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Choosing Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony for the Advent period is no coincidence. Václav Talich called it the “Christmas Symphony” for the lovely melody of the slow movement.
Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60
Ariane, a lyric opera in one act, H 370, concert performance of the opera
Jessica Muirhead soprano
Zoltan Nagy baritone
Richard Samek tenor
Jozef Benci bass
Peter Mikuláš bass
Members of the Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster
Tomáš Netopil conductor
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Choosing Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony for the Advent period is no coincidence. Václav Talich called it the “Christmas Symphony” for the lovely melody of the slow movement. The whole symphony is imbued with the peaceful happiness the composer was experiencing at the time of writing. He was finally getting international recognition and his works had begun to be played in Vienna, Berlin, London, and other great cities around the world. He was receiving commissions from the most important musical institutions and the new symphony was making its way triumphantly from Prague to Leipzig, Dresden, Cologne, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Budapest. During the rehearsals for its London première, the conductor Hans Richter wrote to Dvořák: “This morning was the first rehearsal of your beautiful work. I am proud of the dedication. The orchestra is really enthusiastic. The performance is on Monday the 15th at 8 p.m. I’m sure it will be a great success. It is also being lovingly rehearsed…”
Another Christmas gift is the concert performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane. Tomáš Netopil made an acclaimed recording of this lovely one-act opera with the Essen Philharmonic in 2016 and four years later he is preparing a live performance in Prague. Georges Neveux turned the homecoming of Theseus into a stage play and for Martinů it was material that allowed him to catch his breath: “I’m writing a new little opera, one act, to take a bit of a rest from the big opera, The Greek Passion, which is taking a lot of work.” In just a month in the summer of 1958, Martinů was able to compose the music for the well-known story of the king’s daughter Ariane (Ariadne), who helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. Opera will be sung in French.
Slovak bass Jozef Benci finished his studies in the class of Sergej Kopčák at the Bratislava Academy in 2003. In 2001 he won the prestigious International Singing Competition of George Enescu in Bucharest. In 2006, he won the Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg International Competition for young singers in Berlin. In 2002, he was engaged as a soloist of the State Opera Banská Bystrica. In 2004 he made his stage debut at the Slovak National Theatre Opera House in Bratislava in the role of Zaccaria (Nabucco). In 2007 he became the soloist of this leading Slovak opera scene. He also performed in other opera and concert performances both in his native Slovakia and in the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, France, Romania, Italy, Austria, Poland and Germany. In 2011 he received critical acclaim for the role of Kecal in a concert version of Smetanaʼs The Bartered Bride, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek and performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Londonʼs Barbican Hall. This performance was later released on a CD by Harmonia Mundi. In 2011 he presented for Bratislava Music Festival for together vocal´s recital with coloratura star soprano Edita Gruberova. In 2012 he studied bass part of famous Requiem by Verdi with aconducting legend Nello Santi.
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, 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.
Tomáš Netopil took up the position of General Music Director of the Aalto Musiktheater and Philharmonie Essen at the start of 2013/2014.
In Summer 2018, Tomáš Netopil created the International Summer Music Academy in Kroměříž offering students both exceptional artistic tuition and the opportunity to meet and work with major international musicians. In Summer 2020, in association with the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Academy will establish the Dvořákova Praha Youth Philharmonic with musicians from conservatories and music academies, coached by principal players of the Czech Philharmonic. Tomáš Netopil has held a close relationship with the Dvořák Prague Festival for some time: in 2017/2018, he served as their Artist in Residence, opening the festival with Essen Philharmoniker and closing the festival with Dvořák’s Te Deum and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. This new undertaking will consolidate this relationship still further.
An inspirational force in Czech music, Tomáš Netopil also holds the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. He ended the 2018/2019 season with two programmes at the Kissinger Summer Festival with Leif Ove Andsnes and Truls Mörk, the first of which was broadcast live on Bavarian Radio. 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.
A regular guest with major opera houses, Netopil made his debut with Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden in 2008 and has subsequently conducted La clemenza di Tito, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, La Juive, The Bartered Bride, and Busoni’s Doktor Faust for them. Following previous successes in Vienna Staatsoper, including most recently Idomeneo and Der Freischütz, he returns to the house this season for a new production of Leonore. He will also conduct Opera Národní divadlo Brno’s production of The Greek Passion. One of the highlights of last season was Katie Mitchell’s acclaimed production of Jenůfa for Netherlands Opera, featuring Annette Dasch, Hanna Schwarz and Evelyn Herlitzius.
On the concert platform, upcoming orchestral engagements include Orchestre National de France, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Montpellier, RAI Torino, Accademia di Santa Cecilia and Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. Highlights of recent seasons have included Zürich Tonhalle, as well as engagements with Orchestre de Paris, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo.
Tomáš Netopil’s discography for Supraphon includes Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (the first ever recording of the original 1927 version), Dvořák’s complete cello works, Martinů’s Ariane and Double Concerto, and Smetana’s Má vlast with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
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.