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Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is heard every evening in dozens of cities all around the world in all kinds of venues and performances, often as a tourist attraction. To begin Series K, we have decided to present Vivaldi’s cycle in all its glory played by Josef Špaček and his colleagues from the Czech Philharmonic.
The Four Seasons, Op. 8, four concertos for violin and string orchestra
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
violin, artistic supervisor of the project
Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
“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.
A Contest between Harmony and Invention – that is what the Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi called his most famous collection of violin concertos published in Amsterdam in 1725. At first a successful composer of sacred music and opera, within fifteen years of the enthusiastic reception of the collection L’estro armonico (Harmonic Fancy), Op. 3, he won Europe-wide fame as a pioneer of the instrumental concerto. The collections that followed, Op. 4 (La Stravaganza), Op. 5 (violin sonatas), Op. 6 and 7 (violin concertos), which came out in rather poor printed editions, were surpassed by Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (A Contest between Harmony and Invention), Op. 8. This collection contains mature, virtuosic concertos for solo violin, documenting the composer’s uniqueness. It is divided into two parts with six compositions each. In the first part, Vivaldi assigned each concerto a descriptive title indicating its character or even a storyline. Besides La tempesta di mare (A Tempest at Sea) a Il piacere (Pleasure), there are the four most famous of all – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. In the second part of the collection, only one concerto has a title and a programme – La caccia (The Hunt).
The Four Seasons is a groundbreaking cycle, which brings an entirely new concept: describing and narrating action using the abstract language of instrumental music. There are onomatopoetic descriptions of a babbling brook, birdsong, a shepherd and his barking dog, buzzing flies, a storm, and a frozen landscape. The programme of The Four Seasons is uniquely described in four sonnets by an unknown poet that accompany the score. There are disputes over whether the music was composed to the sonnets or vice versa, but it cannot be ruled out that Vivaldi wrote the poems himself. Directly in the score, the composer marked references to corresponding passages in the sonnets.
A fact of local significance to Czechs is that Vivaldi dedicated the collection to Count Václav Morzin in Prague, who had earlier appointed Vivaldi as his “Musical maestro in Italy” – an honorary title that required to supply him with some compositions from time to time. According to dedication at the beginning of the printed collection, Morzin knew The Four Seasons long before they were published and that Vivaldi had already sent the count the cycle in manuscript as a piece for Morin’s ensemble’s repertoire. In the dedication, Vivaldi literally apologises to Morzin for now dedicating to him something he had already given him (or sold him – in those days, humbling dedications to aristocrats were connected with a financial reward). “Please do not be surprised that amongst these few humble concertos, Your Eminence also finds The Four Seasons, which have so long enjoyed the noble favour of Your Eminence kind generosity. You may believe that I found it appropriate to have them printed, because while they remain the same, I have added to them sonnets and even very clear explanations of everything contained in them, so I am sure they will appear new to you,” writes Vivaldi in the introduction to the collection.
The special relationship between Count Morzin and the great Italian composer is a unique phenomenon in the musical scene of Bohemia of the first half of the eighteenth century. The reason for the contact between them was Morzin’s interest in music and his effort to build up and maintain an excellent musical ensemble. Its activities, members, and repertoire are being thoroughly researched from the preserved materials, and scholars are discovering the great ability of Morzin’s musicians as creative artists and performers. The virtuosity of Vivaldi’s cycle is one proof of this.
Piazzolla’s name is synonymous with the tango – the composer dedicated his entire life to its promotion and artistic development. Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla, a child of Italian emigrants, was born in the Argentine town Mar del Plata. His family, which moved to New York four years later, loved and listened to jazz and classical music as well as the traditional Argentine tango. At the age of eight, Piazzolla began playing the bandoneon, a type of accordion, and at age twelve he composed his first tango. Thanks to his piano teacher, he fell in love with Bach’s music, and he later played it on the bandoneon. At the age of fifteen, he returned with his family to Mar del Plata, and at seventeen he went to Buenos Aires, where he joined Anibal Troilo first-rate tango orchestra. In 1946 he formed an orchestra of his own. Because of his ambitions as an arranger, he began studying with the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, and he continued to learn to play the works of the classical composers – Bartók and Stravinsky. He even tried his hand at composing classical music. In the 1950s he sent to Paris to study on a scholarship with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger. He played her his tango Triunfal, and Boulanger is said to have declared: “Astor, your classical compositions are very well written, but this is where the real Piazzolla is; never leave him behind.” For Piazzolla, this was a clear impulse to return to the tango and the bandoneon, so he decided to merge classical music and the tango into sophisticated music with the tango’s passion. This is where the history of the “new tango” (“tango nuevo”) begins. After returning to Argentina, in Buenos Aires he founded an octet with two bandoneons, two violins, contrabass, cello, piano, and electric guitar, and he began composing innovative works for the group in the style of chamber music with the feel of the tango. His brand new style attracted admirers as well as some aggressive detractors among the fans of the traditional tango. In 1959, after a short “jazz” visit to New York, he founded a quintet in Buenos Aires (bandoneon, violin, contrabass, piano, and electric guitar), and this became Piazzolla’s favourite combination. He also worked on big orchestral projects and recordings. He composed the chamber tango-opera María de Buenos Aires with songs in the tango rhythm, and in Paris he composed the oratorio El Pueblo Joven. Later he composed in Italy, to which he fled from Argentina’s military dictatorship. He created fusion with rock music, adding percussion, a synthesizer, a guitar, or a saxophone to his quintet. He collaborated with Chick Corea and Gerry Mulligan, as well as with the Russian cellistlistou Mstislav Rostropovich.
His collection Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Porteñas means Buenos Aires in the local dialect, so the title means The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) is written in the tango style that was typical of his quintet. Because Piazzolla loved European Baroque music from his childhood, he knew Vivaldi’s Four Seasons well. He took loose inspiration from the concertos’ content, but not from their musical style. In addition, he wrote his “season” as separate pieces and presented them that way, although he did play them all together occasionally. The oldest, Summer (1965), was originally composed as music for Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz’s play Melenita de oro, and thereafter as an independent piece. Four years later, Piazzolla wrote Winter, then Spring and Autumn in 1970.
From 1996 to 1998 the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (*1955) took the four original compositions and created new arrangements for solo violin and string orchestra and a new breakdown of each composition into three tempos (fast-slow-fast, but without a break). This was done with the intention of creating clear ties to Vivaldi’s concertos. He also added to each part a direct quote from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but taking into account the different hemispheres where the two sets of four compositions were written. For example, Piazzolla’s Summer has elements of Vivaldi’s Winter.