Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov


Special August concert is a satisfaction after the coronavirus ruined part of the 124th Season of the Czech Philharmonic. Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov is recording Mahler with the orchestra and this concert is an opportunity to relish his interpretation of the fourth symphony. Soprano solo will be sung by famous Israeli soprano Chen Reiss.

  • Duration of the programme 1 hours

Programme

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 4 in G major

Performers

Chen Reiss soprano

Semjon Byčkov conductor

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic Semyon Bychkov

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall


Price from 80 to 600 CZK Tickets and contact information

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Tel.:  +420 227 059 227

E-mail: info@czechphilharmonic.cz

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You can enter the Rudolfinum only in a mask.

Performers

Chen Reiss   soprano
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.

Compositions

Gustav Mahler
Symfonie č. 4 G dur

At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from the summer of 1899 until April 1901, Mahler composed his Symphony No. 4, the most classical of his monumental symphonies. The composition has roots that reach back even further in time, however. During the frigid February of 1892, Mahler composed the song Der Himmel hängt voll Geigen for voice and piano to a text from the poetry collection The Youth’s Magic Horn, which contains more than seven hundred texts of old German folksongs and popular songs. The collection had been published nearly a century earlier in 1806–1808 by the young poets Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. Mahler discovered it by chance in 1887 while visiting the grandson of the composer Carl Maria von Weber, and he drew on it for subject matter for his compositions for another fourteen years. A month after composing the song, in March 1892 Mahler finished orchestrating it with the characteristic use of harp and sleigh bells, and he gave it his own title, Das himmlishe Leben (Heavenly Life). He took a special liking for the song, and he often included it on concert programmes of his music. It was originally to have been the conclusion of this Third Symphony, but ultimately that colossal work would have “just” six movements, and Heavenly Life instead became the finale, intellectual focus, and climax of the Fourth Symphony.

It might seem that the Fourth Symphony is just a continuation and completion of the Third, but already in the first movement we hear unmistakeable fanfares that foreshadow Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which was yet to come. In Mahler’s music, everything is closely tied together.The second movement, although dancelike, makes an oppressive impression – it is, after all, also a dance of death played on the fiddle by the skeleton Freund Hein! The solo violin is to be tuned a step higher to give it a harsher, shriller tone, making the soloist sound like a street musician instead of a concertmaster of a symphony orchestra. Mahler is said to have taken inspiration from Arnold Böcklin’s 1872 painting titled Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle. (In 1894, the same painting also inspired Jaroslav Vrchlický’s poem, in which a painter is creating a self-portrait but constantly feels something disturbing behind his back. When he turns around, he sees Death with a fiddle.)The third movement is the longest. It is a magnificent series of variations inspired by the vision of a tombstone on which there is a carved image of the departed in eternal sleep. The music leads us to a vision of heaven’s gates.

Beyond the gates we are welcomed by a “child’s” voice – a soprano – in heaven, where peace reigns supreme, where there is no bustle of the secular world, where everyone can rejoice and dance. And with this image of childlike naivety, Mahler completes his journey from the complex to the simple, from experience to innocence, and from earthly life to heavenly bliss.

In the twenty-first century, Mahler’s music and its message are still attractive to listeners. The form, content, and intellectual and emotional power of the music make it surprisingly relevant to our post-modern epoch.

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