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Czech Philharmonic • Karen Gomyo
On 4 February 2021, when the Labèque sisters performed Bryce Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos on camera at the Rudolfinum, Dessner had already been commissioned a new symphonic work titled Mari. It will be performed alongside Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 played by Karen Gomyo and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances conducted by Semyon Bychkov.
Mari (Czech première) (22')
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77 (39')
Burlesca: Allegro con brio
— Intermission —
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (35')
Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)
Lento assai – Allegro vivace
Karen Gomyo violin
Semyon Bychkov conductor
Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall
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Born in Tokyo and beginning her musical career in Montréal and New York, violinist Karen Gomyo has recently made Berlin her home. A musician of the highest calibre, the Chicago Tribune praised her as: "…a first-rate artist of real musical command, vitality, brilliance and intensity".
Karen’s 2019/20 season features European debuts with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Cristian Macelaru, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande with Jonathan Nott, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern with Pietari Inkinen, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Gergely Madaras and Dresdner Philharmoniker with Roderick Cox.
Other recent European appearances include Philharmonia Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Radio France, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Danish National Symphony, and in March 2019 Karen opened the Dubai Proms with the BBC Symphony and Ben Gernon. At present Karen makes her debut at the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra with Semyon Bychkov.
Already well established in North America Karen has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Detroit, San Francisco, Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. Further afield her popularity in Australasia continued over the last few seasons as she toured with New Zealand Symphony and also appeared with West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Perth, Tasmanian Symphony and in recital at the Sydney Opera House. In Asia she maked her debut with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.
Strongly committed to contemporary works, Karen gave the North American premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s Concerto No. 2 Mar’eh with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington under the baton of the composer, as well as Pēteris Vasks’ Vox Amoris with the Lapland Chamber Orchestra conducted by John Storgårds. In May 2018 Karen performed the world premiere of Samuel Adams’ new Chamber Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen to great critical acclaim. The work was written specifically for Karen and commissioned by the CSO’s ‘Music Now’ series for their 20th anniversary.
“This was a testament not only to Mahler, but also to Mr. Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic... this was a moving and intelligent reading of the Resurrection, dramatic in the opening and finale, sweet and playful in the inner movements, and sublime in the setting of Urlicht...”
The New York Times
Semyon Bychkov's tenure as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic was initiated with concerts in Prague, London, New York and Washington marking the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence in 2018. Since the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project in 2019 – a 7-CD box set released by Decca Classics and a series of international residencies – Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic have been focusing on the symphonic works of Mahler with performances and recordings scheduled both at home and abroad.
During the 2021/22 season, Mahler’s First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies will all be heard internationally including on tour at the Grafenegg Festival in Austria during the summer. The Czech Philharmonic’s 126th season’s subscription concerts in October will open with Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. In the spring, a Czech Festival at Vienna’s Musikverein featuring Smetana’s Má vlast – recorded by Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic during lockdown - alongside works by Kabeláč, Dvořák, Martinů and Janáček will be followed by an extensive European tour including concerts at the Philharmonie in Berlin, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and two concerts at London’s Barbican Centre.
Especially recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has also worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons he has collaborated with René Staar, Thomas Larcher, Richard Dubignon, Detlev Glanert and Julian Anderson, conducting premières of their works with the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms. Highlights of the new season include the German première of Larcher’s Piano Concerto with dedicatee Kirill Gerstein in Berlin, the Czech première of Bryce Dessner’s Mari and the world première of Anderson’s Prague Panoramas, also presented in Prague. The three new works are amongst fourteen commissions initiated by Bychkov at the start of his tenure with the Czech Philharmonic.
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, Bychkov 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.
By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His international career, which began in France with Opéra de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, took off with a series of high-profile cancellations which resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras. In 1989, he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997, Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and the following year, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Bychkov’s symphonic and operatic repertoire is wide-ranging. He conducts in all the major houses including La Scala, Opéra national de Paris, Dresden Semperoper, Wiener Staatsoper, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Teatro Real. Madrid. While Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, his productions of Janáček’s Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov each won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. New productions in Vienna included Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina; while in London, he made his debut with a new production of Strauss’ Elektra, and subsequently conducted new productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival and Strauss’s Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper.
On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, in addition to regular performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, his honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra - with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – reflect the warmth of the relationships. In Europe, he tours frequently with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a frequent guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras. This season, in addition to extensive concert commitments with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov's guest conducting engagements include further performances of Mahler’s symphonies with the Orchestre de Paris, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Berlin, Oslo and LA Philharmonic Orchestras, and Strauss’s Elektra at the Opéra national de Paris.
Bychkov made extensive recordings for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Later, his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne produced a series of benchmark recordings that included works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphony No. 3, Das Lied von der Erde), Shostakovich (Symphony Nos. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninov (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (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 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.
American composer and guitarist Bryce Dessner has been moving across musical genres all his life. Together with his twin brother Aaron, he plays in the rock band The National and he is also a member of the instrumental group Clogs. At the same time, he is a composer of chamber, symphonic and film music commissioned by some of the world’s most important ensembles and film studios. His work is inspired by jazz, rock, Baroque music and above all minimalism. In 2006, he founded the MusicNOW Festival in Cincinnati, which annually presents the best of contemporary music. As regards his film soundtracks, he is best known for the 2015 Oscar-winning film The Revenant and the 2019 chamber conversational drama The Two Popes. Earlier this year, the Czech Philharmonic performed Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, which, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was held at the Rudolfinum without an audience and was live-streamed. The orchestra was conducted by Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov and the sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque, for whom the concerto was composed in 2017, sat at the pianos.
Bryce Dessner dedicated his one-movement orchestral composition Mari to Semyon Bychkov. He composed it last year, when both musicians coincidentally stayed on the Basque coast of France at the time when cultural events could not take place due to the pandemic. This pastoral composition is named after the Basque goddess of the forests, and Dessner found inspiration for it during his walks through the forests and mountains of the French Basque Country. It quotes melodies from the first movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony and the fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Dessner himself describes the music of these composers as “timeless but also distinctly modern”. Chief Conductor Bychkov gave the world premiere of this work with the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich this June. Mari will now have its Czech premiere, and its performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London is scheduled for early next year.
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77
Dmitri Shostakovich had many friends among contemporary Soviet performers, with whom he also worked closely in the performance of his works. These included the conductor Kirill Kondrashin, who premiered Shostakovich’s famous Fourth Symphony in C minor; the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom Shostakovich wrote two concertos for cello and orchestra; and the violinist David Oistrakh, to whom Shostakovich dedicated his two violin concertos. Shostakovich composed Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor in the years 1947–1948. Its inception was thus affected by the infamous circumstances of the first quarter of 1948, when Shotakovich, together with other prominent Soviet composers, was harshly and unfairly criticized and accused of modernism and formalism by the highest echelons of the Communist Party. Shostakovich somehow managed to stabilize the situation (created by Joseph Stalin and his right-hand man in cultural affairs, Andrei Zhdanov) and maintain his position of the “main export item of Soviet music” into the world, including the capitalist West. However, the process of Shostakovich’s return to favor was extremely complicated, as a result of which his First Violin Concerto was premiered as late as seven years after its creation – after Stalin’s death – on 29 October 1955 by David Oistrakh and the Leningrad Philharmonic under Yevgeny Mravinsky.
The composer himself wrote that this composition was “in its character essentially more of a symphony for solo violin and orchestra”. Oistrach commented on the piece, “The concerto represents an extremely interesting task for the performer. It is like a large, comprehensive Shakespearean role, which puts a great emotional and intellectual strain on the performer and which offers enormous opportunities not only to demonstrate the violinist’s virtuosity, but above all to express the deepest feelings, thoughts and moods.” Indeed – it is an exceptionally difficult piece to perform, but at the same time it does not feature any virtuoso effects which would be void of meaning. It has four movements designated both by their tempo and their form.
The first movement is a slow Nocturne. After a gloomy introduction, the solo violin presents the main theme of the whole first movement composed in sonata form. In the following section of the first movement, the solo instrument intertwines with the orchestra in a polyphonic manner. The second movement, Scherzo, is characterized by a pulsing rhythm. Here, for the first time, Shostakovich used the musical motif of DSCH (consisting of the notes D, E flat, C and B natural in German musical notation pronounced as “De-Es-Ce-Ha” = D-mitri Sch-ostakovich), applied in several of his compositions of a later date as his signature. In the First Violin Concerto, this four-tone musical motif can be heard repeatedly, albeit inconspicuously in the orchestral accompaniment.
The central theme of the third movement, Passacaglia, is presented at the very beginning by cellos together with double basses. The subsequent mournful theme played by the violin is extremely demanding in terms of keeping the prescribed nuances of expression. The movement concludes with a long cadenza, in which the solo instrument changes the mood from a melancholy cry to anxious indignation. This cadenza gradually accelerates attaca into the final movement, aptly called Burlesque. Here the composer was inspired by the frisky rhythm and melody of folk songs presented by scaramouches – ancient Russian wandering singers, actors and dancers.
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
A graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff created mostly in the 20th century, but his music – influenced mainly by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – remains firmly rooted in the late Romantic style. Rachmaninoff himself commented on this: “I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new. I have made an intense effort to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me.” Although he composed three operas, an equal number of symphonies, several sacred works, and a number of remarkable songs, he is best known for his piano works, which include four concertos and a number of solo pieces. Rachmaninoff, himself an accomplished pianist, performed with success not only in his homeland but also in Europe and on the American continent. He was also active as a conductor, first in Moscow, where he conducted operas by Glinka and Tchaikovsky at the Bolshoi Theatre, then in Dresden from 1906 to 1909, before making his first major concert tour to the United States. Rachmaninoff did not accept the regime established after the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917, and soon afterwards left his homeland permanently. He first lived in Europe and in 1935 settled in the United States, where he developed a rich concert career and continued to compose. Although he privately and publicly criticized the Soviet regime, he bore the separation from Russia very hard; his family maintained Russian customs, surrounded themselves with Russian friends, and hired Russian servants. In exile, Rachmaninoff was an ardent patriot, which was especially evident after the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, when he donated his concert fees to support the Red Army. He died in California just four days before his 70th birthday.
His very last composition is Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, composed in 1940. Rachmaninoff gave the individual movements of this three-movement work titles seemingly indicating the times of day (Noon – Twilight – Midnight), but in reality it is probably a metaphor related to the stocktaking at the end of his life, when he was already very ill. Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, whose instrumental embellishments include the use of the alto saxophone as a solo instrument in the first movement, have been choreographed for ballet on several occasions, but more often they are performed as a stand-alone symphonic piece that can make an emotional impact in its own right.