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Czech Philharmonic • Jakub Hrůša
It is only natural that Slavomír Hořínka, a finalist of the first competition held by the Czech Philharmonic in 2014, was been commissioned to write a new work. The orchestra’s guest artist Josef Špaček chose Bohuslava Martinů’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and Jakub Hrůša will be conducting Suk's Summer's Tale.
Rejoice III (world première) (15')
chacona for orchestra
Violin Concerto No. 1, H 226 (26')
— Intermission —
A Summer's Tale, Musical Poem for Large Orchestra, Op. 29 (52')
Josef Špaček violin, guest artist
Jakub Hrůša conductor
Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall
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Praised for his remarkable range of colours, his confident and concentrated stage presence, his virtuosity and technical poise as well as the beauty of his tone Josef Špaček has gradually emerged as one of the leading violinists of his generation. He appears with prestigious orchestras and collaborating with eminent conductors. He equally enjoys giving recitals and playing chamber music and is a regular guest at festivals and in concert halls throughout Europe, Asia and the USA. Josef Špaček studied with Itzhak Perlman at The Juilliard School in New York, Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and with Jaroslav Foltýn at the Prague Conservatory. He was laureate of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. By the end of the 2019/2020 season he served as concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the youngest in its history. Josef Špaček performs on the ca. 1732 “LeBrun; Bouthillard” Guarneri del Gesù violin, generously on loan from Ingles & Hayday.
Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
He is a frequent guest with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna, Berlin, Munich and New York Philharmonics; Bavarian Radio, NHK, Chicago and Boston Symphonies; Leipzig Gewandhaus, Lucerne Festival, Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Chamber and The Cleveland Orchestras; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has led opera productions for the Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, and Zurich Opera. He has also been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival and served as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years.
His recording of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Bamberg Symphony was nominated for a Gramophone Award, and his Dvořák Violin Concerto CD with the Bavarian Radio Symphony was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2020, his recordings of Dvořák and Martinů Piano Concertos with Bamberg Symphony, and Vanessa from Glyndebourne, won BBC Music Magazine Awards. Other releases include Dvořák and Brahms Symphonies with Bamberg Symphony, Suk’s Asrael with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, and Dvořák’s Requiem and Te Deum with the Czech Philharmonic.
Hrůša studied at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society. He was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize, and in 2020 was awarded the Antonín Dvořák Prize by the Czech Republic’s Academy of Classical Music, and – with Bamberg Symphony – the Bavarian State Prize for Music.
Rejoice III, chaconna for orchestra
When the Czech Philharmonic approached Slavomír Hořínka with a commission for a new composition (and not for the first time), he already had two works to his credit with the title Rejoice. The first was Chairé (Rejoice I) for chamber ensemble (2005), the second was a spatial composition for the project Music for Sirens with texts from letters sent by Saint Clare to Saint Agnes of Bohemia (2020). Rejoice III (2020–2021), now getting its premiere, joins the loosely connected cycle of works with the same title for differing instrumentation. In this case, the music calls for orchestra with a plentiful percussion section, harp, and celesta. The piece is conceived as a ciaccona, internally divided in the manner of a four-part cycle. The composer compares the work’s sonic and rhythmic aspects “to the ringing of a whole row of bells all at once, from the harmonies of which I sometimes choose just one single note, or at other times more”. The score is introduced by three excerpts from the Medieval Gregorian hymn Exsultet with the imperatives “be glad” or “rejoice” sung at the Easter vigil, symbolically connected in the Christian liturgy with the “return” of bells and light.
Slavomír Hořínka teaches at the composition department of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where he himself once studied under Ivan Kurz. He began composing relatively young, and his works include music in the orchestral, chamber, vocal, and concertante genres as well as spatial music, didactic pieces, soundscapes, and audio installations. Hořínka’s musical language is transparent, focused on the reduction of used resources, and concentrated. It goes to the heart of the matter. Incidentally, the attempt to go to the heart of things is something we read in one of the composer’s published essays. In them, he often deals with the spiritual dimension of music and the landscape of sounds around us.
Violin Concerto No. 1, H 226
The fact that even a great composer sometimes cannot avoid creative difficulties is shown by the technically very difficult Violin Concerto No. 1 (H 226) by Bohuslav Martinů. It was composed in Paris in 1932–1933, and its first interpreter was the violin virtuoso Samuel Dushkin, a famed musician of Polish-Russian origin who had just previously learned and performed the violin concerto by Igor Stravinsky. Unfortunately, besides unquestionable inspiration from Dushkin’s brilliant playing, collaboration with him also bought problems: the soloist kept urging Martinů to make more and more changes to the new concerto even at the point when the work was finished from the composer’s point of view, and the premiere had already been planned—in Prague under the baton of George Szell. Finally, the premiere was cancelled. The autograph score also suffered a difficult fate when it was lost soon afterwards. In 1961 it was obtained by the musicologist and archivist Hans Moldenhauer. It was through him that the concerto was finally heard publicly with the violinist Josef Suk as the soloist and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti (Chicago, 25 and 27 October 1973). Suk recalled it with great humility: “For me, it was uplifting. … With a wonderful orchestra and the best conductor then living, I was playing music that no one other than the composer had yet heard.” That, however, was not the end of the difficult journey for the autograph score; after Moldenhauer’s death, his music collection was divided up, and the score of Martinů’s Violin Concerto No. 1 had seemingly disappeared, but many years later it turned out that the manuscript and other sources for the work were being kept at the Northwestern University Library.
The First Violin Concerto is an example of the composer’s prolific production of concertante works in the 1930s and early ’40s and his characteristic predilection for older forms. It also bears an undeniable kinship to Martinů’s neo-Baroque orchestral works. Already the opening movement (Allegro moderato) is a supreme example of the handling of a short, rhythmically striking motif, which is heard from both the soloist and the orchestra and undergoes constant renewal. On the other hand, the second movement (Andante) is often compared with Romantic-era concertos—this is undoubtedly aided by the beautiful cantilena that is so typical of Martinů. The third movement (Allegretto) follows immediately, again in the spirit of the virtuosic beginning with a restless rhythmic-metrical division. The movement culminates with a series of cadenzas that show how well Martinů, himself a violinist, understood the instrument.
A Summer’s Tale, tone poem for large orchestra, Op. 29
Voices of Life and Consolations
Intermezzo – Blind Musicians
In the Power of Phantoms
Bohuslav Martinů had known the composer and violinist Josef Suk since the days of his studies at the Prague Conservatoire, and in particular since the 1922–1923 school year, when he was a pupil in Suk’s composition class in the advanced studies course. For many reasons, this did not involve intensive instruction, but the two men were respectful of each other in the years that followed: “…for you, Maestro Suk, I have undying admiration, and I make no secret of this”, Martinů wrote to Suk in 1930. But now we are getting ahead of ourselves. Josef Suk’s standing in the Czech musical world at the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th was not challenged, and his music including the tetralogy of major orchestral works had its enthusiastic admirers and detractors. Suk composed A Summer’s Tale (1907–1909) as the second work in that series, and it was premiered in January 1909 by the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of Karel Kovařovic. In five movements, A Summer’s Tale, Op. 29 tends to be characterised as a musical poem (or a poem about nature), and explanations of it very often resort to extra-musical and especially psychological connections. It follows upon the symphonic composition Asrael, in which Suk was most clearly dealing with the death of Antonín Dvořák (1904) and of his beloved wife Otilie (1905). Now—in his own words—after the tempest and the mystical silence of the night, he was clinging “to the tremors of the awakening earth and the rays of the rising sun”. Although these descriptive explanations might seem excessively poetic to us today, the work is remarkable for its intellectual depth and truthfulness.
In Suk’s music, A Summer’s Tale amounted to another step away from late Romanticism towards a modern mode of expression: in it he employs freely shaped melody in the context of expanded tonality, polyrhythm, and polyphony. Tone colour gains an autonomous role, and in handling it, Suk shows himself to be a true master of orchestration. It is no wonder that some critics put him alongside Mahler, Debussy, or Richard Strauss. While Karel Kovařovic appears in the printed score as the work’s dedicatee, the composer promised the autograph score to Oskar Nedbal, his former colleague from the Bohemian Quartet, who conducted A Summer’s Tale in Vienna the very next year after the Prague premiere. In the rather convoluted history of the travels of the autograph scores, copies, and other written sources for the composition, such names appear as Max Švabinský and Gustav Mahler—in all likelihood the author of the inscription “O lieber Tod, komm sachte!” on the proofs of the score from Universal Edition. But that is another story…