The concert will take place with the participation of the former president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr Joachim Gauck, who will give a speech at the concert on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the events that led to the fall of the totalitarian states in central and eastern Europe in the autumn of 1989.
In the modern history of the Czech Philharmonic, when the first steps were being taken towards an educational programme, the idea arose in 2006 – while Václav Riedlbauch was still the executive director – of giving symphonic concerts for student audiences, i.e. for a new generation of listeners. And who would be playing? The Czech Philharmonic, of course! The problem was that the orchestra was already so busy that their participation in such concerts was out of the question. So the choice fell to the former Prague Youth Orchestra, an ensemble with many years of tradition of a youthful, enthusiastic approach to music. This worked wonderfully, because the students in the audience saw their peers on stage. For these concerts, the ensemble took the name Czech Youth Orchestra. Bound by their love of music, these musicians gave performances from 2006 to 2010 under the leadership of the conductor Marko Ivanović, playing such works as Janáček’s Sinfonietta, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Cello Concerto, and Te Deum, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suite.
When new management took over in 2011, the Czech Philharmonic greatly expanded its educational activities, and that was an opportunity for renewal of the student orchestra’s activities, renamed as the Czech Youth Philharmonic. The idea is to give the rising generation of musicians – mostly students at music schools, whether grammar schools with a music emphasis, conservatoires, or academies of music – the regular opportunity of rehearsing and performing great symphonic, concertante, and choral works. Over time, the efforts turned towards creating a permanent orchestra that would support its members in the perfecting of their ensemble playing and in the creation of long-term relationships and mutual understanding. The Czech Youth Philharmonic musicians also serve as “bearers of light” in relation to their peers by showing them that young people can love classical music and can present it enthusiastically to others.
Since the 2013/2014 season, the orchestra has been performing regularly at concerts of the Czech Philharmonic’s educational series Four Steps to the New World (under the baton of Marko Ivanović), and at the series Penguins at the Rudolfinum (with Vojtěch Jouza) and Who’s Afraid of the Philharmonic? (with Ondřej Vrabec). In April 2019, the Czech Youth Philharmonic appeared with Ida Kelarová and the Čhavorenge children’s choir at Šun Devloro concerts – musical celebrations of International Romani Day. In November 2019, the orchestra played under the baton of Robert Kružík at the Students’ Day Concert with the participation of Joachim Gauck and Petr Pithart.
In June 2020 the conductor Simon Rattle came to Prague insisting that he did not want to conduct just the Czech Philharmonic, but also “some orchestra with young people”. When the choice fell to the Czech Youth Philharmonic, that was an enormous challenge for its members. Sir Simon enjoyed working with the young musicians, and he was unsparing in his praise: “The Czech Youth Philharmonic reminds me of the orchestra of the Verbier Festival, which is made up of the best music students from all around the world, led by players from the Metropolitan Opera. That’s the level they are on.” Those are nice, flattering words, but they also mean an enormous obligation for all of the young musicians, as far as their future is concerned. Each individually and all of them together have it within their reach through the power of their common bond to remain diligent and conscientious in their preparation and to concentrate as attentively as possible. In the autumn of 2020 they were able to play just two concerts with Josef Špaček in the dual role of soloist and conductor. “I would really like to work with them again sometime; they were so attentive and kind! I had an incredibly good time with them,” said Josef Špaček afterwards.
Meditace na staročeský chorál „Svatý Václave“ op. 35a
Ke kompozici Meditace na staročeský chorál op. 35a, podnítily Josefa Suka okolnosti související s první světovou válkou. Od svého přítele, lékaře a hudebního organizátora
Ferdinanda Pečírky se nedlouho po vypuknutí války v roce 1914 dozvěděl, že bude povinností zahajovat koncerty císařskou hymnou. Pečírka Sukovi navrhl vytvořit pro koncerty Českého kvarteta, jehož byl Suk sekundistou, skladbu citující starobylý svatováclavský chorál, jež by ideově vyvážila píseň Zachovej nám, Hospodine. Suk ve stručné kvartetní větě zpracoval chorální nápěv v pozdějším znění převzatém ze životopisu sv. Vojtěcha od Matěje Benedikta Boleluckého z roku 1668. Skladbě dominuje verš Nedej zahynouti nám ni budoucím, který je ideovým mottem celé kompozice. Meditaci České kvarteto poprvé provedlo v předvečer sv. Václava 27. září 1914 v Rudolfinu. V podstatě souběžně Suk zpracoval také verzi pro smyčcový orchestr, která poprvé zazněla v podání České filharmonie pod taktovkou Viléma Zemánka ve Smetanově síni 22. listopadu téhož roku. Po skončení války a vyhlášení Československa Suk k Meditaci přikomponoval dvě další vlastenecky laděná díla – symfonickou tryznu Legenda o mrtvých vítězích a sokolský pochod V nový život – a celé trilogii dal společné opusové číslo 35.
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
One of the most famous compositions in the history of classical music – Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – began around 1803, when its composer was recovering from his unrequited love for Count Joseph Deym’s young widow, Josephine von Brunswick, whom Beethoven taught to play the piano. At the same time, however, he had another serious personal crisis due to the struggle with his progressive hearing loss. This later prevented him from active as well as passive participation in the concert scene. From then on, he was only able to seek the meaning of his life exclusively in composing. Beethoven became deeply concerned with issues of heroism and noble ideas about the ultimate salvation of the universe, which was reflected in the increased pathos of his compositions. He was at the peak of his creative powers and released into the world one quality work after another, but at the time he was suffering from material deprivation.
The leitmotif of Symphony No. 5, known as “Schicksals-Sinfonie” (Fate Symphony), is the idea of the fight of one’s mind against metaphysically conceived fate, full of life crises and pain, while the result of this fight is the finding of inner harmony and peace. Beethoven worked on his first symphony in a minor key for an unusually long time simultaneously with the composition of his Sixth Symphony. He often returned to his Fifth, changing, reworking and revising many things. He was not satisfied with it until 1808, and on 22 December of that year the two new symphonies were performed for the first time before an audience at the Theater an der Wien.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony opens with a famous motif consisting of three Gs of equal duration followed by a sustained E flat below the G. This essentially very simple motif, which is to be found in several of Beethoven’s earlier and later works, was allegedly described by the composer as “fate knocking at the door”. Beethoven imaginatively develops the motif in the following energetic flow of music, adhering above all to its rhythmic structure. The slow second movement is based on variations of two contrasting themes – a lyrically peaceful one and a fanfare-like heroic one. The scherzo of the third movement suggests the continued defiance of fate, which is underlined, among other things, by the repetition of the rhythmic pattern of the opening motif. The final victory is announced by an optimistic-sounding finale in the major key, which follows after the scherzo attaca, i.e., without a pause. It is written in sonata form and mostly returns to the musical narratives of the High Classical period.
The life of Leoš Janáček took many twists and turns before he arrived at the compositional style of his greatest operas and symphonic works, which have now made him one of the most famous and most frequently performed Czech composers abroad. Janáček grew up with the music of the church and of folk culture. He gained his first experience in the church choir in Hukvaldy and later at the Augustinian monastery in Staré Brno. In 1872, the composer and choirmaster Pavel Křížkovský was hired to lead the choir there, and Janáček later became his successor. At the same time, he was studying at a secondary school in Staré Brno and at a teachers’ college. After graduating, he furthered his studies at the organ school in Prague. Thereafter, he was engaged in important activities in the field of folklore studies and pedagogy, collecting and publishing Moravian songs, leading the organ school in Brno, and conducting at the Brno Beseda concert hall. At first Janáček focused on writing choral music, then he turned his attention to other genres. The opera Jenůfa became a success after initial difficulties and obstacles baring its path to the stage. Later on, his other operas (Káťa Kabanová, The Makropulos Affair etc.) won recognition at home and abroad, as have his symphonic works (Taras Bulba, Lachian Dances etc.).
One of those symphonic works is the Sinfonietta, JW VI/18, probably the most famous of all of Janáček’s compositions. The idea originated when the newspaper Lidové noviny asked Janáček to write some music as a salutation for the Eighth Sokol Gymnastics Festival. Janáček began by writing fanfares, then he expanded them into a five-movement work, making use of his recollections of the sound of a military band. Václav Talich conducted the premiere at the Rudolfinum in Prague in 1926 with a military band joining the Czech Philharmonic as part of a cultural programme in association with the Sokol festival, and Czechoslovak Radio recorded the performance.