Alisa Weilerstein joins the Czech Philharmonic and conductor Tomáš Netopil in Manchester to perform Antonín Dvořák's Cello Concerto. The orchestra will also perform Dvořák's New World Symphony and the overture to Mozart's Don Giovanni.
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The overture to Don Giovanni K527
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 "From the New World"
Tomáš Netopil took up the position of General Music Director of the Aalto Theatre and Philharmonie Essen at the start of 2013/2014. In addition to his concert season at the helm of Essen Philharmoniker, his opera productions in 2018/2019 include Der Freischütz , Salome, Così fan tutte and Rusalka whilst in 2017/2018 he conducted The Bartered Bride, Salome, Lohengrin, Die Walküre, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
Netopil made his debut with Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden in 2008 since when he has conducted La clemenza di Tito, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, La Juive, and Busoni’s Doktor Faust and he will conduct a new production of The Bartered Bride for them in Spring 2019. This season, he will also conduct a new production of Jenůfa for Netherlands Opera and returns to Wiener Staatsoper for Idomeneo: in 2017/2018 he conducted a new production of Der Freischütz, and has previously conducted Káťa Kabanová, Rusalka and The Cunning Little Vixen in Vienna. He has also conducted Falstaff and The Makropulos Case for Vlaamse Opera.
An inspirational force in Czech music, Tomáš Netopil is one of the two Principal Guest Conductors of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. In August 2017 he conducted two Dvořák and Mozart concerts alongside Diana Damrau at the Grafenegg Festival. In early Spring 2018 he led the orchestra on an extensive UK tour, and conducted Má vlast in the opening concert of the 2018 Prague Spring Festival, which was televised live.
About his debut at the Dvořák's Prague festival in 2017 with Essener Philharmoniker Bachtrack wrote: “The music lit up the stage like a rousing march, providing a dazzling showcase for Netopilʼs facility for creating three-dimensional soundscapes with the orchestra. With Strauss, they showed an impressive ability to segue almost instantly from dramatic dissonance to charming melodies.” He then conducted Dvořákʼs Te Deum in the closing concert of the festival with Vienna Symphony Orchestra, whom he subsequently conducted at Vienna Konzerthaus and later on at the Vienna Musikverein.
On the concert platform, in the 2018/2019 he returned to the Zürich Tonhalle. Highlights of recent seasons have included Orchestre de Paris, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, whilst future dates include Leipzig Gewandhaus and RAI Torino.
Tomáš Netopil’s discography for Supraphon includes Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (in its never-before-recorded original 1927 version), Dvořákʼs complete cello works, Martinůʼs Ariane and Double Concerto, and Smetana’s Má vlast with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. He has also recorded Suk’s Asrael Symphony with Essener Philharmoniker.
From 2008–2012 Tomáš Netopil held the position of Music Director of the Prague National Theatre. Tomáš Netopil studied violin and conducting in his native Czech Republic, as well as at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm under the guidance of Professor Jorma Panula. In 2002 he won the 1st Sir Georg Solti Conductors Competition at the Alte Oper Frankfurt.
“A young cellist whose emotionally resonant performances of both traditional and contemporary music have earned her international recognition, … Weilerstein is a consummate performer, combining technical precision with impassioned musicianship.” So stated the MacArthur Foundation when awarding Alisa Weilerstein a 2011 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. An exclusive recording artist for Decca Classics since 2010, she is the first cellist to be signed by the prestigious label in more than 30 years.
For her first album on the Decca label, Weilerstein recorded the Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin. The disc was named “Recording of the Year 2013” by BBC Music. Her second Decca release, on which she plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, topped the U.S. classical chart. Weilerstein released her fifth album on Decca in September 2016, playing Shostakovich’s two cello concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Pablo Heras-Casado, in performances recorded live the previous season.
Weilerstein has appeared with all the foremost orchestras of the United States and Europe, collaborating with conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Alan Gilbert, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Yuri Temirkanov, and David Zinman. Her major career milestones include an emotionally tumultuous account of Elgar’s concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim in Oxford, England, for the orchestra’s 2010 European Concert, which was televised live and subsequently released on DVD by EuroArts. Other highlights of that time include her debut at the BBC Proms in 2010.
Committed to expanding the cello repertoire, Weilerstein is an ardent champion of new music. She gave the New York premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus, and has worked extensively with Osvaldo Golijov, who rewrote Azul for cello and orchestra (originally premiered by Yo-Yo Ma) for her New York premiere performance. At the 2008 Caramoor Festival, she gave the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violoncello and Piano with the composer at the keyboard. Joseph Hallman, a 2014 Grammy Award nominee, has also written multiple works for Weilerstein.
Weilerstein has appeared at major music festivals throughout the world, including Aspen, Edinburgh, Jerusalem Chamber Music, La Jolla Summer Fest, Mostly Mozart, Salzburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Tanglewood, and Verbier. In addition to her appearances as a soloist and recitalist, Weilerstein performs regularly as a chamber musician. She has been part of a core group of musicians at the Spoleto Festival USA for the past eight years and also performs with her parents, Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, as the Weilerstein Trio.
The cellist is the winner of both Lincoln Center’s 2008 Martin E. Segal prize for exceptional achievement and the 2006 Leonard Bernstein Award. She received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2000 and was selected for two prestigious young artists programs in the 2000/2001 season.
A graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Richard Weiss, the cellist also holds a degree in history from Columbia University. In 2008, Weilerstein, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine, became a Celebrity Advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Mozartsʼs opera Don Giovanni is inseparably connected with Prague and the Czech musical life. It was preceded by the opera Le Nozze di Figaro, which in Vienna failed to win the favors of the court and was performed only shortly, but whose Prague production with Mozartsʼs personal presence was a triumph. Therefore Mozart gladly accepted the commission for a new opera to be composed for Prague, Don Giovanni. He took part in preparations of its premiere, and according to the well-know legend – due to the fact that the opera was not entirely completed – Mozart allegedly did not get down to writing the overture until the night before the premiere on 29 October 1787. Mozart designated his “opera operas” ad dramma giocoso, suggesting that its fatefully serious framework features comic moments. This birefringence is characteristic of the orchestral overture to the opera.
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.”
The year 1896 was important for the history of Czech music for two reasons: on 4 January, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was founded, and on 19 March, Antonín Dvořák conducted the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 during his ninth and final concert tour in England. Although Dvořák was very happy about this composition, even writing about the “pure joy” which this work brought to him, in his modesty he could not know or guess that it would become one of his most frequently performed pieces, and for many people the best cello concerto ever, sometimes called the “king”. The paradox is that Dvořák had never been particularly drawn to the concertante form and did not recognise the cello as a solo instrument: he actually complained that it “whinges up above, and grumbles down below”. Nevertheless, by serendipitous circumstances, in the autumn of 1894 he decided to compose a concerto for cello. His first attempt at a solo concerto for this instrument was made almost thirty years ago, but Dvořák held this early concerto in such low regard that he did not mind the loss of its autograph (found after the composer’s death) and never included it in any list of his works.
The first and the most important impulse for Dvořák to choose this genre was a cello concerto by the American composer and cellist Victor Herbert. At that time, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory in New York; Herbert taught the cello there and was also the principle cellist with the New York Philharmonic Society. Dvořák was so excited by Herbert’s work that he studied its score in great detail and several months later began to compose his own cello concerto. Perhaps in line with the deeply intimate Biblical Songs created in the spring of 1894, Dvořák continued on this personal level, revealing in his new work his experiences at that particular time in his life: being homesick and missing his children (except for his son Otakar who was with him in the U.S., his other five children remained in Bohemia), longing after his summer home in Vysoká, where he could work undisturbed, and reminiscing about gravely ill Josefina Kounitzová, his sister-in-law and friend, whom Dvořák had loved in the past. The combination of Dvořák’s creative élan and inner melancholy gave rise to his innermost composition, dominated by a firm compositional order, which is not without hope. Josefina is memorialized in the concerto by the melody of Dvořák’s song Leave Me Alone from the cycle Four Songs, Op. 82, of which Josefina was particularly fond.
The concerto is in three movement. It opens with a grandiose orchestral introduction, expanding from two main themes. While the first is characterized by bigger melodic intervals, the second theme consists of a sweet, gentle melody. A seemingly spontaneous idea was born after a long and laborious struggle, after which Dvořák found its correct form. He himself admitted that the lyrical theme of the introductory Allegro made him tremble. In the second movement he went even further, creating one of his most impressive lyrical expressions. This is where the quotation from the song Leave Me Alone is heard. Then comes the rondo, which represents the symbol of hope, of resurrection after a dark night on the cross, an image of the pain transformed. Dvořák wrote it a few weeks before he left New York for good; this might be why it is elated by an eager expectation, which, however, was spoiled upon Dvořák’s return to Bohemia by the news of Josefina’s premature death. In response to this sad fact, Dvořák radically changed the conclusion of the whole concert, inserting a new section of sixty bars before the original short coda, after which the solo violin again quotes Josefina’s favourite song.
The world premiere of the concerto was held in London’s Queen’s Hall on 19 March 1896 and was conducted by the composer himself. Originally, the composition was to be premiered by Dvořák’s close friend and mentor of the cello part, Hanuš Wihan, to whom the work was dedicated, but in the end its performance was entrusted to a young English cellist, Leo Stern. It is rumoured that the change of cellists was caused by Wihan’s rather insensitive insistence to play his own virtuoso cadenza, which Dvořák resolutely rejected, but the real reason was probably bad timing. Stern went to see Dvořák in Bohemia and worked hard with him, practising almost seven hours a day in order to master it because the composition was extremely difficult for him in terms of intonation. Stern also presented the work at the Prague premiere on 11 April 1896 and later in Leipzig, Chicago and New York.
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