Czech Philharmonic • Concert for the 100th Anniversary of Czechoslovakia


For this country’s jubilee year, the series of Special Concerts for our 123rd season will include a special Czech programme for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia.

  • Subscription series M
  • Duration of the programme 2 hod

Programme

Bedřich Smetana
The Bartered Bride, overture to the opera

Bedřich Smetana
Polka, Furiant, Skočná, dances from the opera The Bartered Bride

Bohuslav Martinů
Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani, H 271

Antonín Dvořák
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (“From the New World”)

Performers

Ivo Kahánek
piano

Michael Kroutil
timpani

Semyon Bychkov
conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic Concert for the 100th Anniversary of Czechoslovakia

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall


Performers

Semyon Bychkov  conductor
Semyon Bychkov

“This was a testament not only to Mahler, but also to Mr. Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic... this was a moving and intelligent reading of the Resurrection, dramatic in the opening and finale, sweet and playful in the inner movements, and sublime in the setting of Urlicht...”

The New York Times

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 First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies will all be heard internationally including on tour at the Grafenegg Festival in Austria during the summer. 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, Berlin, Oslo and LA Philharmonic Orchestras, 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.

Michael Kroutil  timpani
Michael Kroutil

Michael Kroutil, born 1982, studied from 1999 to 2001 at the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory, then attended the Prague Conservatory. In 2003 he began taking private lessons from Karl Mehling, former timpanist of the Gewandhausorchester and a year later from Mark Steful, first timpanist of the same orchestra. Between 2005 and 2007 he studied the timpani and percussion at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Leipzig, and from 2011 attended the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste under the pedagogic guidance of Rainer Seegers, first timpanist of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Michael Kroutil has performed with a number of renowned German (Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Leipziger Kammerorchester, Mendelssohn Kammerorchester Leipzig, Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz, Thüringer Symphoniker, Westsächsisches Symphonieorchester, Deutsche Philharmonie) and Czech orchestras (PKF – Prague Philharmonia, Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of the National Theatre in Prague, the Pardubice Chamber Philharmonic). He has also regularly worked with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 2006 and 2007, Michael Kroutil participated in Gewandhausorchester recording projects for EuroArts. Since 2007 he has been first timpanist of the Czech Philharmonic, and is also a member of the international Solistes Européens Luxembourg.

Ivo Kahánek  piano
Ivo Kahánek

A musician of tremendous emotional power, depth and expressiveness, Ivo Kahánek has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting artists of his generation and is the Czech Republic's most acclaimed pianist.  He is universally recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of Romantic piano music and is a particular specialist in Czech repertoire. He possesses a rare gift of creating an immediate and compelling emotional connection with his audiences.

Kahánek came to public attention after winning the Prague Spring International Music Competition in 2004. He was subsequently a prize winner at many other competitions (Maria Canals Piano Competition in Barcelona, Vendome Prize in Vienna, Stiftung Tomassoni Wettbewerb in Cologne, Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Marienbad etc.).

After his successful debuts at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn and the Prague Spring Festival in Prague Kahánek was invited to perform Martinů's Fourth Piano Concerto ("Incantations") at the 2007 Proms Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek. In 2014, Kahánek was selected by Sir Simon Rattle to perform two critically acclaimed concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, becoming only the second Czech pianist after Rudolf Firkušný to perform with this legendary orchestra. Ivo Kahánek performs regularly with the Czech Philharmonic and has also appeared on stage in front of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Glasgow etc.

Ivo Kahánek has already released thirteen CDs on the Supraphon Music label (with which he has an exclusive contract since 2007) of works by Chopin, Dvořák, Janáček, Martinů, Klein, Kabeláč, Francaix, Ibert and more. His most recent recording of the piano concertos by Dvořák and Martinů, where he is accompanied by the Bamberger Philharmoniker under the baton of Jakub Hrůša, was selected as the recording of the month in the BBC Music Magazine, gaining several other awards.

Ivo Kahánek is a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

Compositions

Antonín Dvořák
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (“From the New World”)

Počátkem 90. let stál Dvořák na vrcholu svých uměleckých sil a byl již světově uznávaným skladatelem. Dostával nabídky na vytvoření skladeb, na koncertní turné či na posty učitelské a ředitelské. Génius Antonín Dvořák se postupně vypracoval z „pouhého“ českého skladatele na skladatele světového, kterého vydávaly renomované nakladatelské domy a s kterým se přátelil Brahms či Čajkovskij.

Symfonie č. 9 e moll „Z Nového světa“ představuje vrcholné mistrovské dílo, kombinující dosavadní Dvořákovy postupy v kompozici. Psát cokoli o ní se zdá být vzhledem k jejímu častému provozování nadbytečné. Dílo se od svého prvního uvedení stalo nesmírně populárním a v roce 1969 si vzal s sebou nahrávku symfonie americký kosmonaut Neil Armstrong při první cestě člověka na měsíc. Pro Dvořáka se stalo vytvoření tohoto díla však také jakýmsi symbolem jeho vlastní první cesty za oceán, do Nového světa. V roce 1892 přijímá pozvání do Spojených států a na tři roky se stává ředitelem Národní konzervatoře v New Yorku. Po krátké době pobytu za mořem, v zimě 1893, začíná pracovat na své další, v pořadí již deváté symfonii. Je na ní znát, jak silně na skladatele Amerika zapůsobila, zároveň však zůstává dílem českého mistra na vrcholu tvůrčích sil. Novosvětská měla být důkazem skladatelovy teorie o možnostech využití charakteristických prvků černošské a indiánské hudby pro vznik tzv. americké národní školy, která v době Dvořákova pobytu ve Spojených státech fakticky neexistovala. 

Odborníci vedou již více než sto let debaty o tom, zda Dvořák v symfonii použil konkrétní nápěvy černošských písní či nikoliv. Dvořák sám se k této věci vyjádřil rozporuplně. Jednou tvrdil: „Právě dokončuji novou Sinfonii e moll. Dělá mi velkou radost a bude se od mých dřívějších lišit velice podstatně. Inu, vliv Ameriky, každý kdo má ‚čuch‘, musí vycítit.“ Podruhé se vyjádřil zdánlivě protikladně: „Je to a zůstane to pořád českou muzikou.“ Každopádně konkrétní melodie vědomě nepřebíral: „Je to jen duch černošských a indiánských melodií, jejž jsem se snažil reprodukovat ve své nové symfonii. Neupotřebil jsem jediné z oněch melodií.“  Otázkou také zůstává, do jaké míry mohl vlastně Dvořák za tak krátkou dobu pobytu v Americe původní americkou hudbu opravdu poznat, a nakolik bylo pouze jeho přáním vytvořit něco pro Ameriku, která se k němu v počátcích tak štědře zachovala a která ho jistě velmi fascinovala. Dirigent Leonard Bernstein označil dílo jako skutečně mezinárodní ve své podstatě. Navzdory všem těmto dohadům má 9. symfonie asi mnohem více společného s českou hudbou než s hudbou americkou. Stavebně se vyznačuje velmi přesnou, téměř učebnicovou formou jednotlivých vět.

Podvědomě však Dvořák minimálně jednu ze známých melodií „odcitoval“, vždyť téma z první věty symfonie připomíná nápadně černošský spirituál Swing Low Sweet Chariot.  Druhá věta Largo je zase možná inspirována Písní o Hiawathovi. Tato rozsáhlá básnická skladba amerického básníka Henryho Wadswortha Longfellowa čerpá z příběhů o legendárním indiánském náčelníkovi Hiawathovi a její významnou složkou jsou také působivé popisy přírodních krás divoké americké přírody. Hlavní téma slavného Dvořákova Larga – široká, vznešeně prostá melodie (přednášená anglickým rohem na pozadí sordinovaných smyčců) – má možná svůj předobraz v putování Hiawathy a jeho ženy Minnehahy rozlehlou, nedotčenou americkou krajinou. Střední část věty může být zase odrazem nálady ve scéně pohřbu Minnehahy. Třetí věta symfonie má pak podle skladatele také „něco z indiánského charakteru“. V závěrečné čtvrté větě Dvořák kombinuje všechna témata z celé symfonie. Toto perfektní zvládnutí formy ve spojitosti s nápaditou melodikou, harmonií a instrumentačním mistrovstvím tvoří dohromady skutečně geniální jedinečné dílo. Závěrem uveďme citát z New York Times z roku 1893:  „My, Američané, bychom měli děkovat tomuto českému mistru a ctít ho za to, že nám ukázal, jak máme zacházet s naším vlastním hudebním dědictvím.

Bohuslav Martinů
Dvojkoncert pro dva smyčcové orchestry, klavír a tympány H. 271

In his Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani, H 271 (the title page of the autograph score is in French: “Double concert pour cordes, piano et timbales”) and his Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, H 292 (in his correspondence, the composer also called it his “Double Piano Concerto”), Bohuslav Martinů drew inspiration from duality, doubling, and the possibilities that arise from them, as well as from the Baroque concerto grosso genre. In a reminiscence, the composer described his conception of “double” as follows: “My work on the Concerto for Two Pianos has gone successfully. To tell the truth, I’m a concerto grosso kind of person. The descriptions of this form in nearly all textbooks are superficial, perhaps except for the fact that the soloists and orchestra alternate. [...] Where the symphonic form is retained, resorting to emotional elements is actually required, [...] while the concerto grosso allows strict order, a limitation or equilibrium of emotional elements, the limitation and appropriate balancing of gradations and dynamics, and an entirely different, strict structure of thematic organisation; in short, a different world. [...] The Concerto for Two Pianos is the ‘ideal type’ for this form.” The composer’s statement can be applied in general to all of his concertante works of this kind, and his Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani is undoubtedly one of the most successful.

“I’m exploding, choking, weeping”, declared Arthur Honegger in tears as he embraced Bohuslav Martinů at the world premiere of the Double Concerto in Basel on 9 February 1940. Apart from captivation with the composition, the moving circumstances of the work’s creation certainly also played a role: sympathy for the tragedy that had struck Czechoslovakia and its inhabitants, which the composer seems (even to us today) to have sensed in advance and written into the music. Martinů began composing his Double Concerto in August 1938, and he finished it on 29 September 1938, on the day of the Munich Agreement that broke up the Czechoslovak state. He composed it for Paul Sacher and his Basel Chamber Orchestra. The composer adapted the work’s instrumentation to the possibilities of that orchestra. Martinů was staying with Sacher at the time when he finished the Double Concerto, and he dedicated the work to him with a pithy description of its creation: “To my dear friend Paul Sacher to commemorate the quiet and fearful days spent at Schönenberg amongst the deer and the threat of the war.” The anxiety and the threat of war are understandable, but what about the deer? The composer’s wife Charlotte recalled that while staying with Sacher, they often observed “with radiant vision” how the deer “hid quietly behind the trees” and made “graceful movements”. That experience of tranquillity in the mountainous Swiss landscape – also a symbol of fragility – stands against the background of the anxiety from the approaching catastrophe. In a reminiscence about her husband’s composition, Mrs. Martinů mysteriously added that the Double Concerto, “in the middle of the third movement are the footsteps of approaching deer”. It is left to the imagination to find exactly where in the music this happens.

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