The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Days 10 and 11 find the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra touring a Prague’s “Golem” synagogue, cruising on the Moldau, performing its last concert in Europe and returning home tired but safe and sound.

July 21, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may already know, the Youth Orchestra, the premiere performing group of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, went on a concert tour with conductor James Smith of Prague, Vienna and Budapest from July 7 through July 17.

The Youth Orchestra (in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music) is made up of 69 musicians, age 14-18, from 19 communities in south-central Wisconsin.

Here is a link to an earlier entry with details about the tour including venues:

Last month, Mikko Utevsky agreed to blog for The Well-Tempered Ear from his tour, which is also his fist trip abroad. You can find his other blogs from the past two weeks on this blog.

Utevsky, as you may know from reading this blog, just graduated from East High School in Madison and will attend the University of Wisconsin and the UW School of Music this fall. He has been featured in this blog and also writes comments about its postings. (You can check him out using the blog’s search engine. He is a discerning listener and critic, and a fine writer.)

Utevsky (below), who plays viola in the WYSO group, is also the founder and director-conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which has already performed its first summer concert this year and will perform another on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about WYSO plus a link to his blog and Utevsky’s entries, visit:

Here is Utevsky’s eighth and final report, with photos by WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser.

By Mikko Utevsky


Monday was our last (well, only) full day in Prague, which was definitely my favorite of the cities we visited. I thought it struck the best balance between the bustle of a modern city and the beauty of its rich history.

Speaking of history — the top of my list of sights to see was the Old New Synagogue (a photo in its exterior is below), which a handful of us successfully made it to on Monday. (It was called the New Synagogue until newer ones were build, at which point it acquired the “Old” nickname.)

It was a humbling experience to visit such a solemn place, particularly as I am Jewish myself. The building is still used for services, and is still open primarily as an orthodox synagogue — men must wear head coverings to enter, and women are prohibited from wearing them inside, as is customary in such establishments. Men and women are also seated separately during services, with women in a separate room outside the sanctuary.

The synagogue’s claim to fame comes chiefly from an old legend about the Golem of Prague, whose body is said to reside in the attic. (Below is a still from the popular 1920 German Expressionist film “The Golem: How It Came Into Being.”)

It was said to have been created from river clay by Rabbi Loew to defend the Jews of the Prague Ghetto from attacks by outsiders. Animated by the Divine Name in a Kabbalistic ritual and inscribed with the Hebrew word for “truth” on its forehead (“emet”), the Golem eventually strayed from its mission and began assaulting and killing those responsible for the attacks rather than simply protecting the Jews.

Rabbi Loew confronted the creature, striking it on the forehead with his staff and obliterating the first letter of the word “emet” to make “met,” the word for “death,” and the Golem lived no more. Today the attic is closed off, with the top steps of the staircase cut away completely to block access, but many believe (at least superstitiously) that the Golem is still there. (Below is a photo of the synagogue’s interior.)

Our final concert (announced, below to, in a poster in Czech) was in the Prague Museum of Music (below bottom) and its cavernous central hall, which had a frustratingly resonant acoustic even when filled with people.

The concert (below) went well, on the whole, and in any case playing Dvorak in Prague was very cool.

In true cyclical fashion, our tour ended as it began — with a dinner cruise (below), this time on the River Vltava or Moldau (as depicted by Smetana’s famous tone poem from the cycle “Ma vlast,” at bottom). This one was chilly rather than the stifling heat of the Danube, and the food was quite good.

The trip home was even longer than the departure voyage, lengthened massively by a severely understaffed and unprepared Customs office in Chicago, which took more than two hours to get through (as I’m sure most parents are well aware). We arrived back at the UW Humanities Building at midnight, and said our goodbyes to go home for some well-earned, jet-lagged rest.



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