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Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov
The German composer Detlev Glanert is one of today’s most successful opera composers. Last season, the Czech Philharmonic performed his composition Weites Land. This season brings the Czech premiere of the full concert-length oratorio Requiem for Hieronymous Bosch.
Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (2015–16)
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Slovak Philharmonic Choir
Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall
The German composer Detlev Glanert is one of today’s most successful opera composers. Last season, the Czech Philharmonic performed his composition Weites Land. This season brings the Czech premiere of the full concert-length oratorio Requiem for Hieronymous Bosch. The Requiem was composed on a commission from Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra for the 500th anniversary of the death of the famed Dutch painter. In it, Glanert unabashedly employs his vast operatic experience, and this can be heard both in the work’s sonic conception and in its dramatic structure. He combines the texts of the Catholic Mass for the Dead with the medieval collection of songs Carmina burana, from which he has chosen a description of the seven deadly sins. We are witnesses to a spiritual trial, at which the Archangel Michael examines Bosch’s life through the prism of these seven sins. In eighteen sections, Bosch must face God’s judgement with the narrator as the chief prosecutor. A small choir sings the liturgical text of the Requiem, and a large choir with four soloists combines that text with a description of the sins. A critic for the British newspaper The Guardian has called Glanert’s Requiem “an outstanding choral achievement, a work of great power and intensely vivid invention, which uncannily finds musical parallels to Bosch’s surreal imagination, and to the extremes of his visions of heaven and hell, grandeur and intimacy. The score juxtaposes glimpses of the apocalypse with moments of extreme sweetness, in intensely detailed choral and orchestral writing that consistently avoids all the clichés that disfigure so many contemporary oratorios.”
A former member of Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper, Aga Mikolaj studied with the late Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and built her reputation on Mozart’s leading ladies. Having amassed a wide and varied repertoire over past seasons, including principal roles by Richard Strauss, Verdi and Wagner, Aga has enjoyed operatic success throughout Europe and the USA.
Highlights of an extensive career include debuts at Opéra national de Paris and Teatro alla Scala (Die Zauberflöte), Staatsoper unter den Linden and Semperoper Dresden (Don Giovanni), at Glyndebourne Festival (Cosí fan tutte) and at Opera de Monte Carlo (Falstaff). Further notable appearances include role debuts as Donna Anna (Don Giovanni) in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production at the Bolshoi Theatre, and as Tatyana (Eugene Onegin) for Semperoper Dresden, Eva (Die Meistersinger) at the Aalto Theater in Essen, Freia (Das Rheingold), and Micaela (Carmen) at Bayerische Staatsoper. As Donna Elvira, Aga Mikolaj has performed at the Walt Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel, on tour to Japan with Wiener Staatsoper under Seiji Ozawa, and as part of Daniel Barenboim’s triumphant Ring Cycles, she has appeared at Teatro alla Scala, Berliner Staatsoper and at London’s BBC Proms.
A sought after concert artist, Aga Mikolaj has a diverse repertoire including Mahler, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Verdi, Dvořák, Zemlinsky, Britten, Penderecki and Szymanowski. Verdi’s Messa da Requiem has featured strongly in recent seasons after a debut in the piece under Mariss Jansons at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and thereafter in Berlin, Barcelona, Warsaw, Paris, and Boston.
This season highlights include Fiordiligi and Donna Elvira in Teatro Massimo di Palermo’s new Da Ponte trilogy under Omer Meir Wellber. On the concert stage Aga sings Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 under Andrey Boreyko with both the Naples Philharmonic and Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as with the Scottish Chamber Orchester under Emmanuel Krivine. She also sings Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony under Jordan de Souza at the Staatstheater Hannover and Glanert’s Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch under Semyon Bychkov both with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic.
Christa Mayer studied voice at the University of Music and Theatre in Munich. She attended the class of Lied interpretation with Helmut Deutsch and the opera course, taking part in performances at the Prinzregententheater Munich, and graduated with 1st class honours.
She was a prize winner in several competitions, such as the ARD International Music Competition 2000. Moreover, she has been awarded the Richard-Strauss-Plakette – the Young Talent Prize of the Richard Strauss Society – and the Bavarian State Promotion Prize for Young Artists.
Starting with 2001/2002 season Christa Mayer has been an Ensemble member of the Saxon State Opera in Dresden. She was engaged at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and at the Bavarian Staatsoper Munich as well as at the Teatro di Maggio musicale Florence and the Teatro La Fenice Venice. In 2006 she performed Erda / Das Rheingold in the Ring-Cycle at the Semperoper Dresden under the baton of Fabio Luisi and debuted Waltraute in Götterdämmerung. She took furthermore part in the Ring-Cycle in Valencia and Florence (Zubin Mehta) in 2007 as Erda / Das Rheingold.
Christa Mayer is successful as a concert singer and performs across Europe in numerous concerts: Bach Weihnachtsoratorium (Helmuth Rilling), Mozart Requiem – Barcelona Palau de la Musica, Beethoven Missa C-Dur – Lissabon Teatro San Carlo; Beethoven 9. Sinfonie – Bamberger Symphoniker, Bach h-Moll Messe – Kreuzkirche, Dresden; Handel Messiah – Konzerthaus, Berlin and Mahler Kindertotenlieder – September Musical Montreux.
In Summer 2008 Christa Mayer made her debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Erda and Waltraute, followed by the re-invitation for 2009 and 2010. Her interpretation of Brigitta in Die Tote Stadt at the Venice Fenice turned out to be a much acclaimed success. The Bayreuth Festival has invited Christa Mayer for Mary (Der fliegende Holländer).
In Dresden she sang Cornelia in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Gaea in Dresden’s new production of Daphne, Didon in Les Troyens and Erda / Waltraute in Ring. As Cornelia she was even invited to Düsseldorf, at the Hamburg State Opera she sang Quickly (Falstaff) and Erda.
Her Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde, new production, at the Bayreuth Festival received high international acclaim. The New National Theatre Tokyo invited Christa Mayer as Erda (Das Rheingold, Siegfried). In Salzburg Christa Mayer sang Emilia (Otello), the mezzo part in Missa Solemnis and Fricka (Die Walküre) under Christian Thielemann. Further roles in Dresden were Fricka and Gräfin (Mathis der Maler) under Simone Young, Didon in Les Troyens, Fenena in Nabucco, Mother in Hänsel and Gretel.
In February 2020 Christa Mayer is awarded the honorary title of Kammersängerin of the Free State of Saxony.
German Heldentenor, Stefan Vinke, studied as a church musician at the Cologne College of Music before beginning his professional singing career in Karlsruhe and Mönchengladbach. In 1999 he was awarded the position of ‘Young Heroic Tenor’ at the Nationaltheather Mannheim where in 2000 he was voted ‘Male Newcomer of the Year’ by Opernwelt magazine.
Globally renowned as an interpreter of Wagner’s great tenor roles, he has sung the title roles of Tristan, Siegfried, Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Lohengrin, Rienzi, also Siegmund (Die Walküre), Siegfried (Götterdammerung), Erik (Der Fliegende Holländer), and Walther von Stolzing (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg).
His numerous Ring cycle appearances include the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with Sir Antonio Pappano, the Metropolitan Opera, New York with Philippe Jordan, Wiener Staatsoper and Bayerische Staatsoper under Kiril Petrenko and Deutsche Oper with Donald Runnicles.
He has also sung the title role of Idomeneo, Florestan (Fidelio), Bacchus (Ariadne), Paul (Die tote Stadt), Alviano (Die Gezeichneten), and Jim Mahony (Aufsteig und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny) in the theatres of Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Munich, Paris, Montpellier, Lisbon, Barcelona, Venice, Madrid, Melbourne, Bejing, Geneva, Chicago, Seattle, Hong Kong, Sydney, and at the Salzburg Festival.
His most recent performances of Tristan at the 2019 Bayreuth Festival with Christian Thielemann, and Siegfried (Siegfried and Götterdämmerung) at the Müpa in Budapest with Adam Fischer were highly acclaimed. His opera performances continue with Tristan in Bologna, Athens and Karlsruhe and his first Kaiser (Die Frau ohne Schatten) in Leipzig.
A distinguished concert artist, his orchestral engagements this season include Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberg in Frankfurt and Glanert’s Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch with Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic.
The Austrian bass Albert Pesendorfer studied singing and flute at the Bruckner University in Linz and at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. From 2002 to 2005 he held a full-time engagement at the theatre in Erfurt, during the 2005/2006 season at the Tyrolean State Theatre in Innsbruck and from 2006 to 2011 at the State Opera in Hanover. In 2012 he joined the company of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, where he sang until 2016.
Since then, among the places where he has performed are the Vienna State Opera, the Hamburg State Opera, the Cologne Opera, the National Opera in Tokyo, the Zurich Opernhaus, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Semperoper in Dresden, the Theater an der Wien, and the Flemish Opera in Antwerp. He has performed at important opera festivals including an appearance in the summer of 2014 in Bregenz as Sarastro and in 2016 in Bayreuth as Hagen in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung under the baton of Marek Janowski. He excelled in the same role with enormous success at the Vienna State Opera under the baton of Ádám Fischer.
Albert Pesendorfer’s repertoire encompasses more than seventy roles including Hans Sachs (Die Meistersinger), Gurnemanz (Parsifal), Fasolt (Rheingold), Hunding (Die Walküre), Hagen (Götterdämmerung), King Mark (Tristan und Isolde), King Heinrich (Lohengrin), Osmin (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Rocco (Fidelio), Sparafucile (Rigoletto), Philip II (Don Carlos), and Banquo (Macbeth). In 2011 the journal Opernwelt nominated him for the title of Singer of the Year for his portrayals of the roles of Hunding and Hagen at the Hanover State Opera.
Concert performances have taken Albert Pesendorfer to the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Musikpalast in Budapest, the Brucknerhaus in Linz, the Philharmonie in Berlin, London’s Barbican Hall, Japan, the United States, and elsewhere. His debut with the Czech Philharmonic also belongs on this list.
Since the winter semester of 2015, Albert Pesendorfer has been a professor of singing at the Universität der Künste in Berlin.
He can now be heard at the Vienna Volksoper as Timur (Turandot), Hemit (Der Freischütz), and Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), and he has enjoyed especially great success as Sebastian Kundrather in the opera Kehraus um St. Stephan by Ernst Krenek.
During the 2019/2020 season, Pesendorfer is returning to the title role in Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov at the Vienna Volksoper.
Luděk Vele graduated from the Prague Conservatoire, having studied with Professor Jaroslav Horáček. In the final year of his studies, he joined the Liberec opera. He has been a National Theatre soloist since 1983. His repertoire here included almost all significant bass parts that the local dramaturgy had to offer. Besides his masterfully refined Water Sprite, Kecal and Leporello, he has also sung Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Verdi’s Sparafucile (Rigoletto) and Banco (Macbeth), Priest Grigoris (The Greek Passion), Filip (The Jacobin), Bartolo (Le nozze di Figaro), Il Commendatore (Don Giovanni) and many other roles. He was awarded the Thalia Award in 1995 and 1996 for his outstanding performance of Bedřich Smetana’s Chrudoš (Libuše) and Richard Strauss’s Baron Ochs (Der Rosenkavalier). He collaborates with radio and television and is a frequent guest of opera and concert stages in the Czech Republic and abroad. He has also made number of recordings with both domestic and international recording labels.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC) is a leading European vocal ensemble, and as one of the Czech Republic’s foremost artistic institutions operates under the trusteeship of the Czech Ministry of Culture. In the course of the choir’s long history since its foundation in 1935, it has been directed by a succession of some of the most distinguished Czech choirmasters (including among others Jan Kühn, Josef Veselka and Pavel Kühn). Since 2007 its principal choirmaster has been Lukáš Vasilek.
The PPC’s repertoire is centered primarily around oratorio and cantata works. In their presentation, the choir has worked with eminent international orchestras (e.g., Czech Philharmonic, the Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, among others), and conductors (including Daniel Barenboim, Jakub Hrůša, Tomáš Netopil, Zubin Mehta or Sir Simon Rattle). Beyond its standard choral repertoire, the PPC is likewise active in the domain of opera, working regularly with the National Theater in Prague, and since 2010 holding the status of choir in residence at the opera festival of Bregenz, Austria.
Apart from these commitments, the PPC engages in a number of its own projects. Since 2011 it has organized its own choral concert series in Prague, with a program focused notably on presentations of less well known choral works, either a cappella or with chamber-scale instrumental accompaniment. The choir regards as an inseparable part of its activity educational endeavours targeting the young generations. In this context, it has been involved in organizing a Choral Academy for students of singing, a project aimed at enabling young artists to acquire practical skills through work with a professional vocal ensemble.
The PPCʼs many commitments in the 2019/2020 season include among others concert appearances at the Dvořák Prague and Prague Spring festivals, a tour in Hong Kong, a performance in Moscowʼs new concert hall, Zaryadye, as well as debut appearances at the Salzburg Easter Festival, with Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann, or at the Elbphilharmonie hall, with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Jakub Hrůša, and with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra under the baton of Alan Gilbert. The PPC will bring its 85th season to a close by appearances at several festivals, including Smetana Litomyšl, St. Gallen Festival in Switzerland, and the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria. The Prague Philharmonic Choir is the recipient of the 2018 Classic Prague Award for Best Vocal Concert, and Czech Televisionʼs Classical Music of the Year Award.
Lukáš Vasilek, principal conductor of the Prague Philharmonic Choir, 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 Theatreʼs opera chorus. He took up his post at the helm of the Prague Philharmonic Choir in 2007. Apart from preparing and conducting the choirʼs a cappella concert productions, he has been building up the Prague Philharmonic Choirʼs repertoire set for participation in large-scale cantata, oratorio and opera projects, working with leading international conductors (such as Barenboim, Bělohlávek, Eschenbach, Honeck, Hrůša, Jordan, Luisi, Mehta, Noseda and Rattle) and orchestras (including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Czech Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or Wiener Symphoniker). Since 2010, the Prague Philharmonic Choir under Vasilekʼs direction has guest appeared regularly at the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.
Lukáš Vasilek has made numerous recordings with the Prague Philharmonic Choir for various major labels, including Decca Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classical and Supraphon. In 2016, the last mentioned of these issued an album of Bohuslav Martinů’s cantatas which was nominated for the BBC Music Magazine’s annual award in the choral category, among other plaudits.
The Slovak Philharmonic Choir is a prominent representative of the Slovak art of professional choir singing. It was established in 1946 as the Mixed Choir of the Czechoslovak Radio, led by its founding conductor Ladislav Slovák. In 1955, Jan Maria Dobrodinský took over and stayed with the choir for over 20 years. The ensemble became part of the Slovak Philharmonic bodies and adopted its current name in 1957. In 1977, Valentin Iljin became the choirmaster and was later succeeded by Lubomír Mátl, Štefan Klimo, Pavel Baxa, Pavol Procházka, Marián Vach, Blanka Juhaňáková and Jan Rozehnal. Since 2014, Jozef Chabroň has been its choirmaster.
The choir’s powerful performance abilities have been winning praise from renowned conductors including Claudio Abbado, Serge Baudo, Jean-Claude Casadesus, Christoph von Dohnányi, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Riccardo Chailly, Dmitri Kitaenko, Zdeněk Košler, Ondrej Lenárd, Fabio Luisi, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, Franz Welser-Möst, Helmuth Rilling, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Peter Schreier, Pinchas Steinberg, Václav Talich and Emmanuel Villaume.
The choir frequently goes on tours abroad and has visited most European countries as well as Morocco, Turkey, Japan and Oman. It has collaborated with many prestigious foreign ensembles such as Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris.
In the 2019/2020 season, the choir has performed Mahler’s 8th Symphony in Berlin with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin and conductor Christoph Eschenbach and will conclude the season with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Ode to Joy in Serbia and Germany with conductor Gabriel Feltz.
Jozef Chabroň graduated from Bratislava’s Academy of Performing Arts in 2007, having studied choral conducting with Professor Blanka Juhaňáková, then conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic Choir, and later became her assistant. He became the ensemble’s choirmaster in the 2013/2014 season. Together with the Slovak Philharmonic Choir, he has collaborated with many renowned conductors and performed a great number of vocal-instrumental compositions.
His most significant work includes Schoenberg’s oratorio Moses and Aaron for the Zürich Opera House in 2011 and the opera productions of Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and Berlioz’s The Trojans at the Vienna State Opera with the Slovak Philharmonic Choir. He has conducted Slovak Philharmonic Choir concerts in Hamburg, Bratislava, Žilina and Piešťany (Slovakia).
In May 2020, he will make his first appearance as the guest choirmaster with the Prague Philharmonic.
Semyon Bychkov's tenure as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic was initiated with concerts in Prague, London, New York and Washington marking the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence in 2018. Since the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project in 2019 – a 7-CD box set released by Decca Classics and a series of international residencies – Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic have been focusing on the symphonic works of Mahler with performances and recordings scheduled both at home and abroad.
During the 2021/22 season, Mahler’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies will be heard on tour at the Grafenegg Festival in Austria before performances in Prague. The Czech Philharmonic’s 126th season’s subscription concerts in October will open with Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. In the spring, a Czech Festival at Vienna’s Musikverein featuring Smetana’s Má vlast – recorded by Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic during lockdown - alongside works by Kabeláč, Dvořák, Martinů and Janáček will be followed by an extensive European tour including concerts at the Philharmonie in Berlin, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and two concerts at London’s Barbican Centre.
Especially recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has also worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons he has collaborated with René Staar, Thomas Larcher, Richard Dubignon, Detlev Glanert and Julian Anderson, conducting premières of their works with the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms. Highlights of the new season include the German première of Larcher’s Piano Concerto with dedicatee Kirill Gerstein in Berlin, the Czech première of Bryce Dessner’s Mari and the world première of Anderson’s Prague Panoramas, also presented in Prague. The three new works are amongst fourteen commissions initiated by Bychkov at the start of his tenure with the Czech Philharmonic.
In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and the other in the West. Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has lived in Europe since the mid-1980's. Singled out for an extraordinarily privileged musical education from the age of 5, Bychkov studied piano before winning his place at the Glinka Choir School where, aged 13, he received his first lesson in conducting. He was 17 when he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory to study with the legendary Ilya Musin and, within three years had won the influential Rachmaninov Conducting Competition. Denied the prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic, Bychkov left the former Soviet Union.
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, took off with a series of high-profile cancellations which 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 symphonic and operatic repertoire is wide-ranging. 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 Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov each won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. New productions in Vienna included Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, 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. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival and Strauss’s Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper.
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 and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a frequent guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, 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. This season, in addition to extensive concert commitments with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov's guest conducting engagements include further performances of Mahler’s symphonies with the Orchestre de Paris, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Oslo Philharmonic and LA Philharmonic, and Strauss’s Elektra at the Opéra national de Paris.
Bychkov made extensive recordings for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Later, his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne produced a series of benchmark recordings that included 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), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (2020); Wagner’s Lohengrin was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year (2010); and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month (2018).
In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.
Requiem za Hieronyma Bosche (2015–2016)
Since the death of Hieronymus Bosch, it has been half a millennium – a length of time that is hard to imagine. The remarkable painter lived at the transition between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age, so in his works we find a reflection of the illuminations in Gothic-period books and of the newly emerging Renaissance. Much changed during his lifetime: the fall of Constantinople in 1453 extinguished the last glimmer of the antiquity, Columbus discovered the New World for Europe in 1492, and in 1514 Copernicus brought forth his heliocentric theory – we will probably never know whether this revolutionary information ever reached the town 's-Hertogenbosch in Brabant, a place that Hieronymus supposedly never left in his life. But that is not important. Bosch devoted himself to the exploration of other frontiers – he discovered the human inner world and he portrayed the landscapes hidden in it.
His real name was Jeroen (Jheronimus) Anthonisz van Aken, and he came from a famous dynasty of painters that originated in the German town Aachen, but he signed his paintings with a pseudonym derived from the informal name of his hometown – Den Bosch. In his youth, he took part in the construction of the magnificent cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch, with its fanciful gargoyles in the form of various monsters and creatures. The grotesque figures apparently had such a powerful effect on the young man’s imagination that he later returned to them in many variants all his life. In his youth, he also experienced a devastating fire that reduced 4,000 houses to ashes. Later, this too many have influenced his depictions of hell on his famous triptychs The Haywain, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, and The Garden of Earthly Delights.
Bosch’s works have a connection with the devotio moderna religious movement, which was based on the mysticism of certain authors of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. (We know that in 's-Hertogenbosch he was a member of the Confraternity of Our Lady, which was guided by the mystical teachings of Jan van Ruusbroeck, who also influenced the great humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam.) With inimitable inventiveness, his paintings depict the image of the human soul in its age-old struggle with sin. He skilfully describes the weaknesses that constantly threaten people and that can easily turn them into prey of the devil’s snares. Bosch’s style as a painter was very original. Playing a role, apparently, in his exclusive individuality of expression was the fact that he was financially independent and did not have to take into consideration the demands of patrons commissioning artworks; his large triptychs did not serve the official function of altarpieces.
Bosch’s boundless imagination spoke to other artists even long afterwards – whether the painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder, also from Brabant half a century after Bosch’s death, the Spanish painter Francisco Goya three centuries later, or the twentieth-century surrealists Joan Miró, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalí. Hieronymus Bosch still inspires artists today, and not just in the visual arts.
The Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch was commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the death of the famous painter. “At first, I was not at all certain whether I should accept the commission,” says the composer Detlev Glanert concerning the work’s genesis. “The original requirement was the composing of a real Requiem, and to that point I had never composed any sacred music – I’m not even a churchgoer. I therefore had to seek out a relationship with the text itself right from the beginning. I read it through very carefully, along with lots of information about Hieronymus Bosch, and suddenly it all began to draw me in. The text of the Requiem has an enormous tradition and great seriousness. Its roots go even deeper than to Christianity. It is tremendously inspirational if you think about light and darkness, and it represents an amazing treasure of Western culture. On the other hand, we have Hieronymus Bosch … in his works we find an expression of terrible fear of demons and devils, and also fear of not reaching heaven after death. For people in those days, salvation was enormously important; it was a topic of everyday discussion, and everyone took it truly seriously. Ordinary life revolved around a people not failing, so that their souls would not stray from the right path. For me, the urgency of this question was very important while working on the Requiem.” … “This led me to thinking about the seven deadly sins. Once you start to deal with them, you find out that all of us have a demon of our own – I was not aware of this until I went to work on the Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch. When you look at the sins themselves, you find that they conceal a description all of the problems that torment us in our contemporary lives. These sins conceal within themselves a very old, very deep wisdom, but also a tradition that still speaks to us today.”
Yes, in the scarcely imaginable half millennium that has passed since the death of Hieronymus Bosch, the way we see the world has changed – neither the earth nor even the sun are now at the centre of the universe. Science has advanced by leaps and bounds in its understanding of the macro- and microcosm. Mankind, however, still remains the same, with all of its shortcomings. And these shortcomings are well described by the main or cardinal sins as states of mind around which the whole sinfulness of mankind revolves. Hieronymus Bosch depicted all of them in his painting The Seven Deadly Sins, which you can still see at the Prado Museum in Madrid. We are unable to rid ourselves entirely of pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, sloth, and gluttony (or intemperance to be more exact), but unless we at least try to supplant them with their opposites – the virtues of humility, gratitude, charity, patience, chastity, diligence, and temperance – they will seduce us into committing more and more sins.
Detlev Glanert conceived his Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch as a depiction of the Last Judgment of a man at the end of his earthly sojourn. At the heavenly gates, when examining whether the soul of the departed is suitable for acceptance into paradise, the Archangel Michael uses the seven cardinal sins as a checklist. Parts of the liturgy for the dead are interspersed with Medieval Latin texts from the collection Carmina Burana that describe individual sins, which the archangel always presents by addressing the painter and introducing the demon who corresponds to the sin. As an experienced opera composer, Glanert handles tension and contrast masterfully, and in spite of the work’s great length, it never loses its momentum and drives ahead to the final catharsis.
The basic material from which the whole composition is built is a seven-tone motif, and all parts of the work arise from it. “I chose notes that can be derived in various ways from the name Hieronymus Bosch – like the way Shostakovich, for example, used the sequence of tones D–eS–C–H [in German, ‘Es’ is e flat, and ‘H’ is b natural] as his musical signature. I chose the suitable letters from Bosch’s name, including ʻrʼ, from which I derived the solfege syllable ʻReʼ. The result is a variable sequence that contains intervals of a third, fourth, fifth, and seventh. It was possible to work very well with it, so I built the entire Requiem on its basis. From that basic sequence, I derived a number of smaller motifs that sound very different, but that still come from the same material,” said the composer in explaining his method.
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra gave the premiere of Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch during the anniversary of the painter’s birth in April 2016 at Saint John’s Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch. Since then, it has been played only a few times, most recently at the Barbican in London in December 2019 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Semyon Bychkov. So we now have a special opportunity of hearing it in Prague, of immersing ourselves in our inner world, and of examining our consciences to see where we would stand if the Archangel Michael were to call our names instead of Bosch’s.