Jiří Ignác Linek
Pastorela “Arise, arise o shepherds”
Tomáš Norbert Koutník
Pastorela “Rejoice, one and all”
Jakub Jan Ryba
Czech Christmas Mass
Lenka Máčiková Kusendová
Jana Šrejma Kačírková
Lukáš Vasilek, principal conductor of the Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC), studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and musicology at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague. For eleven seasons from 1998 he was conductor of the Foerster Female Chamber Choir, and between 2005 and 2007 was also second choirmaster of the Prague National Theatre´s opera chorus.
He took up his post at the helm of the PPC in 2007. Apart from preparing and conducting the choir´s own concert productions, he builds up the PPC´s repertoire set for participation in larger-scale cantata, oratorio and opera projects, working with leading international conductors (Barenboim, Bělohlávek, Eschenbach, Honeck, Hrůša, Jordan, Luisi, Mehta or Rattle, among others) and orchestras (including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Czech Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or Wiener Symphoniker). Since 2010 the PFS under Vasilek´s direction has guest appeared regularly at the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.
Lukáš Vasilek is signed under numerous recordings made by the PPC for various major labels, including Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Sony Classical and Supraphon. In 2016 the last mentioned of these issued an album of Bohuslav Martinů´s cantatas which was recently singled out for special plaudits by the prestigious British magazines, Gramophone (Editor´s Choice), and BBC Music Magazine (Choral & Song Choice).
In 2010 Lukáš Vasilek formed the Martinů Voices chamber vocal ensemble whose repertoire he has focused primarily on 20th- and 21st-century choral music. He is likewise occasionally active as an orchestra conductor.
Jaroslav Březina studied at the Prague Conservatory under the tutelage of Zdeněk Jankovský and after graduating further honed his technique with Václav Zítek. During his studies he became a member of the vocal ensemble Dobrý večer kvintet. His concert activity is extensive, primarily as regards projects pertaining to the baroque and classical repertoire. He has appeared on concert stages in Japan, Austria, Norway, Italy (performances of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater in Rome and Pisa), Germany, France and Spain.
He has collaborated with a number of conductors, including J. Bělohlávek, Sir C. Mackerras, O. Dohnányi, S. Baudo, G. Albrecht and T. Netopil. Since 1993 he has been a soloist of Prague’s National Theatre Opera, where he has created a host of roles from both the Czech and world repertoire - Mozart’s Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni), Tito (La clemenza di Tito), Tamino (Die Zauberflöte), Pedrillo (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) and Ferrando (Così fan tutte), Count Almaviva (Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia), Dancairo (Bizet: Carmen), Verdi’s Alfredo (La traviata), Fenton (Falstaff) and Macduff (Macbeth), Beppe (Leoncavallo: Pagliacci), Zinovy Borisovich (Shostakovitch: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk), Smetana’s Vašek and Jeník (The Bartered Bride), Skřivánek and Vít (The Secret) and Michálek (The Devil’s Wall), Dvořák’s Jiří (The Jacobin) and Jirka (The Devil and Kate), Janáček’s Laca (Jenůfa), Kudryash (Káťa Kabanová) and Schoolmaster / Mosquito (The Cunning Little Vixen), Martinů’s Yannakos and Panait (The Greek Passion) and Mascaron (The Miracles of Mary), Nemorino (Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore), The Spirit of the Masque (Britten: Gloriana).
He featured on CD recordings of J. J. Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass (Deutsche Grammophon), Zelenka’s coronation opera Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis, which won a Cannes Classical Award for the year 2002, Janáček’s Šárka and Dvořák’s The Stubborn Lovers (all for Supraphon). He performed Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Teatro Real in Madrid, at the Moravian Autumn and Janáček Hukvaldy festivals, during the Czech Philharmonic’s concert season, and also regularly at Prague’s National Theatre during the years 1998–2001. He also works with Czech Television (e.g. a production of Martinů’s opera The Voice of the Forest).
The chamber ensemble Martinů Voices was founded in early 2010 with the aim of creating a vocal group able to perform choral compositions at the highest artistic level. For that reason, all of its members are professionals who obtained their education in conservatories and academies of music, and have a wealth of practical experience. The ensemble took the name of a classic of twentieth-century Czech music not because it would perform solely the works of Bohuslav Martinů, but out of respect for the composer’s artistic legacy, which is cosmopolitan yet never hiding its Czech roots. The programming of Martinů Voices follows a similar path. Although Czech music plays an important role in it, at least two thirds of the ensemble’s repertoire is focused on the choral music of the world. The choir does not specialize in a particular stylistic period, presenting a wide spectrum of music ranging from Renaissance to the freshest twenty-first century trends. Led by choirmaster Lukáš Vasilek, Martinů Voices perform on their own, but also appear with guest artists, chamber ensembles, and orchestras. The ensemble has attracted the attention of several famous Czech artists who decided to support the choir and to sponsor its activities. The patrons of Martinů Voices are
Jiří Bělohlávek, Aleš Březina, Karel Fiala, Jiří Heřman, Miroslav Košler, and Rudy Linka.
Jakub Jan Ryba (1765–1815) was born in Přeštice. He developed his love and talent for music whilst studying at the Piarist gymnasium in Prague. He was well read; familiar with ancient philosophy as much as with the Enlightenment ideology and classical poetry. After short stints in Nepomuk and Mníšek pod Brdy, he obtained a permanent position at the school in Rožmitál pod Třemšínem.
Ryba’s best-known work, the Czech Christmas Mass, was composed in 1796. As the choirmaster of the Rožmitál church, by that time Ryba had written several dozen masses and Christmas compositions. The importance of Ryba’s most recent compositional effort was that he completely replaced the Latin (or Latin with Czech interpolations) of the mass with Czech.
According to the Gospel it was the shepherds to whom the angel announced the birth of Jesus. For that reason, Ryba addresses the shepherds and their master at the very opening of the work, which is made up of notes that can be produced on a shepherd’s horn. The beginning of the vocal part is within the tonal range of another folk instrument, the bagpipes, and the frequent use of pedal notes creates the illusion of a bagpiper playing. The manuscript of Ryba’s work is lost. Only a copy of the vocal and instrumental parts has been preserved, which was for a long time considered the composer’s original. However, only the text of the title page is in Ryba’s hand. It contains a list of vocal and instrumental parts, which, fortunately, correspond fully to those in the copy. More troubled than the fate of the manuscript of Ryba’s most famous work was the end of the composer’s life. Wearied by circumstances and by his endeavours to fulfil the vocation of teacher, an educator of children and adults alike, perhaps even brought down by illness, he ended his life by suicide on 8 April 1815.
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