Czech Philharmonic performs with Petr Altrichter and French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras in Kitakyushu as a part of the orchestra's 2017 tour of Asia.
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Carnival overture, Op. 92
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 "From The New World"
In 1891, Antonín Dvořák was offered the directorship of the New York Conservatory. After some hesitation, the composer accepted this challenge – which was interesting in both artistic and financial terms – and the next year sailed with his family across the Atlantic. Beyond leading the institution, his duties included teaching composition, and he also had the ambition of laying down the ideological foundations of American art music. Dvořák spent more than two-and-a-half years in America and wrote important instrumental works there. These include, in addition to his String Quartet No. 12 in F Major “American”, his most often played orchestral compositions, namely, Symphony No. 9 in E Minor “From the New World” and the work that opens this evening, Cello Concerto in B Minor.
Dvořák completed his only concert work for the cello whilst still in New York, but reworked its conclusion on returning to his homeland. Although the work adopts the traditional three-movement concerto form, it is conceived rather symphonically. It starts with an extensive orchestral introduction, presenting the two contrasting themes of the first movement, which is in loose sonata form. The cello then resolutely introduces a new exposition of the first theme, which the soloist continues to work with, until the second theme is outlined. The sonata development is very brief and the recapitulation, full of virtuoso runs for the solo instrument, has also been treated very freely by the composer. The second movement takes a symmetric ternary form with a dramatic middle section and lyrical outer sections. Here the writing for the cello is characterised by semitone “sighs” and numerous double-stops. The final movement is a rondo and has been read as a joyful harbinger of the composer’s return to the motherland. Immediately upon its premiere, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto gained significant popularity and to this day continues to be a favourite in the repertoires of the world’s greatest cellists.
In 1892 Dvořák accepted an invitation to the United States for three years and became the director of the National Conservatory in New York. After a short stay overseas, in the winter of 1893 he started working on his new Symphony No. 9 in E minor ‘From the New World’. This composition was conceived in order to prove Dvořák’s theory regarding the use of the characteristic elements of African-American and Native-American music for the emergence of the ‘American national school’, which did not exist at the time of Dvořák’s sojourn in the United States. Experts have debated for more than one hundred years about whether Dvořák used in his symphony specific tunes of Negro songs or not. Dvořák himself gave an ambiguous answer to this question. Once he said, “I’m just finishing a new Sinfonia in E minor. Well, everyone who has instincts must feel the influence of America.” At another time he made a seemingly contradictory statement: “It has been and always will be Czech music.” Another question is to what extent Dvořák could really get to know American music during such a short period of his stay in America, and how much he actually wished to create something for America, which in the beginning treated him so generously and which was certainly very fascinating for him. Structurally, the Ninth Symphony has a very precise, almost textbook form of individual movements. Subconsciously, however, Dvořák must have “quoted” at least one of the familiar tunes since the theme of the first movement is noticeably reminiscent of the Negro spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot. The second movement, Largo, might have been inspired by The Song of Hiawatha, while the third movement of the symphony has, according to Dvořák, “something of the Indian character”. In the final fourth movement Dvořák has combined all the themes of the symphony. This perfect management of form in connection with imaginative melodies, harmonies and instrumentation mastery form together a truly unique work of genius. Finally, let us quote from The New York Times in 1893: “We Americans should thank and honor the Bohemian master who has shown us how to build our national school of music.”
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