When UNT College of Music Professor Thomas Sovik first took students to the Czech Republic in the early 1990s to learn about Czech composers and music literature, he thought it was a one-time trip. But with support from the Czech Educational Foundation of Texas and a gift from Dr. Francis Kostohryz establishing a Czech music and culture residency in 2007, Sovik has been able to take UNT’s Czech music program farther than he ever thought possible.
UNT music students benefit from visiting composers and musicians, and Sovik leads tours that take native music into Texas’ vibrant Czech communities.
“With this endowment, we’re able to give right back – we’re going out into the Texas Czech community and helping preserve their culture,” he said. “The Czechs were one of the ethnic groups that significantly developed this state’s history. It’s important for us to preserve that culture.”
Now Sovik and the College of Music are celebrating an additional $1 million gift from Kostohryz, which Sovik says will help UNT produce the kind of programming and events that bring the university national acclaim.
The original endowment, named for Kostohryz’s parents, supports an annual residency that brings distinguished Czech musicians, composers, artists and educators to UNT to teach, perform and conduct research. The residency also includes production of Czech operas and festivals, such as the Leoš Janáček International Music Festival and Academic Conference, which was held in 2013 at UNT. The conference has also been held at the Janáček Academy of Music and the Performing Arts in Brno, Czech Republic.
Kostohryz’s most recent gift will fund travel and other expenses to maintain the collaboration of musicians and educators between UNT and the Czech Republic, and allow for more concerts and programming.
“The residency allows our students, faculty and guest artists to share historically significant classical and folkloric Czech music,” said Dean of the College of Music James Scott. “With the addition of this gift to the endowment, new possibilities will open up for our collaborations.”
These collaborations are important for education and of historic significance in Texas, which has a deep-rooted Czech heritage in several parts of the state, Scott said.
Sovik said the new endowment may allow him to put together a Czech Christmas festival next year. He envisions that the event would include a famous Czech Christmas Mass featuring performances by UNT choir and orchestra students.
“These large events involve the entire College of Music, and really become university-wide events, which brings UNT a lot of recognition,” Sovik said. “And these events wouldn’t happen without our supporters.”
Texas has one of the largest Czech-American populations in the United States, with several early settlements established in Central Texas in the 1800s. The Czech Educational Foundation of Texas was established in 1954 to preserve and promote Czech history and culture. UNT announced the CEFT Frank J. and Hermine Hurta Kostohryz Residency in Czech Music and Culture with a celebration in 2007 that included a musical performance and visit by the Czech ambassador. Since then, UNT has continued to send students and faculty to the Czech Republic for performances, classes and research, and has welcomed guest artists to Texas.
“With this endowment, UNT is becoming recognized as the center for Czech music,” Sovik said.
Above, a performance of The Bartered Bride, UNT's first opera performed in Czech.