Petr Eben

Petr Eben (1929, Žamberk – 2007, Prag) is an icon of 20th-century Czech music. Eben’s Liturgical Chants (1960), written for unison choir and organ, convey the composer’s inward psychological security as well as the spiritual and musical code of European culture. “Dear conductor, you always feel the compositions absolutely in the same way that I do,” Eben wrote in a letter to Jiří Skopal and Jitro after listening to a recording of this work in 1996. This emotional depth is also expressed in the three parts of the cycle Four Choruses on Latin Texts, written in 1973 for children’s or girls’ voices. Its anonymous medieval texts are in between Latin spiritual songs cantio and liturgy. Catonis Moralia (1974-5) uses Latin texts from the 3rd Century; their translation by Johann Amos Comenius is used as the basis for combining the style of Baroque dance suites with instrumentally conceived choral polyphony. The poetry of Vítězslav Nezval, hovering at the boundary of the worlds of childhood and maturity, is mirrored in the imitative cycle Ten Poetic Duets (1965). The album concludes with About Swallows and Girls (1959-60), a miniature analogy of Bach’s Art of the Fugue. Here, the composer creates a wealth of variations on vocal arrangements of Bohemian, Moravian, and Silesian folksongs while retaining their folkloristic flavor. Eben’s artistic vision never lost respect for his sources, or for simplicity and humanism. This was also Jitro’s goal when creating its peerless interpretations of his work. (Left to right) Petr Eben, Jiří Skopal,  and Jitro. Photo — Květa Skopalová

Jiří Skopal

Jiří Skopal choral conductor and music educator, was born on August 15, 1947 in Velké Losiny CZ. Skopal was given his first education in music by his father Jan Skopal, a choral conductor of the North Moravia’s Teachers’ Association. For his master’s in education, he studied in Olomouc from 1965 to 1969 and received his doctorate in 1973. In 1982, he was named Associate Professor at the Charles University in Prague, and in 1994 he became a full Professor. Even Skopal’s very first choir, which was founded at the primary and secondary school in Postřelmov, won first prize in a regional singing competition in 1972. In the years 1968-82, he worked as a vocal adviser for the North Moravia’s Teachers’ Association, and in 1971 he started another choir in Mohelnice. Since 1974, he has been teaching at the University of Hradec Králové, where between 1986-90 he was head of the music department and founded a new choral conducting course. He has authored publications on music psychology, history, and management of boy choirs, as well as theory and methodology in choral singing. In 1977, he took over the management of the choir from Josef Vrátil and a year later, the choir changed its name to the Královéhradecký Children’s Choir Jitro; he has achieved major national and international success with this group at concerts in Europe, Asia, the United States, and Australia. Currently, he continues to work as the choir conductor and music director of Jitro. Skopal and his wife, Květa Skopalová, also founded a boys choir Boni Pueri in years 1982-96. In total, Jiří Skopal has recorded 44 albums with his choirs, conducted more than 3,500 concerts, and in the year 2000 he received the Primus Inter Pares award for an exceptional benefit to the culture from the Mayor of Hradec Králové. Skopal has also been a judge in national and international competitions, as well as a lecturer of conducting courses in the Czech Republic and abroad.

Photo — Květa Skopalová (2015)




Jitro czech girl's choir

Jitro, meaning “Daybreak” in Czech, is more than just a concert choir from Hradec Kralove, a town in the Czech Republic. It is an organization of 400 children in seven preparatory ensembles, of which only the best 25 or 30 qualify to tour. For 45 years they have been admired all over the world for their tonal brilliance, superb intonation, distinctive rich blend of sound, and energetic vitality. Today, Jitro is considered one of the best children’s choirs in the world. They have competed in 18 international competitions with 38 categories won to date. These awards have been bestowed on the choir by international juries, including prestigious contests such as Llangollen (1988), Nantes (1989), Neerpelt (1996), Olomouc (2003), Xiamen (2006), Lecco (2010), Pardubice (2015), Žilina (2017), and Sydney (2018).


America’s love of Jitro was re-born when the choir was invited to sing at the National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association in San Antonio TX in 1993, where they received a standing ovation from thousands of music professionals. An official response from Dr. J. B. Haberlen, ACDA President, stated “Our ACDA members will long remember your concerts, as they were a major highlight of the 1993 convention.” Professor Doreen Rao of Toronto University commented, “Are you aware that you have just changed forever the character and style of all American choral singing?”


Jitro Choir makes over 100 appearances annually and has sung with other renowned choruses, including the American Boys’ Choir. Jitro has performed with the Bavarian Symphonic Orchestra, the Milano Symphonic Orchestra, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, and the Czech Philharmonic. They have performed in prestigious concert halls in Prague, Barcelona, Hale, Bern, Basle, Dortmund, Avignon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Austin, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta, Nashville, Indianapolis, Madison, Chicago, Penn State University, New York City, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Xiamen, Sydney, and many more. The Jitro Choir’s classical discography includes 37 solo Jitro albums. They have recorded with various companies including Supraphon, BMA, Classico, Amabile, ArcoDiva, and Navona Records. The recent discography of the choir contains a special edition of albums devoted to famous composers associated with the choir: Antonín Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, Otmar Mácha, Petr Eben, Ilja Hurník, and Jan Jirásek. Since 1977, Jiří Skopal has led the choir as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, winning high praise for his brilliant leadership, and the superb playing of organist František Vaníček as well as pianist Michal Chrobák adds luster to the choir’s remarkable performances. Noting that “Jitro” means “daybreak” in Czech, BBC Music Magazine deemed this an apt description for the chorus’s “bright, gleaming” performances, which are “indeed like brilliant rays of sunshine slicing through the darkness.”


“Absolutely Superb. I recommend this [album] [Jan Jirásek: PARALLEL WORLDS, 2017 Navona Records LLC] to anyone who likes fine choral singing, particularly by children’s choirs. They are really one of the very best I have heard, but the performances here are as good. These are fresh, interesting works and pleasing to the ear.” — Geoff Pearce, Music and Vision


“But the voices that sing the music are ones that lend it an interestingly modern slant, because they are those of young girls (ages 5-19) from the Jitro Czech Girls Choir, conducted by Jiří Skopal. Hearing these light female voices declaiming and proclaiming the old Latin words usually sung by adults or, when offered by young singers, invariably by boys, lends the material an even more modern sound...” — Infodad Team


“Throughout, the Jitro singers are stunningly accurate in pitch and malleable in their technical ability. Beyond that, they and their maestro are utterly musical.” — Rafael de Acha, Rafael’s Music Notes


Jitro in Xiamen, China. Photo — Jiří Skopal, Jr. (2006)





Photo — Květa Skopalová (2008): Jitro at Czech National Chapel, Washington D.C.




Photo — Květa Skopalová




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