Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26
Piano Concerto No. 5 in G Major, Op. 55
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Symphony No. 5 in E Minor op. 64
Newly appointed as Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov will assume the title at the beginning of the 2018/19 season. Born in Leningrad in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has been based in Europe since the mid-1980’s. In common with the Orchestra, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the cultures both of the East and the West.
Conducting the Czech Philharmonic for the opening of the 2017 Smetana Litomyšl Festival, Hospodářské noviny wrote of the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini: “the Czech Philharmonic is currently on excellent form and trusts Semyon Bychkov. And, being battle-hardened from working around the world with the best orchestras on the planet, he gives the Philharmonic players the room to develop their musical potential. The result is a unique musical creation.”
Following his early concerts with the Czech Philharmonic in 2013, Bychkov and the Orchestra devised The Tchaikovsky Project, a series of concerts, residencies and studio recordings which allowed them the luxury of exploring Tchaikovsky’s music together, both in Prague’s Rudolfinum and abroad. The first fruit of The Tchaikovsky Project – a recording of Symphony No. 6 coupled with the Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture – was released by Decca in October 2016, and was followed in August 2017 by the release of the Manfred Symphony. The Tchaikovsky Project culminates in 2019 with residencies in Vienna and Paris, and Decca’s release of all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini.
Semyon Bychkov won the Rachmaninov Conducting Competition when he was 20 years old. Two years later, having been denied his prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, he left the former Soviet Union where, aged five, he was singled out for an extraordinarily privileged education in music. Initially studying piano, Bychkov was later selected to study at the Glinka Choir School where he received his first conducting lesson aged 13. Four years later he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory as a student of the legendary Ilya Musin.
By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His international career, which began in France with Opéra de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, had taken off when a series of high-profile cancellations resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras. In 1989, he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997, Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and the following year, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Bychkov’s repertoire is wide-ranging both in the concert hall and in the opera house. He conducts in all the major houses including La Scala, Opéra national de Paris, Dresden Semperoper, Wiener Staatsoper, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Teatro Real. Madrid. While Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, his productions of Janáček’s Jenufa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov were awarded the prestigious Premio Abbiati. He recently conducted Wagner’s Parsifal at the Wiener Staatsoper, and will return in 2018 with the same opera. Other new productions in Vienna include Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina; while in London, he made his debut with a new production of Strauss’ Elektra, and subsequently conducted new productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten and Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, in addition to regular performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, his honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra - with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – reflect the warmth of the relationships. In Europe, he tours frequently with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being an annual guest of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras.
Recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons he has worked closely with Renée Staar, Thomas Larcher, Richard Dubignon, Detlev Glanert and Julian Anderson, conducting premières of their works with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
Bychkov’s recording career began in 1986 when he signed with Philips and began a significant collaboration which produced an extensive discography with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings - the result of his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne – include a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphony No. 3, Das Lied von der Erde), Shostakovich (Symphony Nos. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninov (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin was voted BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year in 2010; and his recent recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was selected as BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month.
Semyon Bychkov was named 2015’s Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.
Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953) was a versatile musician. He studied composition, conducting and piano at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, graduating with his First Piano Concerto. However, his Second Piano Concerto, composed in the same period, was misunderstood by the audience and condemned as too “Futuristic”. After the outbreak of the October Revolution Prokofiev left Russia with the ambition to become a successful composer in America. Before leaving for the United States he spent a summer on the coast of France in Brittany, where he wrote Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3.
The musical ideas of individual movements came into being over several years, and the entire composition was not finished until the summer holidays of 1921. The concerto was performed for the first time in December of the same year by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock with Prokofiev himself at the piano. The concerto did not gain immediate popularity either at the premiere or at the subsequent performance in New York and had to wait until 1922 for an outstanding success at a concert in Paris conducted by Serge Koussevitzky. The Third Piano Concerto is the only one of the five piano concertos by Prokofiev in three movements; by its technical complexity, richness of distinct rhythms, untamed energy as well as poetic passages it presents a true picture of brilliant pianism and unique personality of its author.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky conducted his own compositions during his visits to Prague in 1888 and 1892, where he befriended Antonín Dvořák and other feted artists. Shortly after his first tour of the city, he plunged into writing his Symphony No. 5 in E minor Op. 64. The piece is not based on a specific programme, yet it is deemed to be related to Tchaikovsky’s journal entries dating from the second half of the 1880s, in which he frequently manifests his depressed state of mind and ponders the issues of human existence, life and the inevitability of fate, seeking solace in religious faith.
The glum introduction to the first movement, Andante – Allegro con anima, depicts the individual’s being subject to irreversible destiny, yet it is followed by doubts and the dramatic struggle of the human with the forces of evil (according to some Tchaikovsky connoisseurs, they represent the qualms resulting from the composer’s homosexual orientation).
The first movement presents the recurring “Providence” motif, which serves as a device lending unity to the whole symphony. The dreamy second movement, Andante cantabile, with a lyrical opening theme delivered by the solo horn, comes across as an expression of the desire for the unattainable ideal and a celebration of the beauties of life. In its second half, the conciliatory feelings give way to dramatic agitations, yet all the contradictions end in an overall appeasement and resignation. The lightened third, waltz, movement, Allegro moderato,is devoid of all the woeful feelings the composer faced during his life. In the final movement, Andante maestoso – Allegro vivace,written in the sonata form, the Providence motif is presented in a manner expressing the triumph of life over death.
Symphony No. 5 was premiered on 17 November 1888 in Saint Petersburg, with the composer himself conducting. Whereas the audience responded to it with great enthusiasm, some critics deemed the work to be routine and superficial, with Tchaikovsky himself having doubts as to the quality of the piece. Yet his scepticism was duly dispelled four years later, during his second visit to Prague, when it met with unequivocal acclaim on the part of professionals and the general music-loving public alike.
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