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This time, our annual shared musical welcoming in of the New Year will also be a birthday celebration. On 4 January 2021 it will have been 125 years since the musicians of the Czech Philharmonic first gathered on the stage of the Dvořák Hall under the baton of AntonínDvořák.
Entry of the Gladiators, march, Op. 68
The Grouchy Old Bear, polka for bassoon and orchestra, Op. 210
Playing at Swans and Peacocks, 2nd movement of A Fairy Tale, Op. 16
The Frog from music for the fairytale The Emperor’s Nightingale
Cavalier Waltz from the operetta Polish Blood
Memories of Zbiroh
Winter Storms Waltz, Op. 184
The Kiss, overture to the opera
Polonaise from Act II of the opera Rusalka, Op. 114
Rondo in G Minor, Op. 94 for cello and orchestra
Skočná (Dance of the Comedians) from the opera The Bartered Bride
Slavonic Dance No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 46
Slavonic Dance No. 8 in G Minor, Op. 46
Robert Kozánek trombone
Ondřej Roskovec bassoon
Jaroslav Halíř trumpet
Tomáš Netopil conductor
This time, our annual shared musical welcoming in of the New Year will also be a birthday celebration. On 4 January 2021 it will have been 125 years since the musicians of the Czech Philharmonic first gathered on the stage of the Dvořák Hall under the baton of Antonín Dvořák. In the course of one and a quarter century, the leading Czech orchestra has undergone an initial struggle to maintain its existence, has grown artistically, and over the following decades has fulfilled one of its greatest goals by performing before capacity audiences in prestigious concert halls around the world.
We have decided to celebrate the New Year and this major anniversary“in dance rhythm”with works exclusively by Czech composers. Their music will give each instrumental group and their principal players including the concertmasters a chance to shine. There will be selections from Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Suk’s stylised polka from the second movement of A Fairy Tale, Op. 16, Smetana’s overture to the opera The Kiss, and a popular piece by Václav Trojan titled The Frog. The music of Dvořák’s pupil Oskar Nedbal will not be overlooked, either – a conductor, composer, and violist, Nedbal was an important figure in the European musical circles of his day. He had a major influence over the Czech Philharmonic’s artistic development, and he also led the orchestra out of financial difficulties. 24 December 2020 will be the 90th anniversary of his death. We will also be hearing the Cavalier Waltz from Nedbal’s operetta Polish Blood.We will also remember the music of another of Dvořák’s pupils, Julius Fučík, who dedicated pieces to the Czech Philharmonic including the march Sempre avanti!
Concert is organised by the Czech Philharmonic in cooperation with Impresario – Czech Artist Agency.
He studied at the P. J. Vejvanovský Conservatory in Kroměříž (Czech Republic) and graduated from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in 2002. He attended Professor Michel Becquet’s masterclass organised by the Czech-French Academy of Music in Telč (Czech Republic) in 1998 and completed a six-month stay at the Guildhall School of Music in London with Professor Simon Wills in 2001. He was named the laureate of international competitions in Geneva (Switzerland, 1998), Gdansk (Poland, 1999), Markneukirchen (Germany, 2002), Jeju (South Korea, 2002), Lieksa (Finland) and Helsinki (2003).
He is the principal trombonist of the Czech Philharmonic and became the section leader in the 2014-2015 season. As a soloist, he has performed with PKF – Prague Philharmonia, the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and other Czech orchestras. He has recorded three solo CDs and some twenty more with various chamber ensembles. He has taught at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno since 2003 and was appointed associate professor in 2011.
He studied with Professor Jiří Formáček at the Prague Conservatory and with professors Jiří Seidl and František Heman at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. Before graduating, he had already won many competitions and was the laureate of the International Competition Prague Spring and the Prize of the Pro Harmonia Mundi Foundation (1996).
In 1995, he was one of the founding members of the Afflatus Quintet, which won the 1st prize at the prestigious ARD Music Competition in Munich in 1997. He has performed with the ensemble on many stages in Europe and in Japan and has recorded eight CDs, mainly for the Japanese label Octavia Records, for which he also records as a soloist (CD “Combination” in 2006 and recording of J. S. Bach’s Suites BWV 1007-9 in 2013). He performed in the Czech Nonet between 1989 and 1993.
He is the principal bassoonist of the Czech Philharmonic and has been teaching at the Prague Conservatory since 2002. Together with his colleagues, he founded the Summer Bassoon Academy in Rataje nad Sázavou (Czech Republic). In 2016, he co-founded the Czech Double-Reed Society. He gets invitations to teach abroad, such as the Royal Academy in London, Hochschule für Musik in Vienna and Theater und Medien in Hannover (Germany).
In 1992 Jaroslav Halíř won the international competition Concertino Praga. Shortly afterwards he was invited to participate at the trumpet seminar of the European Music Academy in Bonn led by Prof. Edward H. Tarr. Subsequently he began to give solo performances and garnered many prizes in international musical competitions.
In 1995 he recorded his first solo CD. In 1996 he became a member of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, where since 2001 he has been the first trumpet and also performed as a soloist in the works of A. Jolivet, J. Matěj and V. Trojan. He is one of the most sought-after studio performers of modern music, and since 2010 a member of the jazz ensemble Czech Philharmonic JazzBand.
An inspirational force in Czech music, Tomáš Netopil holds the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. 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. In the 2020/2021 season, his engagements with them included conducting at the Smetana's Litomyšl Festival in June 2021.
Tomáš Netopil celebrates his tenth and final season as General Music Director of the Aalto Musiktheater and Philharmonie Essen in 2022/23. This season features Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Kampe’s Dogville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This season will also see him lead a production of Janáček Káťa Kabanová at Grand Théâtre de Genève.
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 2021, in association with the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Academy established the Dvořákova Praha Youth Philharmonic with musicians from conservatories and music academies, coached by principal players of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
Operatic highlights beyond Essen include Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden (La clemenza di Tito, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, La Juive, The Bartered Bride, and Busoni’s Doktor Faust), Vienna Staatsoper (his most recent successes include Idomeneo, Der Freischütz, and a new production of Leonore) and for Netherlands Opera (Jenůfa). His concert highlights of recent seasons have included Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich as well as engagements with Orchestre de Paris, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai and Aspen Music Festival.
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. During his tenure in Essen, he has recorded Suk Asrael and Mahler Symphonies No.6 and 9.
From 2008–2012 Tomáš Netopil held the position of Music Director of the Prague National Theatre. He 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.
The Entry of the Gladiators, march Op. 68 (Einzug der Gladiatoren) by Julius Fučík (1872–1916) is one of the world’s most popular marches. Its author, a composition pupil of Karel Stecker and Antonín Dvořák, won fame primarily as a military bandleader. In that capacity, he served in two infantry regiments of the Austro-Hungarian military and was stationed at various times in Sarajevo, Budapest, Subotica (Serbia), and Terezín (Theresianstadt). He wrote his triumphant Entry of the Gladiators, march in Sarajevo in 1899. The piece has appeared in several different arrangements, including versions for mechanical musical instruments. Above all, it heard at circuses when the clowns enter.
Julius Fučík was also a gifted instrumentalist. At the Prague Conservatoire he studied bassoon and tympani, and as a bassoonist he played in a wind trio and various orchestras before he began his career as a bandmaster. The burlesque polka The Grouchy Old Bear, Op. 210 (Der alte Brummbär, 1907) reveals that besides skill as a bassoonist, the composer also had a sense of humour. Colloquially, the German word Brummbär means bumblebee, the sound of which resembles a bassoon.
Playing at Swans and Peacocks by Josef Suk (1874–1935) draws upon motifs from incidental music that this leading representative of Czech modernism composed for Zeyer’s play Radúz and Mahulena. Suk, an excellent violinist and pianist and another composition pupil of Dvořák, finished the incidental music in 1898, and from it he then arranged the suite A Fairy Tale, Op. 16. The suite was premiered in 1901 by the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of Oskar Nedbal. The second movement of the suite, a piece in the style of a polka titled Playing at Swans and Peacocks, combines a dance intermezzo with song motifs. There is no lack of emotional warmth, as is typical of Suk’s “Radúz” period, when he was influenced by his love for Otilie Dvořáková, among other things.
Václav Trojan (1907–1983) wrote the brilliant piece Žabák (The Frog) as part of the music for the film Císařův slavík (The Emperor’s Nightingale) based on the fairy tale by H. C. Andersen. In it, he imitated a specific natural sound. The trombone, “when played with a mute, acquires a peculiar sound that approaches that of a frog’s voice,” the composer latter remarked. “It begins staccato, so I can unobtrusively confuse the listener and make it seem as if there is a frog croaking somewhere. And once the imagination has been stimulated, I can afford to let the frog sing beautifully.” Trojan wrote his genial music for Jiří Trnka’s marionette film in 1948, and later the composer arranged it into an orchestral suite. The nostalgic and somewhat comic frog croaks in the style of blues.
Oskar Nedbal (1874–1930) was of the same generation as Suk and Fučík and was a classmate with them in Dvořák’s composition course. His musical talent also extended to playing viola and conducting. He wrote his Kavalier-Walzer based on motifs from his operetta Polish Blood (Polenblut), which was a great success at its Vienna premiere in 1913. According to the period press, it even overshadowed the premiere of Puccini’s opera La fanciulla del West, which Vienna had heard the day before. Nedbal is said to have enjoyed the performance of Polish Blood so much that he stuffed handkerchiefs into his mouth to keep from laughing out loud on the conductor’s podium.
Václav Vačkář (1881–1954) is familiar to audiences mainly as a composer of marches and waltzes, but his extensive oeuvre also encompasses other genres. He was an excellent player of the flugelhorn, trumpet, and violin, and he travelled around performing with several orchestras including the Czech Philharmonic. He served as a bandmaster in Korčul (Croatia), Krakow (Poland), and Boskovice (Moravia), and he also worked in Prague’s cinemas. Once films with soundtracks became widespread, he began devoting himself exclusively to organising musical events, music publishing, and composing. His serenade Vzpomínka na Zbiroh (Memories of Zbiroh) captures his personal experience of visiting the family of Mr. Herzog, a forester from the Bohemian town Zbiroh.
The concert waltz Winter Storms Waltz, Op. 184 (Winterstürme-Walzer) by Julius Fučík, like The Grouchy Old Bear, also dates from 1907. It exhibits the composer’s feeling for melody, drama, and orchestral colour. Like several other works on today’s programme, this popular piece has appeared in a wide variety of arrangements, including versions for string quartet and for piano.
From among the works of Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), overflowing with joy and musical purity, we will first hear the Polonaise from Act II of the opera Rusalka, Op. 114 (1900). For the scene at the castle, the composer chose to write a polonaise – a dance in triple metre with a characteristic rhythm that evokes images of aristocratic society, representing the world of human beings in contrast with the story’s fairytale elements. (Dvořák had already sketched the theme of the festive Polonaise in 1894 as material for a piano work titled Dithyramb that he never finished.) The opera’s premiere in March 1901 on the stage of the National Theatre in Prague was a triumph for the composer. The work is especially admired for its melodic inventiveness and wonderful orchestration.
Antonín Dvořák composed his Rondo in G Minor, Op. 94 for cello and orchestra in connection with his “farewell tour” of Bohemian and Moravian cities before his departure for New York, where he had been invited to be the director of the conservatoire. Originally, this three-part rondo was intended for solo cello and piano. It was first heard in that version in Chrudim in January 1892, where it was played by Hanuš Wihan with the composer at the piano. Dvořák orchestrated the piece in October 1893 while living in America.
While the Polonaise from Rusalka evokes life in a castle, the Skočná from the opera The Bartered Bride (Prodaná nevěsta) by Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884) comes from a village scene with comedians. Perhaps his most popular opera, after its premiere in 1866 it crystallised into its definitive form by 1870. The Skočná, a quick dance in duple time, appears in the third version performed in 1869. The Bartered Bride (Prodaná nevěsta) has remained a holiday favourite not only because of the beauty of its musical and its accessibility, but also because of rich performance history.
The New Year’s Concert will conclude with another work by Antonín Dvořák, his Slavonic Dance No. 8 in G minor, Op. 46. With this dance, a furiant, the composer concluded his first series of Slavonic Dances, which he wrote in versions for piano four-hands and for orchestra in 1878. That same year, the Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, were introduced to the public at a concert of the Society of Czech Journalists under the baton of Adolf Čech. Very soon, they won great acclaim even beyond the borders of Austria-Hungary. The optimistic, melodically and rhythmically refreshing Furiant in G minor has been played by community ensembles and military bands and by amateurs as well as by great symphony orchestras.