan Dismas Zelenka, continue to become known.

Years ago, I was attending a concert and opened the program book in which there were the usual advertisements for businesses, all in support of that musical organization’s efforts. Prominently in the book was a full-page ad by a bank praising the efforts of the chorus, orchestra, or chamber ensemble. Right in the middle of the page were these these well-intentioned words, “The arts are the flowers that line the road of civilization.” I reacted immediately, thinking, “No they aren’t! The arts are the road of civilization!” The arts are what we have from history that define long-disappeared people and their cultures. They are the lasting fingerprint of ancient Rome or Greece, or of any country that has played and any that continues to play profound roles in our world. Without the arts, there is no civilization.

I am thrilled to receive this award from the representatives of a country that clearly recognizes and honors the highest values of its culture, that recognizes its essential contribution to, its defining of, the road of civilization.

Thank you."

—David Hoose, 2016