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Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
Sebastian Bru, Josef Špaček
The third programme of Series K presents three works by young composers: Mendelssohn wrote his Octet when he was just sixteen years old, Janáček presented his Suite for Strings before enrolling at the Leipzig Conservatoire, and the Concerto for Violin and Cello by Josef Rejcha.
Suite for String Orchestra
Double Concerto in D Major, Op. 3, for violin and cello
String Octet in E Flat Major, Op. 20
violin, artistic supervisor of the project
violin, artistic supervisor of the project
Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
Jiří Vodička can’t play because of illness. Concertmaster Josef Špaček will take his place.
The third programme of Series K presents three works by young composers: Mendelssohn wrote his Octet when he was just sixteen years old, Janáček presented his Suite for Strings before enrolling at the Leipzig Conservatoire, and the Concerto for Violin and Cello by Antonín Rejcha is one of that composer’s early works. Both soloists are young as well – concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic Josef Špaček and the Austrian cellist Sebastian Bru, a member of the Vienna Philharmonic. Upon its premiere, critics called Mendelssohn’s Octet “a miracle of nineteenth-century music”. Inspiration from Goethe’s Walpurgis Night, quotes from Handel’s Messiah, and the masterful use of polyphony are all permeated with youthful musical invention and brilliant compositional technique. Janáček originally gave the movements of his composition titles that had been in use for French dance suites: Prelude, Allemande, Sarabande, and Air, but he quickly abandoned them because his style as a composer was simply too original to fit in with labels from the old dance suite. At the midpoint of the programme is a concerto by the world traveller and extraordinarily gifted composer, teacher, and theorist Josef Rejcha.
“It is the fulfilment of a dream we shared with Jiří Bělohlávek: after two years of preparations, we are ushering in regular concerts of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. This name does not stand for one particular ensemble; instead it represents a project in which the orchestra members will be performing in various chamber groups,” said David Mareček, Chief Executive Officer of the Czech Philharmonic, in the spring of 2018. Jiří Bělohlávek was convinced that it was healthy for the Czech Philharmonic to play in a smaller ensemble. In a smaller orchestra, with a repertoire spanning the Baroque to the present, the musicians can hone the intonation, phrasing and collaboration of individuals within the whole. The Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, consisting exclusively of the members of the Czech Philharmonic put together for a specific occasion, has been officially established in the 123rd season. For its debut performances this season in front of the Prague public, it has chosen Reinhard Goebel, Jiří Rožeň, Ondřej Vrabec, Jana Brožková, Simona Šaturová, Josef Špaček and Uxía Martínez Botana. We can look forward to the bold plans for this new project in the following seasons of the Czech Philharmonic.
violin, artistic director of the project
Josef Špaček is fast emerging as one of the most accomplished violinists of his generation. He studied with Itzhak Perlman at The Juilliard School in New York, Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and with Jaroslav Foltýn at the Prague Conservatory. He was a laureate of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, and won top prizes at the Michael Hill International Violin Competition in New Zealand, the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition in Denmark and the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York.
Highlights during the 2017/2018/2019 seasons include a return visit to the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht, as well as debuts with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Capitole de Toulouse and Thomas Søndergård, the Bamberger Symphoniker and Manfred Honeck, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Maxim Emelyanchev, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Michael Sanderling, the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and David Zinman, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg and Aziz Shokhakimov, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo and Tomáš Netopil, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra and Christian Vásquez, the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen and Daniel Blendulf and the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra and Lio Kuokman. He continues to appear as a soloist of the Czech Philharmonic for concerts, both in Prague and on tour, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, Jakub Hrůša and Thomas Adès.
Previous highlights include subscription concerts with the Czech Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev, a return visit to the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI Torino and James Conlon, his debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek, his Berlin debut with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin and Thomas Sanderling, his Amsterdam Concertgebouw debut with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Thomas Søndergård, his Tokyo debut with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and Jakub Hrůša and debuts with the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto and Gerard Korsten, the Sønderjylland Symphony Orchestra and Johannes Wildner and the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen and Adrien Perruchon (recorded by Mezzo Live HD TV), as well as recital debuts in among others Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and La Jolla, San Diego.
In addition to the above-mentioned orchestras, Josef Špaček has appeared across Europe, the US and Asia with orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, PKF – Prague Philharmonia, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Essener Philharmoniker, Tonkünstlerorchester Niederösterreich, Orchestre National de Belgique, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony and Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
The late Jiří Bělohlávek was an avid supporter of Josef Špaček and regularly invited him. Other conductors he works with include Semyon Bychkov, James Conlon, Christoph Eschenbach, Asher Fisch, Valery Gergiev, Roy Goodman, Jakub Hrůša, Manfred Honeck, Eliahu Inbal, Jun Märkl, Rossen Milanov, Tomáš Netopil, Thomas Sanderling and Thomas Søndergård.
Josef Špaček gives recitals and takes part in chamber music festivals in Europe (among others at the Rudolfinum in Prague, Konzerthaus in Vienna, Evian Festival, Kaposfest and Schloß Elmau), Asia and the USA (i.a., Kennedy Center, La Jolla, ChamberFest Cleveland and Nevada Chamber Music Festival).
Supraphon released a highly praised recording of the violin concertos by Dvořák and Janáček, and of the Fantasy by Suk, with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek (“Recording of the Week” of The Sunday Times, “Recording of the Month and of the Year” of MusicWeb International and 5* in Diapason), as well as a recital CD with works for violin and piano by Smetana, Janáček and Prokofiev with pianist Miroslav Sekera. In 2010 he recorded works by H. W. Ernst for Naxos. His first CD, released in 2006, includes a complete recording of the Sonatas for Solo Violin by Eugène Ysaÿe.
He has served as concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the youngest in its history. The orchestra has named him “Associate Artist” as of January 2016.
Josef Špaček performs on the ca. 1732 “LeBrun; Bouthillard” Guarneri del Gesù violin, generously on loan from Ingles & Hayday.
Sebastian Bru was born into a musical family in Vienna on October 24, 1987, and received his first cello lessons at the age of 8 from his father, Ricardo Bru, principal cellist at the Vienna Volksoper. He continued his study of the cello study with Krystina and Josef Podhoransky, as well as with Robert Nagy.
He augmented this work with courses and master classes from Clemens Hagen, David Geringas, Steven Isserlis and Heinrich Schiff. Already at a young age, Sebastian Bru dedicated himself to orchestral playing, performing with, among others, the Wiener Jeunesse Orchestra, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Verbier Festival Orchestra. At the age of 18, he won an audition and was accepted into the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, beginning his service there on 1 November 2006, as a member of the cello section.
Having precociously procured numerous prizes such as at the Jugendwettbewerb “Prima la musica” and at the “Fedelio-Wettbewerb” and in addition to having served (season 2010/2011) as first principal cellist of the Vienna Symphony, Sebastian Bru made solo appearances in Austria, Europe, South America and Asia, performing with the Vienna Symphony, the Orquesta Sinfonía Nacional (Buenos Aires), the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, the orchestra “Spirit of Europe” and others. Among his partners in these appearances have been Rudolf Buchbinder, Ildikó Raimondi, as well as numerous members of the Vienna Philharmonic. Many of his concerts have been broadcast nationally and internationally.
His first debut recording “a deux” together with the pianist Stefan Stroissing was released in March 2019 at Sony classical.
Sebastian is playing on a Cello from Giovanni Battista Guadagnini which is loan by the Austrian national bank.
Janáček’s Suite for Strings (sometimes called Suite for String Orchestra) got a review soon after its presentation at the Beseda brněnská (Brno Beseda Society). Berthold Žalud, an important musical critic, in Moravská orlice daily newspaper (6 December 1877) commented on its pathos and emphasized that Janáček was “our artist, grown up from our midst”, “an artist so young and a composition so great”. He considered him to be “our” own because Janáček was born in Hukvaldy in North Moravia and got his education from Brno schools; his studies in Prague and at conservatories in Leipzig and Vienna were rather short. In 1876, Janáček became choirmaster of the Brno Beseda Society, to which he quickly added an orchestra appropriate for accompanying larger choral works. He composed his Suite in the autumn of 1877 and conducted its premiere at a Beseda concert. While the premiere won high praise and the reviewer Berthold Žalud found Romantic content in the composition, with the passage of time the Suite was viewed more as a beginner’s work influenced by Wagner, Skuherský, Dvořák and Smetana, and apparently Janáček himself did not value it very much.
The Suite for Strings is Janáček’s oldest preserved orchestral composition and as such it is far from his typical musical expression of his late period, but that does not mean that it has not its own qualities. It consists of six movements originally entitled Prélude, Allemande, Sarabanda, Scherzo, Air and Finale. Since these titles were from a different era, the era of the Baroque dance suites, when the work was published for the first time in 1926, Janáček indicated only their tempo markings. The six movements form a compact whole, in which the song form prevails, only the final movement is in sonata form. The popularity of the suite for chamber orchestra as a genre is documented in the 1870s by Antonín Dvořák’s Czech Suite, Op. 39, composed in 1879, which is occasionally coupled with Janáček’s Suite for Strings on the same label or concert program. Janáček’s emotional warmth and melodic line are able to withstand this competition.
We know much less about Concerto for Violin and Cello in D major, Op. 3 by Josef Rejcha. There is a confusion about the authorship of this double concerto: the composition is mostly recognized as that by Josef Rejcha (Joseph Reicha), but some researchers attribute it to Josef’s nephew Antonín Rejcha (Antoine Reicha) (1770–1836). Matěj Josef Rejcha, a native of Chudenice near Klatovy, studied violoncello with Franz Joseph Werner in Prague and in 1774 left for Swabia, where he became the first cellist in the court orchestra of Prince von Oettingen-Wallerstein. In the 1880s he was joined by his nephew Antonín, whom Josef adopted. In 1785, Josef, as Kapellmeister, went to Bonn in the services of Maximilian Franz, Elector of Cologne, and took Antonín, an excellent flutist and violinist, with him. At that time, the members of the Hofkapelle included Ludwig van Beethoven and Nikolaus Simrock, who started his own publishing house in Bonn in 1791. This court orchestra came to an end with the occupation of the town of Bonn by the French (1794). After some twists and turns, Antonín settled down in Paris; Josef died prematurely in 1795 at the age of forty-three.
It was Simrock who published the first five opuses by Josef Rejcha, including Concertante pour Deux Violons ou Violon & Violoncelle. In the thematic catalogue of Rejcha’s work, the composition is dated 1774–1777 (with a small question mark), which partly overlap with the time when the composer went on a concert tour of Germany with the violinist Antonín Janič. It is easy to imagine both musicians performing Rejcha’s new composition – from the very beginning, the solo parts of the double concerto were conceived both for two violins and for a violin and a cello. Rejcha’s contemporaries, however, appreciated him not as a composer, but rather as a cello virtuoso. In terms of style, the Double Concerto in D major belongs to the period of musical Classicism, in particular to the circle of the Mannheim School. In each of the three movements, soloists are given the opportunity to dazzle the audience with their virtuosity; there is no drama, but listeners will enjoy the sparkling sound of a mixed chamber orchestra and solo string instruments, and for a long time they will remember some of the themes, such as the main one from the final Rondo.
This composition takes us to Leipzig. The first public performance of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s String Octet in E flat major, Op. 20, was held at the Gewandhaus in 1836, only eleven years after it was composed by the exceptionally gifted son of the banker Mendelssohn when he was just sixteen years old. At the time of the premiere, he was already a conductor of a local renowned orchestra, a successful German composer and pianist, and did not have to be ashamed of his early chamber work, written for his friend, the violinist Eduard Rietz and originally played in a domestic, cultured environment. During the 19th century, Mendelssohn’s Octet in E flat major was one of the most favorite and frequently performed octets of the time, such as those by Ludwig Spohr, Franz Schubert, Niels Wilhelm Gade and Johan Svendsen. For example, it was heard at the Chamber Music Evening organized by Ludevít Procházka in Prague in 1876, or a few years later in the Czech Chamber Music Society, when two prominent ensembles – Czech Quartet and Ševčík Quartet – joined their efforts to perform this piece.
Young Mendelssohn conceived his octet more “symphonically” than Spohr: the two quartets do not interchange with each other, but all eight instruments work together on equal terms. The composition is in four movements. The longest of them is the first one, Allegro moderato ma con fuoco, which is full of youthful verve, but at the same time Mendelssohn’s work with the melodic line and the sonata form is quite mature. It is followed by the pleasant-sounding Andante, and then by Scherzo, for which the composer drew inspiration from a section of Goethe’s Faust – to be precise, it is a poetic evocation of a mysterious mood, which is elusive and a bit tragic. This quotation demonstrates Mendelssohn’s relationship to German Romanticism and the historical background of the creation and presentation of the work, but it also anticipates Mendelssohn’s interest in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (for today’s generation, it is evocative of Tolkien’s wood-elves…) The final Presto with counterpoint is reminiscent of Handel’s Messiah and ends with a decisive, brilliant finale. The dedication to Eduard Rietz, who died in 1832 at the age of twenty-nine, was also featured in the printed version of 1832, published after Mendelssohn had substantially revised the whole composition. The Octet’s popularity is evidenced by its various arrangements, for example for two pianos, piano four hands or a full orchestra.