Czech Philharmonic • Alain Altinoglu

Conductor Alain Altinoglu arranged Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande into the form of a suite. The programme of French music continues with a brilliant rhapsody for violin and orchestra by Maurice Ravel played by violinist Jiří Vodička. Also French is the performer of the organ part in Camille Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3 “Organ”.

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  • Duration of the programme 1 hod 30 min


Claude Debussy / arr. Alain Altinoglu
Pelléas et Mélisande, suite from the opera (22')
Très modéré
Plus lent
Pas vite
Très modéré et très expressif
Lourd et sombre
Toujours modéré et avec la plus grande expression
Très lent

Maurice Ravel
Tzigane, concert rhapsody for violin and orchestra (10')

— Intermission —

Camille Saint-Saëns
Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, “Organ Symphony” (36')
Adagio – Allegro moderato – Poco adagio
Allegro moderato – Presto – Maestoso – Allegro


Jiří Vodička violin
Thierry Escaich organ

Alain Altinoglu conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic Alain Altinoglu

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Jiří Vodička  violin
Jiří Vodička

Jiří Vodička is one of the most illustrious Czech violin soloists. Thanks to his extraordinary talent, he won prestigious competitions at an early age (Kocian International Violin Competition in Ústí nad Orlicí, Louis Spohr International Violin Competition in Weimar, Germany, Beethoven’s Hradec, and the Slovak competition Čírenie talentov). He also won the first and second prizes at the world-famous international competition Young Concert Artists, held in Leipzig and New York. At age 14 he was given a special exception allowing him study at a university. Under the guidance of the renowned teacher Zdeněk Gola, he earned his Master’s Degree at the Institute for Artistic Studies in Ostrava in 2007.

He regularly appears as a soloist with the top orchestras at home and abroad, he is invited to the most famous classical music festivals, and his concerts are broadcast regularly on Czech Television and Czech Radio. In 2014 on the Supraphon label he recorded his debut solo album “Violino Solo” with some of the most difficult compositions for violin solo. The CD got great reviews in this country and abroad. Besides solo playing, he also performs chamber music. In 2020 he founded the Czech Philharmonic Piano Trio with two other soloists (Martin Kasík – piano, Václav Petr – cello). In 2021 they won the Vienna International Music Competition. Their video recordings are regularly seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers on social media.

Since 2015 he has also held the post of concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic. In 2019 he was honoured by the prestigious Prague Classic Awards. He also teaches at the Prague Conservatoire and the University of Ostrava.

Thierry Escaich   organ
Thierry Escaich

Composer, organist and improviser Thierry Escaich is a unique figure in contemporary music and one of the most important French composers of his generation. The three elements of Escaich’s artistry are inseparable, allowing him to express himself as a performer, creator and collaborator in a wide range of settings.

Escaich composes in many genres and forms and his catalogue numbers over 100 works which, with their lyrical, rich harmonies and rhythmic energy, have attracted a wide audience. They are usually performed by leading orchestras in Europe and North America and by renowned musicians. Escaich has been Composer-in-Residence with the Orchestre National de Lyon, Orchestre National de Lille and the Paris Chamber Orchestra and his music has been honoured by four “Victoires de la Musique” awards. Escaich continues to teach composition and improvisation at the Paris Conservatoire, where he himself studied and obtained eight “premiers prix”. In 2013 received the honour of being appointed to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris; in 2018 he took the prestigious role of Featured Composer at the Radio France Présences Festival in Paris.

Thierry Escaich’s career as a composer is closely linked to his career as an organist, which has led him to be one of the ambassadors of the great French school of improvisation in the wake of Maurice Duruflé, whom he succeeded as organist of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris. He appears in recitals internationally, combining repertoire pieces with his own compositions and improvisations. His passion for cinema has led him to perform “cine-concerts”, improvised accompaniments on both the organ and piano for silent films such as Phantom of the Opera and Metropolis.

Major upcoming highlights include the world premiere of Escaich’s new opera Shirine by Opera de Lyon in May 2022, postponed from May 2020. Escaich also returns regularly to Dresden Philharmonie where he is Organist in Residence for the 2021/2022 season. Elsewhere, Escaich performs with the Czech Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Taiwan Philharmonic and Orchestre National de Lyon, and performs widely in recital with appearances at Dresdner Philharmonie, Mariinsky Concert Hall, Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow, Auditorium de Lyon and Toulouse les Orgues.

Alain Altinoglu  conductor
Alain Altinoglu

Alain Altinoglu is Music Director of Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels and hr-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt. Since 2015, he has earned widespread recognition for his extraordinary leadership, inspiring riveting and transcendent opera performances in Brussels. His tenure with hr-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt commenced from the 2021/2022 season.

Alain Altinoglu regularly conducts such distinguished orchestras as Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, London Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Münchner Philharmoniker, Russian National Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra London, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, as well as all the major Parisian orchestras.

Highlights of the 2021/2022 season include conducting the season opening concerts of the Wiener Philharmoniker, and appearing at the Salzburger Festspiele conducting Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust. Altinoglu debuts with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Czech Philharmonic, and continues guesting relationships returning to Wiener Symphoniker and Staatskapelle Berlin.

A regular guest at the world’s leading opera houses, Altinoglu appears at Metropolitan Opera New York, Royal Opera House London Covent Garden, Wiener Staatsoper, Opernhaus Zürich, the Teatro Colón Buenos Aires, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, the Bayerische Staatsoper München and all three opera houses in Paris. He has also appeared at the festivals in Bayreuth, Salzburg, Orange and Aix-en-Provence.

Alongside his conducting, Altinoglu maintains a strong affinity with the Lied repertoire and regularly performs with mezzo-soprano Nora Gubisch. Altinoglu has released audio recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Naïve, Pentatone and Cascavelle. DVD productions of Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher (Accord), Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer (DG), The Golden Cockerel, Iolanta, The Nutcracker, Pelléas et Mélisande (BelAirClassiques) have also been released to critical acclaim.

Born in Paris, Alain Altinoglu studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris where he now teaches the conducting class.


Claude Debussy
Pelléas et Mélisande, suite from the opera

In 1892 the Flemish dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck wrote his most famous work, Pelléas et Mélisande. Ten years later, he created a libretto from the play, which Claude Debussy recast into a five-act opera, the only opera he ever completed, which was premiered on 30 April 1902 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. The story is based on the myth of Tristan and Iseult—two young people are hopelessly in love with each other, but an older husband stands in the way of their happiness. It is only in death that their love can find fulfilment. Debussy was fascinated by the drama’s fairytale atmosphere and mysterious language in the spirit of symbolism. The premiere was not a great success, but over the years the opera was produced all over Europe and the USA. Today, Pelléas et Mélisande is one of the most frequently performed French operas of the early 20th century.

Altinoglu used the preludes preceding the individual acts and the interludes between scenes with interconnected musical motifs to create a concert suite that follows the course of the action from the gloomy beginning to the death of Mélisande at opera’s the conclusion. Altinoglu first performed the suite on 20 September 2017 at his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Orchestral suites were created in the 19th and 20th centuries in order to popularise lengthy operas and ballets on the concert stage. This was also the goal of Altinoglu, who has conducted the opera at several important opera houses. In an interview for the server of the French music publisher Durand-Salabert-Eschig, he reported that he had plenty of original material: “Claude Debussy had to compose the orchestral interludes in Pelléas et Mélisande very quickly... Shortly before the premiere it was found that the original music did not allow enough time for the numerous scene changes. Nearly 150 bars of new music had to be added.” He went on to say: “These newly composed sections connect magically to each other and preserve the harmonic structure that is typical of Debussy.”

Maurice Ravel
Tzigane, concert rhapsody for violin and orchestra

While on tour in England in 1922, the great French composer Maurice Ravel met the 29-year-old Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, the niece of the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim. At a private concert, she performed his Sonata for Violin and Cello, then at the composer’s request she played gypsy melodies until the early morning hours. Two years later, Ravel composed a virtuosic rhapsody for her titled Tzigane (Gypsy). The version played at the work’s premiere was for violin solo and piano or luthéal (a mechanism invented in 1919, which is attached to the piano and gives it a timbre similar to that of the cimbalom). The final revisions were made just days before the premiere in London in April 1924. That same year, Ravel orchestrated the work, and d’Arányi also premiered that version in November 1924 in Paris with the Colonne Orchestra. The two versions let violin soloists shine with technique and brilliance and are very popular with the public, and Jelly d’Arányi performed them both regularly throughout her long, stellar career. Tzigane is a reflection of the popularity of exoticism at the time; oriental and gypsy motifs were fashionable and in demand in Ravel’s day. The work does not quote any authentic Romany songs, but it uses their traditional melodic progressions, forms, and rhythms. Basically, Tzigane is a “Hungarian Rhapsody” in the spirit of Liszt, but more modern and rhythmical.

Camille Saint-Saëns
Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, “Organ Symphony”

London and Liszt are the link to the last work on the programme. At age 50, Camille Saint-Saëns received a commission from the London Philharmonic Society for a large-scale symphony, and from the beginning he conceived the work as a tribute to his great friend and role model Franz Liszt. For this reason, to the usual orchestral instrumentation he added two pianos (or one piano four-hands) and organ, both being instruments typical of Liszt. He also quotes the plainchant melody of the Dies irae sequence, just as Liszt did in his Totentanz for piano and orchestra. There are also many Lisztian harmonic progressions and instrumental procedures in the treatment of musical themes.

“I put everything I had into this work. [...] I shall never be able to repeat what I have achieved here,” declared Camille Saint-Saëns after finishing his Third Symphony in C minor, Op. 78, which has come to be known as the “Organ Symphony” thanks to its magnificent use of the organ as part of the orchestra. The composer led the premiere on 19 May 1886 at London’s St. James Hall (demolished in 1905), and in addition, on the first half of the concert he played the solo part in his Fourth Piano Concerto in C minor. Franz Liszt died in July 1886, and Saint-Saëns gave the symphony its definitive dedication to his memory. He led the Paris premiere on 9 January 1887.

The idea of adding an organ part to a secular orchestral work for the concert hall was relatively unusual, although it was again Franz Liszt who had added organ to the sound of the orchestra much earlier in his symphonic poem The Battle of the Huns (1856/1857), proving that the combination is effective. Camille Saint-Saëns was a superb organist, and Franz Liszt even called him the “greatest organist in the world”. Liszt already witnessed Saint-Saëns’s skill when at just age 20 he became the organist at La Madeleine, one of Paris’s largest churches, where he remained for 20 years.

The Third Symphony is a showcase of thematic sophistication. Each individual section brings a new theme, but the previous themes return, skilfully transformed and yet recognisable. The first movement has a slow introduction followed by an Allegro moderato with the main theme in the strings based on the Gregorian plainchant melody Dies irae. The restless theme unwinds, passing through major and minor keys, then finally giving way to a calmer secondary theme. In the middle section both themes appear at the same time as part of the sonata development. After this fast section, there is a calming of the accompanying cello and bass pizzicatos, leading to the concluding part of the first movement. The theme, played first by the strings and organ and later by the woodwinds, is probably the best known melody of the whole work. The second movement opens with an energetic melody for the strings, joined by the piano with rapid arpeggios and scales, then finally the low-pitched instruments play a new theme anticipating the finale, which arrives with massive organ chords. Piano is supported by the strings, and the Dies irae motif is heard. The composition assumes the form of a majestic procession with organ, brass, and percussion. After a needed passage of respite, the tempestuous polyphonic ending arrives.

The symphony got a favourable reception from the beginning and earned its composer great success. “My dear composer of a famous symphony”, wrote Saint-Saëns’s friend and pupil Gabriel Fauré, “you cannot imagine what pleasure I had [at the second performance on 16 January 1887] last Sunday! I had the score, and I did not miss a single note of the symphony, which shall long outlive us both, even if we were to combine our life spans!” The symphony went over magnificently at a performance in May 1915 in San Francisco on the occasion of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition with 3,782 listeners in the hall. By then 80 years of age, Saint-Saëns did not conduct the performance, but he was in attendance and received a tempestuous standing ovation. Current French historiography places Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony alongside the Symphonie fantatique by Hector Berlioz and the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen in the trefoil of the country’s great symphonies.

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