Svetozár Stračina Grand Prix (SSGP) belongs to the most prestigious events organized in the premises of RTVS, Slovak Radio and held under auspices of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which associates public service radio institutions and partner structures in Europe, Asia and America. Thanks to this fact, the competition could also welcome recordings from countries like China, Vietnam or India. The number of recordings entered for the competition varies from edition to edition but what remains the same is the richness and diversity of the entries and the creative approach of radio broadcasting organizations when processing the materials. This includes a wide range of stylizations, from traditional musical motives re-arranged in terms of specific artistic ambitions of authors or performers, to authentic folklore and live concert recordings. Prestige, tradition, authenticity and last but not least style and trends are attributes which play a significant role when submitting the recordings in to the competition. During public listening sessions of this year´s edition of SSGP, the visitors including both music experts and folklore fans could have heard 46 entries in total. The recordings were judged by an international jury composed of folk music professionals whose task was to select the very best of the contributions submitted.
The jury was again chaired by Prof. Oskár Elschek who may, thanks to his long-year professional experience, without doubt be deemed a guarantor of know-how and expertise. By presenting a wide portfolio of both vocal and instrumental folk music recordings within various categories and different approaches, the aim of the competition is to constantly offer to authors, composers, performers and radio editors new and challenging options for creatively reviving traditional music. This is an important aspect, intensively supported by Prof. Elschek himself. As for the prizes, the best recording receives the Svetozár Stračina Grand Prix award. Its proud holder for the current edition of SSGP is Radio Romania Timisoara, which submitted an entry comprising traditional songs from Ardeal region, performed in a very original way by leaf-player Nucu Pandrea, accompanied by the Cununa Transilvana Orchestra. In addition to the main prize the jury may also award special prizes for the extraordinary quality of recordings. In comparison with previous editions of SSGP where the recordings were entered on the basis of pre-defined criteria (e.g. original vs. arranged folklore in 2005), the particular categories of special prizes are recently decided upon by the jury members themselves. This year the special prizes go to:
- River Jaraahai (Russia) for the best folk music recording in traditional form; a wedding song of Burjats and Mongolians, performed by the renowned Burjat singer Namgar, native from the eastern borderland of Russia
- Marta Radino Oro (Bulgaria) for the best interpretation. The piece features soloist Milan Zavkov, a virtuoso accordion player, accompanied by the Folk Music Orchestra of Bulgarian National Radio.
- The Snows They Melt the Soonest (Ireland)for the best technical level of recording. Irish love song performed by Muireann Nic Amhlaiobh
- The entry In Green Forest (Slovakia) was awarded a prize by the Slovak Folk Music Association as the best Slovak recording. The song produced by RTVS Regional Studio in Košice and performed by the folk group Kurimjan represents the site-specific musical tradition of the ensemble´s native village, combining in a unique way the Jewish folklore with the folk music of Šariš region (eastern Slovakia).
Another major aim of the competition is to confront folk music values with the context of a particular period, i.e. to analyse what approach is used to elaborate a musical theme, which aspects are being selected and how is traditional music as an important message carrier being integrated into our current musical awareness. This ambition has been followed since the very beginning of the SSGP competition, i.e. since 1970 when this international competing presentation of folk music recordings was first established as Prix de musique folklorique de Radio Bratislava. Today we can still find many folklore-keen people and they are not limited to listeners only. There is also a third generation of folk music artists, "raised" by folk ensembles and we shall neither forget other numerous composers and performers who aim to present folklore in its most possible authentic way. Their sensitive, highly individual and in many aspects inspiring approach is surely one of crucial prerequisites for preserving the above mentioned genre and enabling its further development. We are currently experiencing an intense boom in this field; let´s mention for instance various media projects like "The Land Sings" show from the production of Radio and Television Slovakia. The enthusiasm to preserve musical traditions was especially manifest in the 70-ies and 80-ies, e.g. the Experimental Studio of the former Czechoslovak Radio in Bratislava gave origin to many recordings of an outstanding quality which almost always used to rank high in the Prix de musique folklorique competition. The next important step for both the present and future is to continue transforming this enthusiasm from the past into new radio recordings in order to keep pace with international competitors from abroad. And this is on what SSGP as an international competition of folk music recordings and presentation of traditional values of the European music culture focuses - to support, enhance, explore and introduce the different forms of folklore existing within the wide media landscape in Europe and beyond.
The new title of the re-established competition has its sense and meaning for a number of reasons. The first one is undoubtedly the superlative legacy of the creative spirit of Svetozár Stračina for whom the folk song was a perfect work of art. Many times, he was pondering upon the way to process it in order not to lower its beauty; not to depreciate the fine gem refined by years. With his work, Stračina not only enriched the genre of radio folk recordings but also the national music culture itself. He created a specific musical language, which was for that time innovative in relation to the approach to processing the folk music materials known and practised so far. In the period 1970-1985, he composed 17 songs for radio and won 10 prizes at the Prix de musique folklorique de Radio Bratislava, thus becoming the most awarded composer in the history of the competition. In these works, he developed a distinct trend in the processing of folk music, often referred to as "Stračina style."
Since 2003, Svetozár Stračina Grand Prix in its new form has also become a venue for an international meeting of friends of musical traditions as well as a discussion platform where participants may consider how to tackle in the best possible way the current media challenges to be faced by the radio in near future, taking into account the key role that radio plays in this process.
The Gala concert associated with the announcement of the results of the competition is traditionally the main attraction for both the audience and listeners of SSGP. This year the ceremony took place on 31 March in the pyramid building of Slovak Radio. The content and dramaturgy were in charge of Alžbeta Lukáčová and Martin Hasák in the role of director. With a fresh and high quality programme, they surpassed all expectations of the gala evening organizers. The concert repertoire included musical numbers composed of authentic folklore, e.g., the presentation of the Folk Music Group "Paľáčovci and Rozkazovači" from Hrochoť village, as well as the virtuoso performance of the violinist Andrej Včelík and Andrej Záhorec Folk Music, by which the artists paid tribute to musical mastership of Rinald Oláh. The programme of the Gala concert offered to its audience a regional diversity of Slovak folk music, as well as a balanced set of presentations including solo numbers, instrumental pieces or singers' performances. It also introduced various generations of artists, represented by individual performers. For instance, the stage presentation featured Mária Brdárska - Janoška, a female singer, important bearer of local traditions and living legend of the folk culture of Rejdová village, along with the Female Vocal Group Hôra, which presented itself by specific polyphonic singing from Gemer Region under musical accompaniment of Ondrej Hlaváč Folk Music Group from Gočov village. The youngest generation of performers was represented by the members of the Bagpipers Duo from Oravská Polhora. Adrián Matis, Filip Brišák and Adriana Plevjaková are devoted to a very archaic musical form, which is a combination of a two-tone bagpipe and a violin. This music could have been preserved even in the 20th century in its very natural form as a kind of relict at the Upper Orava region. The concert also featured the Folk Music Group Javorníček from Hvozdnica village who represented the music culture of Štiavnica Valley; excellent singing performances were also offered by Štefan Štec from Košice or Barbora Blahová from Bratislava.
The western frontier region of Slovakia was represented by the performer Miroslav Burzla from Skalica, a virtuoso helicon player and leader of his own cimbalom band. We also heard the Female Vocal Group Marína from Zvolen performing a unique musical arrangement of pre-wedding folk songs from the Môťová village (nowadays part of the town Zvolen), created by Svetozár Stračina for the first edition of the competition Prix de Musique Folklorique de Radio Bratislava in 1969, which was also awarded in that years' edition. The gala concert was concluded by a musical performance of the Folk Orchestra of the Slovak Traditional Dance Company (SĽUK) with an excellent ethno-jazz formation called Pacora trio, who performed musical excerpts from the project Ornaments, connecting tradition and virtuosity with current trends. Their performance was an excellent grand finale of the last edition of Svetozár Stračina Grand Prix.