Miroslav Kokoška (1944 – 2005)
A versatile and dedicated musician, Miroslav Kokoška was not only a solo marimbist and composer, but also a great organizer, successful manager and inspired teacher, one of the movers and shakers behind quite a few musical projects. A Prague Conservatory percussion graduate and keen jazz pianist, he worked his way through a few chamber and symphony orchestras, as well as the Czech TV Big Band orchestra, and embarked on a virtuoso marimba-playing career, winning critical acclaim as the „Paganini of the marimba” and making his mark as the composer of marimba chamber concertos.
Having mastered the four-mallet vibraphone technique of Garry Burton, he founded a trio, combining his marimba with guitar (Miloslav Klaus, Štepán Rak) and also violin (Jaroslav Svecený, earlier on with the flute of Jan Riedlbauch) and launching his lifelong marimba-promoting mission. In addition to his excellent arrangements of carefully chosen classical pieces, he premiered music composed by renowned Czech composers (Petr Eben, Štepán Rak, Emil Hlobil among others) for both his trio and his virtuoso solos, accompanied by leading Czech and Slovak orchestras (PKO, FOK, Slovak Philharmonic). He appeared at several Prague Spring Festivals and abroad with the trio (Austria, Germany, Spain, Finland, and Russia). Two LP records featuring the Prague Marimba Trio in both instrumental set-ups came out (Panton 1982, Supraphon 1988).
His own marimba concertos reflect an intimate technical knowledge of this melodic percussion instrument and effectively exploit its potential. Wishing to contribute to the small orchestral repertoire for the marimba, he honed his composing skills with Hanuš Barton and Alexej Frýd. His concertos for marimba and chamber orchestra take on a second solo instrument, violin/flute, trumpet/French horn, and oboe respectively, and allow for other instrumental combinations as well. He premiered them to wide acclaim with the Prague Chamber Orchestra (PKO) in the Rudolfinum from the mid 1990s’ on, recorded them for Czech TV, for Czech Radio with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, and also on CDs. His second concerto received a standing ovation when in 2001 he performed it in symphonic format in Montevideo.
Central among his musical interests, apart from fusions of genres, was training and support of young talented musicians. From the 1990s’ he began organizing very popular chamber concert series, as well as working as the director of a music school which had risen rapidly under his leadership as one of the best music schools in Prague. These activities too benefited from his inspiring presence and innovative ideas that he effectively put into action and combined. This is how the Ambassadors’ Concert Series, among his many ideas, sprang to life. In 2001 he revived his marimba trio under the name of Prague Chamber Session, with violinist Pavel Prantl and guitarist Miloslav Klaus.
Another of his breakthrough projects still under way was called “The Whole School on Stage“. Here he led the way in ingeniously arranging the well-known works of world classical music to involve every department, every instrument, every pupil of his music school, including the tiny beginners and the teachers, in orchestral team-work. The resulting powerful performances of the Ode to Joy, Rondo alla Turca, Bolero, Czech Christmas Carols, and other pieces, still make their half-term concerts unforgettable and display the school’s professional and social potential.
His first Concerto for Marimba, String orchestra and Solo Violin met with an enthusiastic reception not only when premiered in the Rudolfinum in 1995, but also at the ACS concert concluding the 3rd season in June 2006, when performed by the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra with Pavel Prantl as conductor and solo violinist and percussionist Kamil Nemec, Miroslav´s marimba pupil. (Early Years)
His marimba Concerto with the French Horn was performed at the Irish ACS concert in March 2007, again with Pavel Prantl and his Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, hornist Jindrich Kolár and young Irish marimbist James Dunne. (Highlights)