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.
Her singular blend of technical prowess, keen musical insight, and emotional depth have established Yuja Wang as one of the world’s finest performers.
Yuja’s 2017/2018 season features recitals, concert series, and extensive tours with some of the world’s most venerated ensembles and conductors. She began the summer of 2017 on tour with the London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas and a program featuring Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2, followed by a performance of the first concerto at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Lionel Bringuier. Later engagements include concerts with the Munich Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev, a series of performances at the Verbier Festival, and a three-city German tour with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.
She also embarks on play-conduct tours with two of the best chamber orchestras in the world, Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra of Europe, as well as joining the inaugural tour of Jaap van Zweden with the New York Philharmonic and the final tour of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s directorship with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Other notable appearances include concerts in Hong Kong, Miami, Washington D.C., Prague, Tel Aviv, and Berlin.
Winter of 2017 sees Yuja reunite with violinist and frequent collaborator Leonidas Kavakos for a European chamber tour, whilst in the spring of 2018, Ms. Wang will embark on a vast-reaching recital tour at premiere venues in the US and Europe; New York City, San Francisco, Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and beyond.
Yuja Wang was born in Beijing. She began piano lessons at the age of six, and her progress was accelerated by studies at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music. In 1999 she moved to Canada to participate in the Morningside Music summer program at Calgary’s Mount Royal College, and thereafter enrolled as the youngest ever student at Mount Royal Conservatory. Wang’s exceptional gifts were widely recognised in 2001 with her appointment as a Steinway Artist, and again the following year when she was offered a place at Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Gary Graffman.
By the time Yuja graduated from Curtis in 2008, she had already gained momentum following the spectacular success of her debut three years earlier with the National Arts Center Orchestra in Ottawa. Wang attracted widespread international attention in March 2007 when she replaced Martha Argerich on short notice in performances of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and within the span of just a few seasons she was working with conductors of the highest calibre. Over the past decade of her career, she has worked with such pre-eminent Maestros as Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Gustavo Dudamel, Valery Gergiev, Michael Tilson Thomas, Antonio Pappano, Charles Dutoit, and Zubin Mehta.
In January 2009, Yuja Wang became an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon recording artist. Her debut album, Sonatas & Etudes, prompted Gramophone to name her as its 2009 Young Artist of the Year. Her 2011 release of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Paganini’s Rhapsody with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Claudio Abbado was nominated for a Grammy® Award in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category.
Prokofiev composed his five piano concertos over the years 1911–1932. Though considered today among the very best that were composed for the piano during the twentieth century, their path to the concert stage was not easy. For example, the spellbinding second concerto long stood in the shadow of the third; the fourth was first performed only in 1956; and the reception of the fifth at its premiere was lukewarm.
Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 55 was originally to be called Music for Piano and Orchestra. Prokofiev intended it as a showcase for his “new simplicity” style, which he adopted during the 1930s. Ultimately, however, the piece evolved into the composer’s most complex work to date – placing demands on the soloist that are often physically uncomfortable – and hence Prokofiev made it part of his series of piano concertos.
The first three movements treat similar themes and are also united by rhythm. One hears in them influences not just of Prokofiev’s contemporaries such as Igor Stravinsky, but also of earlier figures including Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The strength of Russian melody is most conspicuous in the Larghetto, which is followed by a Vivo with almost jazzy rhythms and intriguing modality. The concerto was premiered on 31 October 1932 in Berlin under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler, and was performed in December of the same year in Moscow, with the composer taking the piano part.
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.
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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