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Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov
The dark atmosphere of Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony ushers in its dramatic character and its compositional seriousness. Dvořák wanted to create a work referencing the traditions of Beethoven and Brahms and he succeeded in doing so without sacrificing any of his melodic inventiveness and creative light touch.
Prague Symphony, lyric fragments after Franz Kafka for Mezzosoprano, Bassbaritone and Orchestra (world première) (40')
Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70 (35')
Daniela Sindram mezzo-soprano
Albert Pesendorfer bass-baritone
Semyon Bychkov conductor
Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall
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Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic
Tel.: +420 227 059 227
Customer Service office hours are on weekdays from 09:00 a.m. to 06:00 p.m.
The dark atmosphere of Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony ushers in its dramatic character and its compositional seriousness. Dvořák wanted to create a work referencing the traditions of Beethoven and Brahms and he succeeded in doing so without sacrificing any of his melodic inventiveness and creative light touch. Dvořák composed it on commission for London’s Philharmonic Society. Knowing that Beethoven had written his Ninth Symphony for the same society, he wanted to compose a work that would be “capable of stirring the world”. After the première at St. James Hall, Dvořák described the public’s reaction as follows: “The symphony was well liked and the audience acknowledged me and welcomed me in the most ostentatious fashion. There was pandemonium after every movement, rousing to the very end, just like at home, in fact. But this is, as always, a minor concern for me. The important thing is that the symphony, even with only two rehearsals, went superbly.” The London première took place in the spring of 1885 and in the autumn that followed, Dvořák already conducted it at the Rudolfinum. Conductors Hans Richter, Arthur Nikisch, and Hans von Bülow made the Seventh Symphony famous around the world. After the Berlin première, Dvořák wrote into von Bülow’s score enthusiastically: “Hurrah! You have brought this work to life!”
The first half of the concert also gives us a chance to experience the excitement of witnessing a world première of a new work. Detlev Glanert is practically one of Semyon Bychkov’s “court” composers; Bychkov has already conducted his Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch in Prague in 2020. Glanert’s compositional style is influenced by the music of Mahler and Ravel. As a successful opera composer who uses the communicative power of the human voice, Glanert has also chosen to include two vocal soloists in his Prague Symphony.
The Austrian bass Albert Pesendorfer studied singing and flute at the Bruckner University in Linz and at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. From 2002 to 2005 he held a full-time engagement at the theatre in Erfurt, during the 2005/2006 season at the Tyrolean State Theatre in Innsbruck and from 2006 to 2011 at the State Opera in Hanover. In 2012 he joined the company of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, where he sang until 2016.
Since then, among the places where he has performed are the Vienna State Opera, the Hamburg State Opera, the Cologne Opera, the National Opera in Tokyo, the Zurich Opernhaus, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Semperoper in Dresden, the Theater an der Wien, and the Flemish Opera in Antwerp. He has performed at important opera festivals including an appearance in the summer of 2014 in Bregenz as Sarastro and in 2016 in Bayreuth as Hagen in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung under the baton of Marek Janowski. He excelled in the same role with enormous success at the Vienna State Opera under the baton of Ádám Fischer.
Albert Pesendorfer’s repertoire encompasses more than seventy roles including Hans Sachs (Die Meistersinger), Gurnemanz (Parsifal), Fasolt (Rheingold), Hunding (Die Walküre), Hagen (Götterdämmerung), King Mark (Tristan und Isolde), King Heinrich (Lohengrin), Osmin (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Rocco (Fidelio), Sparafucile (Rigoletto), Philip II (Don Carlos), and Banquo (Macbeth). In 2011 the journal Opernwelt nominated him for the title of Singer of the Year for his portrayals of the roles of Hunding and Hagen at the Hanover State Opera.
Concert performances have taken Albert Pesendorfer to the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Musikpalast in Budapest, the Brucknerhaus in Linz, the Philharmonie in Berlin, London’s Barbican Hall, Japan, the United States, and elsewhere. His debut with the Czech Philharmonic also belongs on this list.
Since the winter semester of 2015, Albert Pesendorfer has been a professor of singing at the Universität der Künste in Berlin.
He can now be heard at the Vienna Volksoper as Timur (Turandot), Hemit (Der Freischütz), and Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), and he has enjoyed especially great success as Sebastian Kundrather in the opera Kehraus um St. Stephan by Ernst Krenek.
During the 2019/2020 season, Pesendorfer is returning to the title role in Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov at the Vienna Volksoper.
“This was a testament not only to Mahler, but also to Mr. Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic... this was a moving and intelligent reading of the Resurrection, dramatic in the opening and finale, sweet and playful in the inner movements, and sublime in the setting of Urlicht...”
The New York Times
Semyon Bychkov's tenure as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic was initiated with concerts in Prague, London, New York and Washington marking the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence in 2018. Since the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project in 2019 – a 7-CD box set released by Decca Classics and a series of international residencies – Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic have been focusing on the symphonic works of Mahler with performances and recordings scheduled both at home and abroad.
During the 2021/22 season, Mahler’s First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies will all be heard internationally including on tour at the Grafenegg Festival in Austria during the summer. The Czech Philharmonic’s 126th season’s subscription concerts in October will open with Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. In the spring, a Czech Festival at Vienna’s Musikverein featuring Smetana’s Má vlast – recorded by Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic during lockdown - alongside works by Kabeláč, Dvořák, Martinů and Janáček will be followed by an extensive European tour including concerts at the Philharmonie in Berlin, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and two concerts at London’s Barbican Centre.
Especially 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. Highlights of the new season include the German première of Larcher’s Piano Concerto with dedicatee Kirill Gerstein in Berlin, the Czech première of Bryce Dessner’s Mari and the world première of Anderson’s Prague Panoramas, also presented in Prague. The three new works are amongst fourteen commissions initiated by Bychkov at the start of his tenure with the Czech Philharmonic.
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 included 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 commitments with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov's guest conducting engagements include further performances of Mahler’s symphonies with the Orchestre de Paris, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Berlin, Oslo and LA Philharmonic Orchestras, and Strauss’s Elektra at the Opéra national de Paris.
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. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (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 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.
Prager Sinfonie, Lyrische Fragmente nach Franz Kafka für Mezzosopran, Bass und Orchestra (Sinfonie No. 4, 2019/2020)
Lyric Fragments after Franz Kafka for Mezzosoprano, Bassbaritone and Orchestra
Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70
Zcela jiný svět, než na jaký jsme u Dvořáka zvyklí, představuje jeho Symfonie č. 7 d moll op. 70. Postrádá slovanskou melodiku, bohaté větvení myšlenek, folklorní inspiraci i nezdolný optimismus. Odkud se v této skladbě najednou vzala chmurná, temná nálada, vzdor, pochybnosti a patos? Podle některých badatelů za to mohl autorův vnitřní konflikt mezi vlastenectvím a kosmopolitismem, touhou a vnějším očekáváním, ve dvořákovské literatuře se také často píše o tvůrčí krizi, jíž hudebník procházel a jež jako by v této symfonii vrcholila. Nasnadě je i souvislost s opusy Johannesa Brahmse, Dvořákova objevitele a velkého osobního vzoru, jehož symfonie se staly Dvořákovi silnou inspirací a výzvou. On sám si do partitury poznamenal, že hlavní téma první věty vymyslel v roce 1884 při vjezdu slavnostního vlaku několika stovek maďarských Čechů a Maďarů do Prahy, kteří přijeli navštívit Národní divadlo. V napjaté společenské atmosféře šlo více o politickou než kulturní událost, doprovázenou navíc rozsáhlými manifestacemi, ovšem nemůžeme s jistotou říci, že podobu symfonie ovlivnila tehdejší politická situace.
Sedmou symfonii začal Dvořák psát na popud londýnské Filharmonické společnosti, jež ho zároveň jmenovala čestným členem, přičemž nabídku pojal jako skvělou příležitost zkomponovat něco opravdu výjimečného a vyrovnat se jak Brahmsovi, tak Beethovenovi. A vskutku, tato symfonie je považována za Dvořákovu nejsymfoničtější skladbu, jež je sice intimní, ale zároveň nadmíru dramatická, dokonale vyrovnaná z hlediska formy a obsahu, instrumentačně úsporná, myšlenkově soudržná, skoro až sevřená, zkrátka beethovensko-brahmsovská.
První věta v sonátové formě začíná zlověstně ostrým tématem, jež posléze promění kontrastní smířlivá myšlenka. Poté na něj opět padne stín a celá věta končí podobně rezignovaně, jako začala. Skutečné zklidnění přináší druhá věta, již lze vnímat jako modlitbu duše, následuje rytmicky výrazné, temné scherzo s dramatickou melodií. Ve čtvrté větě dochází konečně k zásadnímu zlomu, heroickému vzedmutí vůle, jež vyústí v plné osvobození.
Premiéra Sedmé symfonie se uskutečnila 22. dubna roku 1885 v londýnské St. James Hall pod Dvořákovým vedením a byla až na ojedinělé výjimky nadšeně přijata laickým publikem i kritikou. Česká premiéra se konala 29. listopadu téhož roku v pražském Rudolfinu.