Change of soloist: Kirill Gerstein will replace Jean-Yves Thibaudet in performing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor.
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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor, Op. 23
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Francesca da Rimini, symphonic fantasy after Dante, Op. 32
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.
The multifaceted pianist Kirill Gerstein has rapidly ascended into classical music’s highest ranks. His early training and experience in jazz has contributed an important element to his interpretive style.
Mr. Gerstein is the sixth recipient of the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award. Since receiving the award in 2010, Mr. Gerstein has shared his prize through the commissioning of boundary-crossing works by Timo Andres, Chick Corea, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen, and Brad Mehldau. Mr. Gerstein was awarded First Prize at the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, received a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and a 2010 Avery Fisher Grant.
A significant highlight of Mr. Gerstein’s 2016/17 season is the New York premiere of a new Urtext edition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the New York Philharmonic led by Semyon Bychkov. He will also perform this version of the concerto with the Atlanta Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Grant Park Orchestra (in its U.S. premiere), and Naples Philharmonic. Mr. Gerstein’s ECHO Klassik Award-winning world premiere recording of this version of the work, paired with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin led by James Gaffigan was released by Myrios Classics in 2015 and marked Mr. Gerstein’s first orchestral recording. Internationally, this version of the score was performed with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms in London, as well as with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Additionally this season, Mr. Gerstein performs Busoni’s epic Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra led by Sakari Oramo (and returns in the 2018/19 season to play the world premiere of a BSO-commissioned piano concerto by the orchestra’s first-ever artistic partner, Thomas Adès), Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in the original jazz band version and Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra led by James Gaffigan, and both Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue with the St. Louis Symphony conducted by David Robertson to be recorded for future release. He also returns to the New Jersey, San Diego, and Vancouver Symphonies, performs recitals in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center, Chicago presented by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Seattle, and joins the Hagen Quartet for chamber music concerts at Zankel Hall in New York and at Duke University. In Europe, Mr. Gerstein performs Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 as part of Semyon Bychkov’s Tchaikovsky festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and plays with the Brno Philharmonic, Deutches-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Göttinger Symphonie Orchester, Hamburger Symphoniker, Helsinki Philharmonic, and Luzerner Sinfonieorchester.
He has appeared at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony, and at the Aspen Music Festival, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Chicago’s Grant Park, Blossom with the Cleveland Orchestra, and with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Bravo! Vail Valley Festival, Mann Music Center and Saratoga. He has performed recitals in Paris, Prague, Hamburg, London’s Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, and at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. He made his Salzburg Festival debut playing solo and two piano works with Andras Schiff and has also appeared at the Lucerne and Jerusalem Chamber Music Festivals as well as at the Proms in London.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his first concertante work, the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23 in 1874, when he was teaching at the Moscow Conservatory. He intended to dedicate the work to a pianist much admired at the time, Nikolay Rubinstein, who was not only Tchaikovsky’s senior colleague, but also a close friend. Rubinstein, however, did not fully appreciate this act: when on 5 January 1875, just before the Orthodox Christmas, the composer played the solo piano part of his recently completed concerto for him, Rubinstein responded with severe criticism and refused to perform the work publicly. He described it as weakly composed, unplayable and vulgar. Following this embarrassment, Tchaikovsky offered his first piano concerto to the German virtuoso pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, who concertized in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre the previous year and much impressed the composer.
The first performance of the Piano Concerto in B flat minor took place on 25 October 1875 in America, in Boston Music Hall, where the soloist von Bülow, to whom the work was ultimately dedicated, appeared alongside the American conductor Benjamin Johnson Lang. Before long most of the leading pianists of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had added the concerto to their repertories. Even Nikolay Rubinstein, who originally spurned the work, conducted its Moscow premiere and often performed the solo part on his European tours.
Although Oskar Nedbal (1874–1930) was one of the most talented pupils of Antonín Dvořák, his first major success came only with his first ballet pantomime, Legend of Honza, premiered at the National Theatre in 1902. Soon after Prague the ballet was presented in Vienna, while Nedbal added a few new numbers to the score, including his famous Valse triste. Through it he tried to evoke the somber atmosphere of a fairy-tale city, grieving over the king’s daughter to be sacrificed to the dragon.
In late 1875 Tchaikovsky went on a tour of western Europe. In Paris, he was enchanted by a performance of Bizet’s Carmen; in Bayreuth, he was present at the first festival featuring Wagner’s operatic tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung;he met Franz Liszt; and, travelling in a carriage one summer evening, he became engrossed in reading Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. These stimuli inspired him to write a tone poem, Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32, on the motives of the fifth canto of Inferno. The composer realised his plan very quickly, in less than three weeks. In spring 1877 the work was premiered by Nikolai Rubinstein in Moscow, and the next year by Eduard Nápravník in Saint Petersburg.
The work depicts Dante’s journey to the second circle of Hell (a Wagnerian-Lisztian Andante lugubre), where infernal storms (Allegro vivo) whirl the tormented souls of adulterers. Dante asks two of these souls to tell him what are they being punished for. Francesca answers (Andante cantabile non troppo), describing her doomed love for the brother of her tyrannical husband, who discovered their relationship and murdered the lovers. Francesca’s theme is first presented by a clarinet, accompanied by the sighs of other instruments and a countermovement in strings. In conclusion the two souls are seized by the infernal gale and driven away. Overcome by endless suffering, Dante falls to the ground.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music was the love of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s life. The first example he encountered was Zerlina’s aria from Don Giovanni, which he heard at home on an orchestrion when he was only five. He was captivated by Mozart’s music ever after. Tchaikovsky consciously took inspiration from Mozart in works such as the Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra, Op. 33, in his four orchestral suites and also in the Serenade for Strings, Op. 48. A work in four movements and featuring tightly integrated motifs, the Serenade was imbued by its composer with classical charm and lightness, while also showcasing Tchaikovsky’s mastery in combining Russian melody with western European composition techniques. This is particularly conspicuous in the fourth movement, where we hear the Burlak song On the Green Meadow in the Andante, while the Allegro features the old Russian song Under the Green Apple Tree. Tchaikovsky also moved the development section into this movement, having deliberately forgone it in the first movement – as Ludwig van Beethoven had done many times before him. The Serenade was premiered in Saint Petersburg in 1881 under the baton of the Czech conductor Eduard Nápravník.
Wed – Fri / 6:30 p.m. / Rudolfinum – Suk Hall or Western Lounge
Location is specified for each concert in the concert programme and navigation signs at the Rudolfinum.
Pre-concert talks are offered free of charge as a bonus before the evening concerts of the A and B subscription series. They are given by conductors, soloists and members of the Czech Philharmonic, as well as musicologists and music writers who take part in discussions or lectures which will prepare for the evening concert.
They are presented by Eva Hazdrová-Kopecká, Pavel Ryjáček or Petr Kadlec.
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