Photo illustrating page  Opening Concert of 123rd season Czech Philharmonic

Czech Philharmonic

Opening Concert of 123rd season

Czech Philharmonic
Subscription series LS

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor (“Resurrection”)


Christiane Karg

Elisabeth Kulman

Prague Philharmonic Choir

Lukáš Vasilek

Semyon Bychkov

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Opening Concert of 123rd season Czech Philharmonic
Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall
10 Oct 2018  Wednesday — 7.30pm
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11 Oct 2018  Thursday — 7.30pm
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Prague Philharmonic Choir  choir
Prague Philharmonic Choir

The Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC) is a leading European vocal ensemble, and as one of the Czech Republic’s foremost artistic institutions operates under the trusteeship of the Czech Ministry of Culture. In the course of the choir’s long history since its foundation in 1935, it has been directed by a succession of some of the most distinguished Czech choirmasters (including among others Jan Kühn, Josef Veselka and Pavel Kühn). Since 2007 its principal choirmaster has been Lukáš Vasilek.

The PPC’s repertoire is centered primarily around oratorio and cantata works. In their presentation, the choir has worked with eminent international orchestras (e.g., Czech Philharmonic, the Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, among others), and conductors (including Daniel Barenboim, Jakub Hrůša, Tomáš Netopil, Zubin Mehta or Sir Simon Rattle). Beyond its standard choral repertoire, the PPC is likewise active in the domain of opera, working regularly with the National Theater in Prague, and since 2010 holding the status of choir in residence at the opera festival of Bregenz, Austria.

Apart from these commitments, the PPC engages in a number of its own projects. Since 2011 it has organized its own choral concert series in Prague, with a program focused notably on presentations of less well known choral works, either a cappella or with chamber-scale instrumental accompaniment. The choir regards as an inseparable part of its activity educational endeavours targeting the young generations. In this context, it has been involved in organizing a Choral Academy for students of singing, a project aimed at enabling young artists to acquire practical skills through work with a professional vocal ensemble.

The PPCʼs many commitments in the 2019/2020 season include among others concert appearances at the Dvořák Prague and Prague Spring festivals, a tour in Hong Kong, a performance in Moscowʼs new concert hall, Zaryadye, as well as debut appearances at the Salzburg Easter Festival, with Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann, or at the Elbphilharmonie hall, with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Jakub Hrůša, and with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra under the baton of Alan Gilbert. The PPC will bring its 85th season to a close by appearances at several festivals, including Smetana Litomyšl, St. Gallen Festival in Switzerland, and the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria. The Prague Philharmonic Choir is the recipient of the 2018 Classic Prague Award for Best Vocal Concert, and Czech Televisionʼs Classical Music of the Year Award.

Lukáš Vasilek  choirmaster
Lukáš Vasilek

Lukáš Vasilek, principal conductor of the Prague Philharmonic Choir, studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and musicology at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague. For eleven seasons from 1998 he was conductor of the Foerster Female Chamber Choir, and between 2005 and 2007 was also second choirmaster of the Prague National Theatreʼs opera chorus. He took up his post at the helm of the Prague Philharmonic Choir in 2007. Apart from preparing and conducting the choirʼs a cappella concert productions, he has been building up the Prague Philharmonic Choirʼs repertoire set for participation in large-scale cantata, oratorio and opera projects, working with leading international conductors (such as Barenboim, Bělohlávek, Eschenbach, Honeck, Hrůša, Jordan, Luisi, Mehta, Noseda and Rattle) and orchestras (including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Czech Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or Wiener Symphoniker). Since 2010, the Prague Philharmonic Choir under Vasilekʼs direction has guest appeared regularly at the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.

Lukáš Vasilek has made numerous recordings with the Prague Philharmonic Choir for various major labels, including Decca Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classical and Supraphon. In 2016, the last mentioned of these issued an album of Bohuslav Martinů’s cantatas which was nominated for the BBC Music Magazine’s annual award in the choral category, among other plaudits.

Christiane Karg  soprano
Christiane Karg

Christiane Karg was born in Feuchtwangen, Bavaria. She studied singing at the Salzburg Mozarteum with Heiner Hopfner and Wolfgang Holzmair, where she was awarded the Lilli Lehmann Medal, and at the Music Conservatory in Verona. In 2009 she was named Young Performer of the Year by Opernwelt magazine. She has twice been awarded the prestigious Echo Klassik prize: in 2010 for her debut Lied CD Verwandlung – Lieder eines Jahres, accompanied by Burkhard Kehring and in 2016 for her disc of concert arias Scene! with Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo. Her latest disc Parfume is a collection of French songs recorded with David Afkham and the Bamberger Symphoniker.

She was a member of the International Opera Studio at the Hamburg State Opera before joining the ensemble of the Frankfurt Opera in 2008 where her roles included Susanna, Musetta, Pamina, Servilia, Zdenka and the title role of La Calisto. She returned to Frankfurt in 2013 to sing Mélisande to great critical acclaim in Claus Guth’s new production of Pelleas et Mélisande and in 2015 to sing Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier).

In 2006 she made an auspicious debut at the Salzburg Festival and has returned to sing Amor (Orfeo ed Euridice) with Riccardo Muti and Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. She is a regular guest at the Theater an der Wien where she has sung Ismene (Mitridate), Telaire (Castor and Pollux) and Hero (Beatrice et Benedict). At the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich she has sung Ighino (Palestrina), Pamina and Blanche (Les Dialogues des Carmelites). At the Komische Oper Berlin she has sung Musetta (La Boheme) and Norina (Don Pasquale) and at the Opera de Lille, Anne Trulove (The Rakes Progress). At the Dresden Semperoper she has sung Sophie with Christian Thielemann. In 2015 she made her house debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, singing Pamina; in 2016 she made her house debut at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, singing Sophie and her U.S operatic debut singing Susana at the Lyric Opera, Chicago; she returned to the Lyric Opera in the 2016/17 season for Pamina (Die Zauberflöte).

Semyon Bychkov  conductor
Semyon Bychkov

Semyon Bychkov’s second season as the Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor and Music Director saw the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project started in 2015 before Bychkov's appointment to the Orchestra. In addition to the release on Decca Classics of all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini, Bychkov and the Orchestra gave Tchaikovsky residencies in Prague, Tokyo, Vienna and Paris and appeared together for the first time at the BBC Proms. Highlights in Prague included the first time that Bychkov led the Orchestra in Smetana’s Má vlast.

In the 2020/21 season, the focus moves from Tchaikovsky to Mahler with performances of the symphonies scheduled both at home and abroad. New music will also be brought to the fore when Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic give the world premières of works by Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert and Thomas Larcher: three of the fourteen composers – nine Czech, five international – whose new commissions were initiated by Bychkov at the start of his tenure. Following their premières in Prague, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic have performances in Vienna, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and London featuring Dessner's Symphony and Larcher's Piano Concerto, composed for Kirill Gerstein.

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.

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 include 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 and recording commitments with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov's guest conducting engagements include concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw, the Munich and Berlin Philharmonics, Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

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. BBC Music Magazine voted Bychkov's recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin Disc of the Year in 2010; and his recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic Record of the Month, while Record Review’s Building a Library on BBC Radio 3 chose his recording of César Franck’s Symphony in D minor as their Recommended Recording. In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.

Elisabeth Kulman  mezzo-soprano
Elisabeth Kulman

Elisabeth Kulman is one of today’s most sought-after singers and leading authorities in the international classical music scene. She impresses audiences and critics alike with her rich, colorful timbre, her charismatic stage personality and her musical versatility.

She studied voice with Helena Lazarska at the Vienna Music University, made her debut as Pamina in 2001 at the Volksoper in Vienna and enjoyed early success as a soprano. Since 2005 Elisabeth Kulman has been singing the major parts of the mezzo and alto repertoire and quickly became a favorite of the audience. Her operatic repertoire, which she established in large parts as a member of the ensemble at the Vienna State Opera, includes works from Gluck, Wagner and Verdi to Weill. Her symphonic repertoire ranges from the Passions by Bach, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder, Dvořák’s Stabat Mater and Mahler’s Lieder for orchestra to Schnittke’s Faust-Cantata.

Since 2010 Elisabeth Kulman has been working as a freelance artist. She is a much sought-after soloist in the metropolitan centers of the music world: Vienna, Paris, London, Munich, Berlin, Tokyo, Salzburg, Moscow, etc. She works regularly with world-class orchestras and conductors such as Zubin Mehta, Kirill Petrenko, Christian Thielemann, Philippe Jordan, Herbert Blomstedt, Mariss Jansons, Kent Nagano and Marek Janowski. She enjoyed a particularly close collaboration with Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

Since 2015 Elisabeth Kulman has been focusing her artistic activities on recitals (together with her longtime accompanist Eduard Kutrowatz), concerts and operas in concert. She is especially devoted to unconventional projects: “Mussorgsky Dis-Covered” with an international jazz quartet, “Mahler Lieder” and “Wer wagt mich zu höhnen?” with the ensemble Amarcord Wien as well as “Hungaro Tune” with symphony orchestra and jazz soloists. In her latest solo program, the music show “La femme c’est moi”, Elisabeth Kulman joyfully correlates different genres with each other in a very personal way, always meeting the highest artistic standards. Arranged for chamber orchestra by Tscho Theissing she performs famous opera arias (not only from the mezzo repertoire), classic “Lieder”, show tunes as well as songs by the Beatles and Michael Jackson.


Gustav Mahler — Symfonie č. 2 c moll „Vzkříšení“

Koncem června 1894 psal Gustav Mahler z pobytu u Attersee v Horním Rakousku svému příteli, filozofu a archeologovi Fritzi Löhrovi do Vídně: „Hlásím tímto šťastné zrození zdravé, silné, poslední věty druhé symfonie. Otec i dítě se cítí v rámci okolností dobře, dítě ještě není zcela mimo nebezpečí.“ Symfonii č. 2 začal psát roku 1888, bezprostředně po dokončení První symfonie (kterou ovšem ještě několikrát přepracovával; konečná verze měla premiéru roku 1896). Stal se právě kapelníkem německé opery v Budapešti a problémy s vedením divadla i pochybnosti, které Mahlerův tvůrčí proces stále provázely, vedly k odkladu. K rozpracované symfonii se vrátil o tři roky později, když nastoupil do Městského divadla v Hamburku. V té době měl rozvrženou první větu a nazval ji Totenfeier (Smuteční slavnost). Na klavíru ji přehrál pianistovi a dirigentovi Hansi von Bülow, který obdivoval Mahlerovo dirigentské umění a jeho nástup v Hamburku s nadšením přivítal. Pro Mahlera jako skladatele však Bülow projevil jen málo pochopení, a tak jeho pochybnosti ještě prohloubil. Fritzi Löhrovi se tehdy Mahler svěřil, že Bülowa „zachvátil nervózní úděs a prohlásil, že Tristan je proti mé skladbě haydnovská symfonie. [...] Už tomu pomalu začínám věřit: Buď jsou moje věci zmatené nesmysly – nebo – doplň si sám! Mě to unavuje...“ Symfonii tedy opět odložil, ne snad jen z důvodu Bülovowa odsudku; opět musel většinu času a energie věnovat práci v opeře a koncertnímu dirigování. Po další přestávce zkomponoval v létě 1893 písně Kázání svatého Antonína rybám (Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt) a Prasvětlo (Urlicht) ze sbírky Chlapcův kouzelný roh a obě našly v symfonii uplatnění. 12. února 1894 zemřel Hans von Bülow v Káhiře, kam se odjel léčit. A byl to Bülow, kdo nyní – posmrtně – Mahlerovi pomohl najít klíč k poslední větě symfonie. Mahler byl přítomen smuteční slavnosti za Bülowa v hamburském chrámu sv. Michala a zaznamenal své pocity: „Atmosféra, ve které jsem tam seděl a mé myšlenky na zesnulého zcela odpovídaly duchu díla, které jsem tehdy v sobě nosil. Vtom začal sbor zpívat s doprovodem varhan Klopstockovo Vzkříšení! Zasáhlo mě to jako blesk a v mé duši bylo náhle jasno! Na takový blesk tvůrce čeká, to je pro něj ‚svaté zvěstování‘!“ Po zdráhání se odvážil použít v závěrečné větě sbor; dosud váhal z obavy, aby nebyl považován za Beethovenova napodobitele.        

První věta symfonie (název Totenfeier už se v tištěném vydání díla neobjevil), je smuteční pochod ve formě sonátové věty. Otevírá ho tremolo hlubokých smyčců, k němuž se přidávají dechové nástroje a pozvolna vyrůstá heroické hlavní téma. Další téma, slavnostního charakteru, se také objevuje ve fuze finální věty a rámuje tak celou skladbu. Druhá věta má charakter pomalého ländleru, je transformací rondové formy a má být vzpomínkou na „blažený okamžik života drahého zesnulého“. Ve třetí větě použil Mahler hudební materiál Kázání sv. Antonína rybám, a píseň Prasvětlo zařadil jako altové sólo do čtvrté věty navazující na třetí bez přerušení. Podle skladatelových slov měla vyjadřovat „zápas duše a tázání po Bohu a po božské existenci, která následuje po životě na zemi“. Také pátá věta je připojena attacca. Verše Friedricha Gottlieba Klopstocka (1724–1803), které v ní použil, Mahler upravil a větu charakterizoval takto: „Přišel konec všeho živého, ohlašuje se Poslední soud...“. Nad obrazem apokalypsy však převáží obraz boží lásky, která „nás prozařuje blaženým věděním a bytím“. Ve finále Druhé symfonie Mahler uplatnil představu prostorového zvuku, když připojil hlasy lesních rohů, trubek a tympánů v zákulisí. Pro závěrečný instrumentační efekt symfonie hledal zvony, o jejichž zvuku měl konkrétní představu. Nalezl je u jakéhosi zvonaře ve vesnici blízko Hamburku. 

Druhá symfonie byla poprvé provedena pod Mahlerovou taktovkou 4. března 1895 v Berlíně, ovšem bez vokálních vět. Kritika takové fragmentární provedení označila za nevhodné, neboť publikum má právo poznat dílo celé. Tento názor dokumentuje proměnu, jakou prošlo vnímání symfonického díla od Beethovenových dob coby souvislého strukturálního celku. Pochopení Mahlerovy hudby to však neusnadnilo: „Pan Mahler se představil jako skladatel a dirigent. Ačkoli ani jako dirigent nepůsobí právě příjemně pro oko, přece daleko lépe diriguje než komponuje.“ Recenzenti v díle postrádali formu, vytkli Mahlerovi zálibu v disonancích, které tahají za uši a v krkolomných modulacích, dokonce se ozvalo doporučení, aby symfonie raději nepsal. Premiéra kompletního díla se konala 13. prosince téhož roku také v Berlíně, opět za řízení skladatele. Sopránové sólo zpívala sólistka hamburské opery Josephine von Artner, která pocházela z Prahy a Mahler se s ní seznámil již během svého působení v Lipsku. Altový part interpretovala tehdy jednadvacetiletá Hedwig Felden, rovněž rodačka z Čech (narodila se v Teplicích), která rok předtím v Hamburku pod Mahlerovou taktovkou debutovala. I tentokrát někteří recenzenti psali, že autorovi schází první a základní podmínka symfonika, jakou je ovládnutí formy. Vokální složku však přijali s porozuměním a závěrečný sbor označili za „nejlepší část celku“, jež „po symfonii trvající půldruhé hodiny představuje rozhodně působivý, smířlivý závěr“. Dirigent Bruno Walter později prohlásil, že „tímto dnem začal Mahlerův vzestup.“ Pražskou premiéru Mahlerovy Druhé symfonie provedl 18. prosince 1903 Oskar Nedbal s Českou filharmonií posílenou o hráče orchestru Nového německého divadla za spoluúčinkování pražského sboru Hlahol a Vinohradského Hlaholu, sólistkami byly (později spíše jako operetní herečka působící) Božena Durasová (1886–1961) a Gabriela Horváthová (1877–1967). To už kritika psala o díle „hlubokého duchovního ponoru, odvaha koncepce, velikost myšlenek a často ohromující moc výrazu posluchačem otřásají a zároveň povznášejí. Existuje jen málo hudebních básní, v nichž je množství instrumentálních a vokálních prostředků vypočítáno tak málo na efekt, zde je vše umělecky zdůvodněno a organicky nezbytné“.