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New Year’s Concert
This year, we have decided to welcome in the new year with you in Czech style with four beautiful works, each of which is original and a supreme musical celebration. Antonín Dvořák, who conducted the very first Czech Philharmonic concert, composed three concert overtures titled In Nature’s Realm, Carnival, and Othello in 1891.
Carnival, Op. 92
Praga, Op. 26
Music of the Castle Guard and the Police of the Czech Republic
Born in the Czech Republic, Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic.
He is a frequent guest with many of the world’s greatest orchestras, and in the 2018/19 season made debuts with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Orchestre de Paris and NHK Symphony, to all of which he was immediately re-invited. In addition to his titled positions he also enjoys close relationships with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the New York Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Vienna Symphony, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Vienna Radio Symphony, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The 2019/20 season will see him return to the Berlin Philharmonic and make debuts with The Pittsburgh Symphony, Zurich Opera (a new production of the The Makropulos Case) and the Dutch National Opera (a new production for the Holland Festival of Rusalka with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra). In summer 2020, he will also return to The Glyndebourne Festival to conduct The Rake’s Progress.
His relationships with leading vocal and instrumental soloists have included collaborations in recent seasons with Behzod Abduraimov, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Piotr Anderszewski, Leif Ove Andsnes, Emanuel Ax, Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Jonathan Biss, Yefim Bronfman, Rudolf Buchbinder, Renaud Capuçon, Isabelle Faust, Bernarda Fink, Martin Fröst, Julia Fischer, Vilde Frang, Sol Gabetta, Véronique Gens, Christian Gerhaher, Kirill Gerstein, Vadim Gluzman, Karen Gomyo, Augustin Hadelich, Hilary Hahn, Barbara Hannigan, Alina Ibragimova, Janine Jansen, Karita Mattila, Leonidas Kavakos, Sergey Khachatryan, Denis Kozhukhin, Lang Lang, Igor Levit, Jan Lisiecki, Albrecht Mayer, Johannes Moser, Viktoria Mullova, Anne Sofie Mutter, Kristine Opolais, Stephanie d’Oustrac, Emmanuel Pahud, Olga Peretyatko, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Josef Špaček, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Daniil Trifonov, Simon Trpčeski, Mitsuko Uchida, Klaus Florian Vogt, Yuja Wang, Frank Peter Zimmermann and Nikolaj Znaider.
As a conductor of opera, he has been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival, conducting Vanessa, The Cunning Little Vixen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Carmen, The Turn of the Screw, Don Giovanni and La bohème, and serving as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years. Elsewhere he has led productions for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Carmen), Vienna State Opera (a new production of The Makropulos Case), Opéra National de Paris (Rusalka and The Merry Widow), Frankfurt Opera (Il trittico) and Zurich Opera (Makropulos Case), among others.
As a recording artist, his most recent releases are the first two instalments of a new cycle of Dvořák and Brahms Symphonies, and Smetana’s Má vlast with Bamberg Symphony (Tudor). Other releases have included Concertos for Orchestra by Bartók and Kodály with RSB Berlin (Pentatone). He has also recorded Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie and Suk’s Asrael Symphony with Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (Octavia Records); the Tchaikovsky and Bruch violin concertos with Nicola Benedetti and the Czech Philharmonic (Universal); and nine discs (with Pentatone and Supraphon) of Czech repertoire with PKF-Prague Philharmonia, where he was Music Director from 2009 until 2015.
Jakub Hrůša studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is currently President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society, and in was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize.
Prague Castle Guard and Czech Police Band is a large brass orchestra which has been representing Czech musical culture in a highly professional fashion for more than sixty years, not only at home, but also abroad. Its establishment in 1945 carried on a rich tradition of military, police and gendarme bands from the First Czechoslovak Republic. They were ensembles which were always an integral part of our musical culture and also an example of the nation’s musical development.
The primary duties of the Band of the Castle Guards and Police of the Czech Republic include musical accompaniment at all state ceremonies at Prague Castle, primarily state visits and initial audiences with ambassadors. The orchestra is a significant cultural representative of the Police of the Czech Republic and also performs all tasks resulting from this position.
The ensemble also includes smaller groups – the Domino Brass Trio, the Prague Brass Sextet, The Brass Quintet, the Brass Octet, the Big Band, Largo and the Formanka Small Brass Orchestra. Their focus and repertoire suitably supplement the orchestra’s wide range of activities. In addition to its duties, the orchestra has always given concerts and made recordings. It has made more than twenty CDs. The orchestra’s most important annual concert activities include performing at the Prague Spring International Music Festival and during the Saint Wenceslas celebrations.
Prague Castle Guard and Czech Police Band has toured sixteen countries in Europe, Mongolia, Japan and the USA, where it headlined at the famous Carnegie Hall in 2002.
On the 4th of January, a boy was born in Křečovice, a little village 50 kilometres south of Prague. He was given the name Josef after his father. He exhibited musical talent early playing violin, piano, and organ, and he began his studies at the Prague Conservatoire at the age of eleven. First, he studied violin under Antonín Bennewitz, then piano under Josef Jiránek, and composition under Karel Stecker. When he turned seventeen in 1891, the year the previous work on today’s programme was composed, he began his composition studies in the advanced class taught by Antonín Dvořák. Who knows how he took his teacher’s decision to depart for America, but he later became a favourite pupil of Dvořák, a visitor to the composer’s summer residence in Vysoká near Příbram, and an assistant in making piano reductions of the master’s works. It was there that Suk met Dvořák’s daughter Otilie, who later became his wife.
1891 was also the year when a student string quartet was established at the Prague Conservatoire at the initiative of the director Bennewitz and of Hanuš Wihan, the professor of chamber music. Josef Suk played second violin in the quartet. In 1892, the recent graduates began giving concert appearances as the Bohemian Quartet (the Czech Quartet after 1918), and when they thrilled Vienna in 1893, doors were opened to them in Europe, and they became one of the most important chamber music ensembles of their day. Josef Suk played in the Bohemian Quartet for 41 years, almost the entire period of the ensemble’s existence, and in that time he gave more than 4,000 concerts around Europe and all over the world. It is difficult to imagine how Suk managed to compose at all, being enormously busy as a performing artist continually on the road.
Once while on a tour of Spain, he decided to compose a musical depiction of his beloved Prague that would express the city’s greatness and beauty. He chose to make it a symphonic poem, and he composed it between the spring and October of 1904. At the end of the summer, he wrote to his publisher Mojmír Urbánek: “I’m nearly finished with Praga – about four more pages. There won’t be any choir, organ or bells, but it will be lovely even without them.” In an earlier conversation, the pragmatic publisher had apparently persuaded the young composer to avoid the use of excessively monumental forces that would limit opportunities for the work’s performance. Ultimately, Urbánek succeeded only in part – the work does not, in fact, call for choir, but contrary to Suk’s quoted letter, organ and bells are heard at the work’s grandiose conclusion. The Czech Philharmonic gave Praga its premiere with Oskar Nedbal conducting on 18 December 1904 in Pilsen, and it was heard in Prague on 25 March 1905 at the Rudolfinum under the composer’s baton.
As Antonín Dvořák was fifty years old, he was faced with a difficult decision over whether to interrupt the promising progress of his career as a tireless European composer, a status he had achieved after years of effort, to abandon his recently obtained position as a professor at the Prague Conservatoire, and to set out across the Atlantic Ocean to meet a new challenge. Of course, middle-aged men need challenges, so having thought it over for half a year, Dvořák decided to accept the offer of the position of director of a conservatory in New York. There, he found a source of new inspiration that enabled him to compose his most famous works of the following three years. After all, who among us does not know his Ninth Symphony (“From the New World”), the String Quartet No. 12 (“American”), the Biblical Songs, Humoresques, and the Cello Concerto in B Minor?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While Dvořák’s fiftieth birthday was being celebrated in Prague on 8 September 1891, the composer was hard at work in seclusion in Vysoká near Příbram, composing and considering whether to go to America. He completed a cycle of three concert overtures, which were first played on 28 April 1892 at the Rudolfinum on a concert programme as part of a farewell tour that Dvořák gave before departing for the New World. At the premiere, the pieces still bore the original titles Nature, Life, and Love, and the whole work was linked together by themes of nature. The pieces got their final titles two years later when the first edition was published. The second overture was renamed Carnival. What Dvořák had in mind was not so much a masked ball as the metaphor of the “carnival of life”, which is well suited for New Year’s Eve and for celebrating the New Year. Carnival contrasts starkly with the other two overtures (In Nature’s Realm, Op. 91 and Othello, Op. 93). It is jubilant, energetic, and sonically intoxicating, yet in the middle section it is also meditative and dreamy. The brilliant orchestration greatly contributes to the music’s character, with plenty of brass and percussion including the tambourine, unusually for Dvořák.
On 14 September 1883, when Bedřich Smetana finished the score of his Introduction and Polonaise, the first two movements of the cycle Prague Carnival, he did not know that he had only the last half year of life. He had originally intended that Prague Carnival would follow up stylistically on his cycle of Bohemian Dances. The composer wanted to develop further the idea of a cyclical ordering of dances in the loftier genre of the symphonic poem he had employed in Má vlast (My Country). Fate, however, intervened. Smetana never finished his last two compositions; Prague Carnival and the opera Viola remained torsos. The composer was unable to attend the first performance of the Introduction and Polonaise in April 1884 because of his rapidly worsening illness, although the concert was a celebration of this sixtieth birthday. The performance left the audience perplexed. According to period reports, the work made a depressing impression on Smetana’s friends, and it was long regarded as a failure or even as being decadent. The fragmentariness, succinctness, and harmonic astringency that are typical of Smetana’s late works are in fact connections back to his progressive Gothenburg period, and in the Polonaise, the composer even employed a theme he had already notated in his sketchbook in 1858.
Janáček had to wait sixty-two years for his first major success as a composer – in music history, one can hardly find a similar case of a composer’s career blooming so late. No one would dare call into question Janáček’s late works, as was done in Smetana’s case. The Great War meant the end of the Old World and its sophisticated cultural elite. The world had changed, and this was also reflected in the arts, including music. While most composers (often far younger than Janáček) were unwilling or unable to adapt their works to the spirit of the new era, Janáček bloomed like a rose of Jericho.
He became the pride of the Czechoslovak Republic, and in the course of just under a decade, he churned out his masterpieces – Taras Bulba, Sinfonietta, The Diary of One Who Disappeared, the two string quartets, the Glagolitic Mass, the Concertino for piano and chamber ensemble, and the Capriccio for piano (left hand) and wind ensemble. This is no mere listing of compositions; these works belong to the worldwide twentieth-century concert repertoire. Following the success of his long rejected opera Jenůfa, in just seven years he wrote four more operas – Káťa Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Makropulos Affair, and From the House of the Dead. They have all entered the standard repertoire on stages around the world. Janáček still remains the most frequently performed Czech opera composer abroad.
“I have arrived here with the youthful spirit of our republic, with youthful music. I am not one of those who look back; rather I prefer to look forward”, said Janáček in England in April 1926 when he was composing the Sinfonietta. And the Sinfonietta is a truly perfect combination of everything for which a citizen of the First Czechoslovak Republic was striving: the glory of the nation, the development of the Sokol movement, and the security of the republic. After the Prague premiere, in the newspaper Lidové noviny Boleslav Vomáčka described the composing of the Sinfonietta on the basis of information he had received directly from Janáček: the composer is said to have gone with misgivings to hear fanfares “of a kind he had never heard before” played by a brass band of soldiers in “historical costumes” in the South Bohemian town of Písek. The experience was brought back to his mind by the newspaper Lidové noviny, which asked him to “write ‘a few notes’ on their behalf for a Sokol ceremony”. Janáček thought it over only briefly, “then the idea flashed into his mind: Sokol members – red shirts – fanfares! And he immediately sketched out some fanfares, but from them, the music suddenly began to grow, movement by movement, until after the short period of just three weeks, the maestro had before him the finished score of the Sinfonietta.” Music for a special occasion thus gave rise to a great work that has enormously enriched the Czech symphonic repertoire.