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.

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  • Duration of the programme 2 hours

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

Celebrating both his fifth season as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic and his 70th birthday, Semyon Bychkov will celebrate his birthday with three concerts in November pairing Beethoven’s Fifth with Shostakovich’s Fifth. It is a season which opens in Prague with the official concert to mark the Czech Republic’s Presidency of the EU and continues with concert performances of Dvořák’s Rusalka as part of the Dvořákova Prague International Music Festival. Later in the season, Bychkov will conduct Rusalka at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Bychkov's tenure at the Czech Philharmonic was initiated in 2018 with concerts in Prague, London, New York and Washington marking the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. With the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project in 2019, Bychkov and the Orchestra turned their focus to Mahler. In 2022, Pentatone has already released two discs in the ongoing complete symphonic cycle – Mahler’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies.

Bychkov's repertoire spans four centuries. The unique combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy ensure that his performances are highly anticipated. In addition to being a guest with the major orchestras and opera houses across Europe and the US, Bychkov holds honorary titles with the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – and the Royal Academy of Music from whom he recently received an Honorary Doctorate. In 2015, he was named "Conductor of the Year’ by the International Opera Awards.

Bychkov began recording for Philips in 1989 and released discs with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne included a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, together with works by Strauss, Mahler, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Verdi, Glanert and Höller. His 1992 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library recommended recording (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 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, he 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 in 1975. He returned in 1989 as Principal Guest Conductor of the St Petersburg Philharmonic and, the same year, was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. In 1997, Bychkov was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, and in 1998, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.

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. He is universally recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of Romantic piano music and is a particular specialist in Czech repertoire (awarded e.g. by Dispaison d’Or). 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 and performing at the 2007 Proms Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek. He has collaborated with the most prestigious orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic (Sir Simon Rattle), the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic, and many others. He 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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