Bertramka Declared National Cultural Landmark By Minister of Culture

Photo: Archive Blesk. Blesk.CZ. On January 28th, the day after Mozart's 263rd birthday, the Maestro received one of the best gifts...

Photo: Archive Blesk. Blesk.CZ.

On January 28th, the day after Mozart's 263rd birthday, the Maestro received one of the best gifts the 21st Century could offer him: the preservation of his beloved friends' villa where he was a house guest in 1787 and 1791. Read more about this history.

Bertramka, whose decline has been exacerbated by neglect over the past few years, was declared a National Cultural Landmark by the Minster of Culture, Antonín Staněk. This new designation means that the property will now have state protection and funding for rehabilitation and maintenance.

The following are local news articles (select translate in browser):
"Mozart's Villa Bertramka is a National Cultural Monument. The New Status Helps Her With Funding" (Blesk.CZ)
"Prague Villa Bertramka, Where Mozart also Resided, Became a National Cultural Monument" (Aktualne.CZ)

I'd like to thank my colleague David Bahlman, an Architectural Historian and Preservationist, for his work in this matter and for keeping me informed through his contacts in Prague.

I thought this would never happen, so I'm feeling both excitement and disbelief. If you've been following my coverage of this story, you'll know that I've long championed the effort with Friends of Bertramka and other allies. It was last February when I penned an article about what seemed like a hopeless situation.

Read my article: "Praguers No Longer Understand Mozart, Metro States as Bertramka Declines."

Now, one year later, after mounting public pressure, there is action. We raised our voices as a global community alongside the concerned citizens of Prague and succeeded. Bertramka has been saved from an uncertain future, a future that could have ended in collapse or demolition. Victory is ours!


Music City: A Mozart Birthday Celebration

Roger Wiesmeyer, Founder of Mozart in Nashville, during a performance for the 2017 Mozart birthday celebration. Photo by Sally Bebawy Phot...

Roger Wiesmeyer, Founder of Mozart in Nashville, during a performance for the 2017 Mozart birthday celebration. Photo by Sally Bebawy Photography.

On the occasion of Mozart’s 263rd birthday this weekend (January 27, 1756), I’d like to celebrate by recognizing an inspiring and underrepresented effort to present his music. Mozart in Nashville just held their 17th annual Mozart birthday celebration concerts in Music City and it was their most successful to date. 

Listen: Live in Studio C: Mozart in Nashville (Nashville Public Radio, Jan 18, 2019)
Read: 17th Annual Mozart's Birthday Concerts (Off The Podium, Jan 11, 2019)
Watch: Musician Q&A with Roger Wiesmeyer (Nashville Symphony, Jan 17, 2017)

The history of music in Nashville dates back to the late 1700s when the settlers celebrated with fiddle tunes after arriving on the shores of the Cumberland River. Nashville is a mid-sized city comparable to Mozart’s adopted home of Vienna with a similar kind of authenticity, creative energy and artist community. It has the intimate environs of Viennese coffee culture and more music jobs per capita than any other city in the United States. I would argue that Nashville is one of the most fitting places for Mozart to be introduced, explored and performed. Read: Why Nashville Is Still America’s Music City. 

Mozart in Nashville was founded by Roger Wiesmeyer, a graduate of the Curtis Institute and current English horn player/Oboist with the Nashville Symphony. It's of particular interest to me to investigate Mozart organizations operating in music heritage cities where classical music may not necessarily be the most popular genre, but where there is great potential to progress, and Nashville is one such place. Learning more about organizations is another way for me to gauge the "current state of Mozart." When I approached Roger about a Q&A, he enthusiastically accepted. Thank you, Roger. I hope we'll have the opportunity to work together in the near future!


Sherry: Congratulations on your 17th annual Mozart birthday celebration! Last weekend, you performed Mozart's works for Glass Armonica/Harmonica, K. 356 and K. 617, along with his Symphony No. 40, K. 550. How have the concerts evolved over the years in terms of repertoire and personnel? As not only the Founder of Mozart in Nashville, but also one of its musicians, what works do you enjoy performing most?

Roger: Actually, I play English horn so my choice of repertoire is extremely limited. The adagio which is a fragment which he turned into the Ave verum corpus has been determined to be for basset horns. As oboist, I've played the quartet of course, K. 370. Also, we've done the serenades and “Gran Partita.” We've performed the music for mechanical clock in transcription for quintet AND piano four hands. About six years ago, I discovered my true artistic motivation was to provide a chance to play his magnificent piano concertos. A friend of mine refers to them as “the caviar of music.” I seem to do one every other year or so. So far, I have gotten to play little A major, G major, c minor and last Bb. I’m eyeing big A major for next year but haven't committed myself. I've played a minor sonata and Bb K. 333. We’ve done Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 and the bassoon concerto as well as three of his songs and “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!” I’m sure I’m forgetting good stuff but you get the idea.

Sherry: I recently discovered your organization through our mutual friend Deanna Walker at Vanderbilt University. I noted your emphasis on charity and inclusion. You accept donations to support performance expenses with all additional proceeds benefiting local charities. “Mozart in Nashville is dedicated to bringing classical music to Nashville's most vulnerable citizens, including children, lifelong learners, people with special needs, and incarcerated people.” To me, this immediately set your platform apart from others. While many might acknowledge culture as a unifying force, we mostly find empty words in place of action and exclusivity instead of universality. You actually practice the themes of love, enlightenment and fraternal union found in Mozart's music and biography. And in a genre whose sustainability depends upon eradicating an elitist stigma dating from Mozart's time, well, this means something. Aside from Mozart, who or what was your main source of inspiration for making these two pillars (charity and inclusion) the foundation of Mozart in Nashville?

Roger: My inspirations come from various places. When I lived in the Bay Area, I was fortunate to get to play with a group called Midsummer Mozart which was founded by the great conductor George Cleve. It was such a joyous, true musical experience, I wanted to do something similar when I moved home to Nashville. Pete Seeger is also an inspiration especially when it comes to the third leg of Mozart in Nashville. When he was blacklisted, he made his living playing songs in church basements and union halls all over the country. This is always in the back of my mind when I take the train every summer to points west bringing music I love to house concerts up and down the west coast.

Sherry: How successful have you been in your objective to be an "...organization dedicated to bringing classical music to those who might not otherwise encounter it?" We know from his letters that Mozart found joy in knowing that his music reached everyday citizens beyond the salons of the aristocracy. He had a supreme command of writing music that appealed to both connoisseurs and general audiences. Today, accessibility remains an issue, which your mission statement addresses. Do you find it challenging to strike a balance with outreach and engagement between these two populations? Is your focus more on attracting new, broader and more diverse audiences?

Roger: This last weekend we had our most successful concerts as for as audiences and also money raised. It is still a big deal to have an audience bigger than 125, especially at our non-Mozart birthday concerts (we sponsor four Concerto Orchestra Concerts each season). In terms of programming, I don't aim for a demographic. I find music that I want to inhabit for a while and present it with the aim of saying a little bit about WHY it is special to me. Also, this music really is in the collective unconscious. If you sing the first half of the first phrase of the g minor symphony or “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” my guess is most folks could volley back the right answer. Even if people don't know it's Mozart, he's just that ubiquitous. I try to present it in as unstuffy, down to earth way as possible. 

Roger Wiesmeyer (piano) and Mozart in Nashville musicians give a preview of their annual Mozart birthday celebration at Nashville Public Radio. Photo by Kara McLeland, January 18, 2019.

Sherry: Although Nashville is a thriving community of artists working in various genres, it's still known primarily for country music. Alongside the Nashville Symphony, the Nashville Opera and other institutions, do you feel that your organization has played a role in creating greater awareness of Mozart's music and the classical genre in Music City? One advantage certainly lies within Nashville's own creative community where artistic crossover is sought and nourished. Ie. Country singer Mandy Barnett performed the Nashville Songbook with the Nashville Symphony last year. What do you feel is key in promoting Mozart's music as both an independent and interdependent force in Nashville? 

Roger: Music is about joy, communication of feeling that words fail, sharing something moving and completely intangible. Whenever I meet someone, after establishing good will and a level of mutual trust, I’ll ask "So what do you listen to?" This often happens in a car share as I gave up my own car a few years back. Fortunately, I like all genres of music even if I’m not fluent in them. Whatever they mention, I try to find common ground and at some point, I'll mention I play in the NSO and have a non-profit called Mozart in Nashville. It's really an organic feeling and I do it mostly to share what I love rather than thinking in terms of promoting Mozart. I need and love his legacy more than it needs my help. Cream floats after all...

Sherry: The devastation of historic Music Row, where over 40 historic buildings have been demolished in the last few years, signals a blatant disregard for Nashville's music history. What does this mean for other historical genres like classical music and related organizations like Mozart in Nashville? Last year, I wrote an article about the deterioration of the Villa Bertramka in Prague, a beloved Mozart landmark, from neglect. When music's built heritage is threatened, I believe the entire system of related organizations, performing groups and audiences is threatened. Is Mozart in Nashville active with advocacy and preservation efforts with groups like Historic Nashville? Have any of the historic churches or other venues where you've performed concerts ever been endangered?

Roger: The question about historic preservation is of vital interest to me personally, but doesn't really enter into Mozart in Nashville in any substantial way. Edgehill United Methodist Church, our mother church if you will, is not a particularly old building. However, it is the oldest intentionally integrated church in Nashville. East End United Methodist Church is home to the second oldest continually meeting Boy Scout troop in the U.S. and is a lovely building from around 1910 I believe. West End United Methodist is a grand building and I believe the congregation goes back to the earliest days of Vanderbilt University. Since we are largely volunteer and have a tiny budget, we go where we are welcomed without a fee. Trinity Presbyterian, Saint George's Episcopal, Edgehill United Methodist, East End United Methodist, West End United Methodist are our main venues although we just played at W O Smith Music School for the first time and I hope we can go back.

Sherry: Returning to the lighter fare of the Maestro's birthday, what will you be doing to celebrate since the Mozart in Nashville birthday concerts were last weekend? 

Roger: On the actual day, I'm playing a Mozart concert in Clarksville with a lovely group called The Gateway Chamber Orchestra. Linz Symphony, Strauss Serenade for Winds, and Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana. We repeat it on Monday night in Franklin.

The Mozartian Store Opens on CafePress

The Modern-Day Mozartian   store is now open on CafePress! Stickers, buttons, magnets, postcards and luggage tags featuring my logo are r...

The Modern-Day Mozartian store is now open on CafePress! Stickers, buttons, magnets, postcards and luggage tags featuring my logo are readily available to ship worldwide.

Browse & Shop! (I welcome feedback about product inventory!)

Why merch? It makes a powerful statement and reaches audiences through human interaction rather than through a screen. It's more meaningful and effective. I think most people would be more intrigued by seeing a bewigged character they encountered at the airport or in traffic than while skimming and scanning content on a device.

Whether you have a sticker on your notebook, a button on your backpack, a magnet on your refrigerator or car, you're using a luggage tag on a trip or you're sending a postcard to a fellow Mozartian, signature merch serves an ambassadorial role. It's your stamp of approval, your endorsement, and it'll help bring new audiences to Mozart and my platform while giving you (the WolfGANG!) a fun way to support my work.

CafePress was on my mind when I created the logo in 2016, but so many other projects and initiatives intervened that it simply didn't happen...until now! I've never had a paywall or asked readers to pay subscription fees, so in addition to audience development, opening a store also creates a potential revenue stream for me, something I can never have enough of as an independent professional!

I've always believed that taking a social approach to preservation is key because audiences benefit exponentially through shared experiences. It's why I've created events and contests on Facebook as well as two fan collection exhibits at the Mozarthaus in Vienna. Promoting the public recognition of Mozart's audiences with an identity (logo) through which we can connect is also a part of the journey.

And what's in a logo? Well, everything in terms of message and as little as possible in terms of design. When someone sees the Mozartian, I want them to know that she represents not only my work (I'm simply a catalyst or representative), but the efforts of the Mozartian collective. As musicians, audience members, consumers, patrons and volunteers, we all play a vital role in sustaining Mozart's music and heritage.

We're storytellers who deliver contemporary context, socio-cultural perspective and human interest. We're agents of the living and ever-evolving music history of which we are a part. Our voice is one of great power and beauty, reflecting the joy and humanity of Mozart's music and the universal messages of love, unity and enlightenment conveyed within its measures.


Praguers No Longer Understand Mozart, Metro States as Bertramka Declines

When I penned the article  The Plight of Mozart's Eden: Saving the Villa Bertramka , it was a promising time for the landmark&#...

When I penned the article The Plight of Mozart's Eden: Saving the Villa Bertramka, it was a promising time for the landmark's restoration. Our organization, the Friends of Bertramka, an international alliance of Mozart fans, scholars, musicians and others who cared deeply about the stewardship of Bertramka, had a good working relationship with the owners, the Czech Mozart Society. The future looked bright and full of possibility.

There's a reason why I haven't shared any recent updates about our initiative. Over the past few years, there was a steady decline in our relationship with the Czech Mozart Society and news from Prague became scarce. It saddens me to report that the Friends of Bertramka organization is now inactive due to a lack of partnership from the Czech Mozart Society. Their leadership have closed its doors to collaboration, so our activities towards fundraising and advocacy have ceased entirely.

While the Czech Mozart Society continues to turn away helping hands, Bertramka has fallen deeper into ruin. They lack the funds to properly maintain the structure and have said so themselves. Since I've become aware of some developments in Bertramka's unfolding story from colleagues as well as my own independent research, I felt it was time to publish an update. As one of the only advocates keeping the general public informed about the afflicted cultural icon, it's a personal and professional obligation.

Since I'm not fluent in the Czech language, it took me longer to locate some of this information. Of my 2016 and 2017 findings, the most alarming was a headline in Prague's Metro: "Praguers No Longer Understand Mozart, His Bertramka Grows with Grass" (August 19, 2016). As painful as it is to read, I'm thankful that the Metro decided to unabashedly report about the overgrown and much neglected state of the property.

"Praguers No Longer Understand Mozart" makes reference to a comment the composer supposedly made in response to Prague's unprecedented and unwavering appreciation for his work: "Meine Prager verstehen mich" ("My Praguers understand me"). Case in point. "The shaded courtyard of the villa and the fallen plaster are signs of the fact that no one cares about the building."

Few eyes outside of Prague have seen the Metro's article, and it makes me wonder what would happen if it were more broadly circulated. I hope that my mention of it here will raise greater awareness and encourage the Metro to follow the story for both local and international audiences.

I've received inquiries from a few concerned individuals who have offered up their expertise and contacts for the cause including David Bahlman, an Architectural Historian and Preservationist. David was President of the Mozart Society of Philadelphia for over ten years and during that time worked in New York as Associate Director of Public Relations for the New York Philharmonic.

David befriended H.C. Robbins Landon, who encouraged his love for Mozart, and himself became a patron of the Mozart Society of Philadelphia. David is well connected in the world of opera and classical music, and would like nothing more than to use these connections and their resources to help save the ailing landmark.

The following photo was taken by a tourist and posted on TripAdvisor in January 2017.

When David visited Bertramka in 2015, he found its condition so shocking compared to his visit in the 1990s that he began searching for a way to take action. That's when he found me. He wrote: "Having discovered your website and enthusiastic involvement with Bertramka, I wanted to reach out to you as well in an effort to build the strongest coalition of advocates possible to find ways to break the stalemate in Prague. The building is not going to survive if restoration work doesn't start soon."

David has made an effort to enlist Czech officials in the U.S., reaching out to the Counsel General in New York, the Czech Cultural Center in New York and the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington, D.C. His correspondence hasn't elicited any action from their offices, but they've acknowledged the negligence of Bertramka, disappointed tourists and a collective sadness among colleagues for its current condition.

Some hopeful news arrived when David informed me that Dr. Katerina Samojska of the National Monument Institute had taught conservation techniques at Bertramka in May and June 2017. I was cautiously optimistic. Was this the beginning of a long-awaited restoration? Upon further investigation, it was evident that the workshop was a singular event that focused primarily on repairing plaster on the staircase.

On June 8, 2017, the Metro published an article stating that "The main objective of the course is not to restore the object, but to train conservation specialists." On August 17, 2017, the NPU published an article with photos and video coverage of the restoration. On Bertramka's website, there are photos, articles and a video documenting these activities as well as some maintenance of the garden.

As David concluded: "Major projects involving the stabilization of the structure weren't accomplished, so this minor work isn't adequate enough to protect the villa from further deterioration."

Although the designation of "Mozartstadt" (Mozart City) is typically reserved for other cities like Augsburg, Salzburg and Vienna, I always use it when referencing Prague. It's one of the most important cities in his biography. But without any restoration activity moving forward, the amount of negative reviews from visitors accumulating online (TripAdvisor, etc) and more press coverage about Bertramka's predicament, I'm deeply concerned about its reputation as a guardian of this heritage. Any decrease in tourism or international partnership will inevitably impact any future attempts for Bertramka to rebuild and sustain itself as a reputable heritage site and museum.

It goes without saying that this is one of the saddest articles I've ever had to write, but as my twin sister Sheryl always reminds me, preservation is not for the faint of heart. We lose our heritage (people, places, things) everyday due to neglect, greed and death. While it's impossible to prevent the loss of human life, our living heritage endures because we have the ability to document and communicate it to new generations. We can prevent most loss when it comes to our buildings and artifacts. Bertramka is in a state of decline and the damage will become irreversible if too much time passes with inaction. There's absolutely no reason why it should become a casualty.

I'm disappointed in the lack of interest shown by institutions, organizations, musicians and singers. Many famous artists perform in Prague, yet remain silent on the issue of Bertramka. I'm confident that it would take one star in the world of opera or classical music to advocate for a resolution and funds would be raised for its restoration.

At the dawn of a new year, Bertramka's fate remains uncertain. Will the winter be harsh on the already fragile structure or will it be mild and forgiving? And once Bertramka endures its literal and figurative winter, what promise awaits for it in springtime? Will Prague make good on its historic relationship with Mozart and act in time for the beloved villa to be saved?