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Czech Philharmonic • Josef Špaček
This programme is framed by two of the major works in the history of music. Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony is the composer’s last and longest symphony. Among musicians it is so beloved that conductors voted it the third most popular of all symphonies.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 41 in C Major, “Jupiter” K 551
The Labyrinth of Memory, a symphonic tableau (world premiere)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77
Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall
This programme is framed by two of the major works in the history of music. Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony is the composer’s last and longest symphony. Among musicians it is so beloved that conductors voted it the third most popular of all symphonies. The Jupiter Symphony is the last of three great symphonies that Mozart composed in rapid succession in June and July 1788. The speed with which he composed the works and their formal interconnections led Nikolaus Harnoncourt to believe that Mozart had conceived them as a single whole. This hypothesis is supported by, among other things, the facts that the first movement of the Jupiter Symphony lacks the usual slow introduction and that its finale is unusually lengthy.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto fell victim to Zhdanov’s censorship, so the composer withheld it, and it was not premiered until seven years later. Meanwhile Shostakovich to continue working on the concerto with David Oistrakh, its dedicatee. The premiere with the Leningrad Philharmonic and Yevgeny Mravinsky was a definite success. The concerto contains references to Beethoven and Elgar along with the plentiful use of a motif based on Shostakovich’s name: DSCH (the German note names for d, e flat, c, and b natural). Another of the premieres of works written on commission for the Czech Philharmonic will feature the music of Jiří Teml, a popular and remarkably versatile composer and a Prague Spring laureate. His compositional style reflects the influence of Czech folk music.
Praised for his remarkable range of colours, his confident and concentrated stage presence, his virtuosity and technical poise as well as the beauty of his tone Josef Špaček has gradually emerged as one of the leading violinists of his generation. He appears with prestigious orchestras and collaborating with eminent conductors. He equally enjoys giving recitals and playing chamber music and is a regular guest at festivals and in concert halls throughout Europe, Asia and the USA. Josef Špaček 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 laureate of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. By the end of the 2019/2020 season he served as concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the youngest in its history. Josef Špaček performs on the ca. 1732 “LeBrun; Bouthillard” Guarneri del Gesù violin, generously on loan from Ingles & Hayday.
Hailed for the natural ease of his conducting and the compelling insight of his musicianship, James Gaffigan continues to attract international attention and is one of the most outstanding young American conductors working today. In January 2010, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and in September 2013 he will take up the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the Gürzenich Orchestra, Cologne. This newly created position includes both subscription concerts and regular opera productions with Opera Cologne.
In addition to these titled positions, James Gaffigan is in high demand working with leading orchestras and opera houses throughout Europe, the United States and Asia. In recent seasons, James Gaffigan’s guest engagements have included the Munich, London and Rotterdam Philharmonics, Dresden Staatskapelle, Deutsches Symphony Orchestra (Berlin), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, RSO Berlin, BBC Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, Zurich Tonhalle, Bournemouth Symphony, Camerata Salzburg, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Leipzig and Stuttgart Radio Orchestras, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, Sydney Symphony and the Qatar Philharmonic. In the States, he has worked with the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, San Francisco and Los Angeles Philharmonics, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Baltimore and National Symphony Orchestras and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
This season, Mr Gaffigan will make his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Symphoniker, Orchestre de Paris, Oslo Philharmonic and Dresden Philharmonic Orchestras. He will also return to the MDR Leipzig, Sydney Symphony, Bergen Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic and Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestras. In America, he returns to the New World Symphony and to Toronto, Atlanta, St. Louis, Houston and Cincinnati.
As an opera conductor, James Gaffigan made his Vienna State Opera debut in 2011/12 conducting La Bohème and was immediately invited back to conduct Don Giovanni last season. Mr Gaffigan continues his relationship with the Glyndebourne Festival – in 2012, he conducted a production of La Cenerentola and returned for performances of Falstaff this summer 2013. He made his professional opera debut at the Zurich Opera in 2005 conducting La Bohème. In the States, he has conducted Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro at the Aspen Music Festival and The Marriage of Figaro at the Houston Opera.
Born in New York City in 1979, Mr. Gaffigan attended the New England Conservatory of Music and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, where he earned his Masters of Music in conducting. He was also chosen to study at the American Academy of Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival and School, and was a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center.
In 2009, Mr Gaffigan completed a three-year tenure as Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony where he assisted Michael Tilson Thomas, led subscription concerts and was Artistic Director of the orchestra’s Summer festival. Prior to that appointment, he was the Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra where he worked under Music Director Franz Welser-Möst from 2003 through 2006. James Gaffiganʼs international career was launched when he was named a first prize winner at the 2004 Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition. He lives in Lucerne with his wife, the writer Lee Taylor Gaffigan, and their daughter Sofia.
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77
Dmitri Shostakovich had many friends among contemporary Soviet performers, with whom he also worked closely in the performance of his works. These included the conductor Kirill Kondrashin, who premiered Shostakovich’s famous Fourth Symphony in C minor; the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom Shostakovich wrote two concertos for cello and orchestra; and the violinist David Oistrakh, to whom Shostakovich dedicated his two violin concertos. Shostakovich composed Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor in the years 1947–1948. Its inception was thus affected by the infamous circumstances of the first quarter of 1948, when Shotakovich, together with other prominent Soviet composers, was harshly and unfairly criticized and accused of modernism and formalism by the highest echelons of the Communist Party. Shostakovich somehow managed to stabilize the situation (created by Joseph Stalin and his right-hand man in cultural affairs, Andrei Zhdanov) and maintain his position of the “main export item of Soviet music” into the world, including the capitalist West. However, the process of Shostakovich’s return to favor was extremely complicated, as a result of which his First Violin Concerto was premiered as late as seven years after its creation – after Stalin’s death – on 29 October 1955 by David Oistrakh and the Leningrad Philharmonic under Yevgeny Mravinsky.
The composer himself wrote that this composition was “in its character essentially more of a symphony for solo violin and orchestra”. Oistrach commented on the piece, “The concerto represents an extremely interesting task for the performer. It is like a large, comprehensive Shakespearean role, which puts a great emotional and intellectual strain on the performer and which offers enormous opportunities not only to demonstrate the violinist’s virtuosity, but above all to express the deepest feelings, thoughts and moods.” Indeed – it is an exceptionally difficult piece to perform, but at the same time it does not feature any virtuoso effects which would be void of meaning. It has four movements designated both by their tempo and their form.
The first movement is a slow Nocturne. After a gloomy introduction, the solo violin presents the main theme of the whole first movement composed in sonata form. In the following section of the first movement, the solo instrument intertwines with the orchestra in a polyphonic manner. The second movement, Scherzo, is characterized by a pulsing rhythm. Here, for the first time, Shostakovich used the musical motif of DSCH (consisting of the notes D, E flat, C and B natural in German musical notation pronounced as “De-Es-Ce-Ha” = D-mitri Sch-ostakovich), applied in several of his compositions of a later date as his signature. In the First Violin Concerto, this four-tone musical motif can be heard repeatedly, albeit inconspicuously in the orchestral accompaniment.
The central theme of the third movement, Passacaglia, is presented at the very beginning by cellos together with double basses. The subsequent mournful theme played by the violin is extremely demanding in terms of keeping the prescribed nuances of expression. The movement concludes with a long cadenza, in which the solo instrument changes the mood from a melancholy cry to anxious indignation. This cadenza gradually accelerates attaca into the final movement, aptly called Burlesque. Here the composer was inspired by the frisky rhythm and melody of folk songs presented by scaramouches – ancient Russian wandering singers, actors and dancers.