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Last December, when Leonidas Kavakos appeared with the Czech Philharmonic for the first time in the dual role of soloist and conductor, it was obvious that the players and the soloist would want to repeat this collaboration as soon as possible.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Concerto No 3 in G Major, K 216 (“Strassburg”)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K 183
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
Leonidas Kavakos violin, conductor
Last December, when Leonidas Kavakos appeared with the Czech Philharmonic for the first time in the dual role of soloist and conductor, it was obvious that the players and the soloist would want to repeat this collaboration as soon as possible. The musical and human understanding between them was clear both on stage and from the auditorium and as soon as an opportunity arose to entrust one of the programmes of the new season to this extraordinary artist, we did not hesitate even for a second. His last programme was a tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven and this time Leonidas Kavakos has chosen the music of Mozart and Brahms for his Prague appearance.
The symphony and violin concerto you will hear in the first half of the programme are the music of a very young composer. Mozart wrote his Violin Concerto in G Major at the age of nineteen and the Symphony in G Minor when he was just seventeen. In a letter to his father, he called the Concerto in G Major the “Salzburg Concerto”. Musicologists attribute this name to the use of a local dance theme at the beginning of the third movement. The symphony has come to be known as the “Little G Minor” in order to differentiate it from the more famous Symphony No. 40, also in G minor. Czech film director Miloš Forman made the “Little G Minor” famous by choosing it as the music for the beginning of his celebrated film Amadeus.
“Hoch auf’m Berg, tief im Tal grüß ich dich viel tausend mal!” “From the mountain peaks and the depths of the valley, I greet thee many thousands of times!“ Brahms heard a shepherd’s tune with these lyrics while in the Alps and as a birthday greeting for Clara Schumann, he inserted it into the introduction to the fourth movement of his First Symphony. Because of the work’s compositional mastery and the use of a paraphrase of the Ode to Joy theme, this symphony is sometimes referred to as Beethoven’s Tenth.
Leonidas Kavakos is recognised across the world as a violinist and artist of rare quality, acclaimed for his matchless technique, his captivating artistry and his superb musicianship as well as for the integrity of his playing. He works with the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors and plays as recitalist in the world’s premier recital halls and festivals. He is an exclusive recording artist with Sony Classical.
The three important mentors in his life have been Stelios Kafantaris, Josef Gingold, and Ferenc Rados, with whom he still works. By the age of 21, Leonidas Kavakos had already won three major competitions: the Sibelius Competition in 1985, and the Paganini and Naumburg competitions in 1988. This success led to him recording the original Sibelius Violin Concerto (1903/4), the first recording of this work in history, which won Gramophone Concerto of the Year Award in 1991.
Kavakos is now an exclusive recording artist with Sony Classics. His latest recording, to be released worldwide in October 2019 in anticipation of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020, is the Beethoven Violin Concerto which he conducted and played with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, coupled with the Beethoven Septet played with members of the orchestra. In the anniversary year, Kavakos will both play and play/conduct the Beethoven concerto with orchestras across Europe and the USA. He will also play the complete cycle of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas in Shanghai and Guangzhou, Milan and Rome, and a number of single Beethoven recitals in various cities including London’s Wigmore Hall, Barcelona, Parma and Copenhagen.
In 2007, for his recording of the complete Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas with Enrico Pace, Kavakos was named Echo Klassik Instrumentalist of the year. In 2014, Kavakos was awarded Gramophone Artist of the Year.
Further accolades came in 2017 when Kavakos was awarded the prestigious Leonie Sonning Prize – Denmark’s highest musical honour, given annually to an internationally recognised composer, conductor, instrumentalist or singer. Previous winners include Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Alfred Brendel, Benjamin Britten, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Simon Rattle, Mstislav Rostropovich, Arthur Rubinstein and Dmitri Shostakovich.
August 2019 was a full and rewarding month: after the Verbier Festival where he appeared in recital with Evgeny Kissin and conducted the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in a programme in which he played Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with Antoine Tamestit, he joined YoYo Ma and Emanuel Ax at the Tanglewood Music Festival for a programme of Beethovenʼs Piano Trios, in a duo recital with Ax of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas, and in an orchestral concert with the Boston Symphony in which he played and conducted Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7.
Kavakos was also invited as “Artiste Etoile” at the Lucerne Festival where he appeared with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Mariinsky Orchestra with Valery Gergiev, Vienna Philharmonic with Andrés Orozco-Estrada, and in recital with Yuja Wang.
In the 2019/20 season, in addition to concerts with major orchestras in Europe and the United States, Leonidas Kavakos will once again join YoYo Ma and Emanuel Ax for three programmes in Carnegie Hall comprising Beethoven’s trios and sonatas. He will undertake two Asian tours, first as soloist with the Singapore Symphony and Seoul Philharmonic and in recital in the NCPA Beijing, and then in the spring he will perform with the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra, prior to playing the cycle of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas in Shanghai and Guangzhou with Enrico Pace.
In recent year, Leonidas Kavakos has succeeded in building a strong profile as a conductor and has conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Houston Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Gürzenich Orchester, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Vienna Symphony, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Filarmonica Teatro La Fenice, and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. In the forthcoming season he will return to two orchestras where he has developed close ties as both violinist and condcutor: L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. This season he also play/conducts the Czech Philharmonic, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI.
Born and brought up in a musical family in Athens, Kavakos curates an annual violin and chamber-music masterclass in Athens, which attracts violinists and ensembles from all over the world and reflects his deep commitment to the handing on of musical knowledge and traditions. Part of this tradition is the art of violin and bow-making, which Kavakos regards as a great mystery and to this day, an undisclosed secret. He plays the ‘Willemotte’ Stradivarius violin of 1734 and owns modern violins made by F. Leonhard, S. P. Greiner, E. Haahti and D. Bagué.
During his life, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed five violin concertos, the first in 1773, the other ones in 1775. In them he capitalized on the experience from his trips to Italy, the knowledge of French music and the inspiration drawn from Josef Mysliveček, a Czech composer living in Italy. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 3 in G major, KV 216 was heard for the first time at the court of the Salzburg archbishop; it was probably performed by the court violinist Antonio Brunetti. The composition modeled after Vivaldi consists of three movements. Mozart borrowed the theme of the opening energetic Allegro from his opera Il re pastore; he did it not because he would lack inventiveness, but rather because this theme was more suitable for the violin than for singing. The enchanting Adagio with a dance central section played by woodwind instruments is followed by Rondeau, which quotes from at least one French folk tune. Mozart ends the whole concerto with his characteristic unpredictability: instead of an orchestral tutti, the listeners are bid farewell by the woodwind section in the weakened dynamics, evoking a feeling of disappearing music.
Johannes Brahms needed a very long time to build up the courage to compose a first symphony. The embryo for a symphony became a composition for two pianos, the material of which he ultimately used for his Piano Concerto No. 1. The first drafts of the symphony date from 1862, but he let his plans mature for another fourteen years. The Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, was first performed on 4 November 1876 in Karlsruhe with Felix Otto Dessoff conducting. After the premiere Brahms made corrections to the score and gave the work its final form in 1877. The symphony opens with a slow introduction accompanied by tympani strokes. The main theme, spanning an octave and a half, is played by the strings, while the second theme is entrusted mainly to the winds, then the third theme is again for strings. The development section mostly deals with the second and third themes, then the recapitulation is followed by a brief coda. The second movement is in ternary form, and the woodwind instruments are quite prominent. The woodwinds again play an important role in the third movement, also in ternary form. The final movement is in an entirely original two-part form. It begins with an atypical slow introduction in which the strings alternate between pizzicato and legato playing. In a linking passage marked più andante, a melody played by the French horn is passed to the flute and then to other instruments. Only thereafter does the main theme arrive, which is reminiscent of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. Not only for that reason, but also because of the work’s Beethovenian model of formal transformation and its dramatic impact, the symphony has been nicknamed “Beethoven’s Tenth”.