Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov


Brahms’s German Requiem is a deeply personal work. He began contemplating it already in 1854, when his friend Robert Schumann attempted suicide. Brahms discovered the title two years later in Schumann’s estate. Brahms’s first attempt at composing a Requiem turned into the Piano Concerto in D Minor (1857).

  • Subscription series C
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  • Duration of the programme 1 hour 20 minutes

Programme

Johannes Brahms
A German Requiem, Op. 45 (68')

Performers

Chen Reiss soprano
Boris Prýgl bass

Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
Petr Fiala choirmaster

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic Semyon Bychkov

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall


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Brahms’s German Requiem is a deeply personal work. He began contemplating it already in 1854, when his friend Robert Schumann attempted suicide. Brahms discovered the title two years later in Schumann’s estate. Brahms’s first attempt at composing a Requiem turned into the Piano Concerto in D Minor (1857). It was only after the death of Brahms’s mother eight years later that the work was actually composed. It originally had only six movements and was written for baritone, choir, and orchestra. As the fifth movement, Brahms later inserted a soprano solo to the text “I will console you as one is consoled by his mother.”

Brahms himself picked out the texts from Luther’s German translation of the Bible and he avoided the usual liturgical sequence, the Dies Irae, the fury and horror of which had been set to music colourfully by other composers. Rather than emphasising the theme of the Last Judgement, Brahms instead wished to give comfort to those who remained alive. In a letter to Clara Schumann, Brahms actually mentions a “Human Requiem”. The emphasis on the human dimension of music and the content make the German Requiem one of the kindest and most popular compositions of its kind.

The public reacted coolly to a performance of the first three movements in Vienna in 1867, but the premières of six movements in Bremen and then of the complete seven-movement work in Leipzig two years later were received with clear enthusiasm, setting the German Requiem on its way to the hearts of listeners around the world.

Performers

Chen Reiss   soprano
Boris Prýgl  bass
Boris Prýgl

Bass-baritone Boris Prýgl ranks among the most talented Czech young singers. He successfully went through the Young Artists program of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where he has assumed the roles of Morales in Carmen, Ping in Turandot, the prince Ottokar in Der Freischütz, the Hunter in Rusalka, etc. His artistic commitments in the 2021/2022 season include the roles of Guglielmo in Così fan tutte at the National Theatre in Prague and Don Giovanni at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, a concert with Pretty Yende at the Smetana Hall in Prague, Dvořák's Rusalka (Gamekeeper) with the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of Semyon Bychkov, an advent recital in Prague, and others.

Boris Prýgl is a laureate of several singing competitions and the absolute winner of the 2015 Antonín Dvořák Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary. In July 2017, he was a finalist of Belvedere and Plácido Domingo’s Operalia. In September 2019, he was granted the award of the then Director of the Vienna State Opera Dominique Meyer at the Stella Maris Vocal Competition. He graduated from the Academy of Music in Bratislava and gained his first stage experience at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava.

The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno  choir
The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno

The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno stands at the pinnacle of the field of choral music at home and in a worldwide context. Conductors, orchestras, and soloists who have worked with the choir speak of it in superlatives. Above all, music critics acclaim its compact sound and broad range of expression. The choir appears at most of Europe’s prestigious festivals and at important concerts. Because of its excellence, each year it gives more than 90 concerts at home and abroad. It collaborates with the world’s top orchestras and conductors. It has an extensive discography and has earned a number of important awards: a 2007 Echo Klassik Award from Germany as ensemble of the year, a 2011 Tokusen Award from Japan for a recording of Dvořák’s Requiem, and a 2019 Classic Prague Award in the Vocal Performance category for its interpretation of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass. The man behind the choir’s successes is its founder, choirmaster, and director Petr Fiala. The assistant choirmaster is Michael Dvořák.

Petr Fiala  choirmaster
Petr Fiala

Choirmaster Petr Fiala graduated from the Brno Conservatoire (piano, composition, conducting) and the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts in the studio of Jan Kapr. Besides teaching (he has been a professor at the Brno Conservatoire) and composing (he has written about 180 compositions), he has been devoting himself intensively to the work of a choirmaster and conductor for over 50 years. Petr Fiala is a laureate of many national and international competitions. He receives invitations to guest conduct Czech and foreign orchestras and choirs. In 1990 he founded the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, and under his leadership it has earned itself a place among Europe’s best choral ensembles. In 2009 the Czech Episcopal Conference honoured Fiala with the Order of Sts. Cyril and Methodius for outstanding achievements as a conductor and composer. In 2013 he received the Brno City Prize in the field of music for his many years of artistic activity and for representing the city of Brno, and in 2016 he won the South Bohemia Region Prize for significant representation of the South Bohemia Region in the area of culture.

Semyon Bychkov  conductor
Semyon Bychkov

Celebrating both his fifth season as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic and his 70th birthday, Semyon Bychkov will celebrate his birthday with three concerts in November pairing Beethoven’s Fifth with Shostakovich’s Fifth. It is a season which opens in Prague with the official concert to mark the Czech Republic’s Presidency of the EU and continues with concert performances of Dvořák’s Rusalka as part of the Dvořákova Prague International Music Festival. Later in the season, Bychkov will conduct Rusalka at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Bychkov's tenure at the Czech Philharmonic was initiated in 2018 with concerts in Prague, London, New York and Washington marking the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. With the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project in 2019, Bychkov and the Orchestra turned their focus to Mahler. In 2022, Pentatone has already released two discs in the ongoing complete symphonic cycle – Mahler’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies.

Bychkov's repertoire spans four centuries. The unique combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy ensure that his performances are highly anticipated. In addition to being a guest with the major orchestras and opera houses across Europe and the US, Bychkov holds honorary titles with the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – and the Royal Academy of Music from whom he recently received an Honorary Doctorate. In 2015, he was named "Conductor of the Year’ by the International Opera Awards.

Bychkov began recording for Philips in 1989 and released discs with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne included a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, together with works by Strauss, Mahler, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Verdi, Glanert and Höller. His 1992 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library recommended recording (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 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, he 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 in 1975. He returned in 1989 as Principal Guest Conductor of the St Petersburg Philharmonic and, the same year, was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. In 1997, Bychkov was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, and in 1998, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.

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