Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov


When Richard Strauss composed his Burleske for piano and orchestra aged of 21, famous pianists called it excessively virtuosic and unplayable, but pianist Kirill Gerstein can definitely handle it. The piece will be an introduction to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, a major work of the orchestral repertoire that never ceases to fascinate.

  • Subscription series B
  • Duration of the programme 1 hod 45 min

Programme

Richard Strauss
Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra (17')

— Intermission —

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor (68')
Trauermarsch. In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt (At a measured pace. Strict. Like a funeral procession.)
Stürmisch bewegt. Mit größter Vehemenz (Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence)
Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell (Strong and not too fast)
Adagietto. Sehr langsam (Very slow)
Rondo – Finale. Allegro

Performers

Bertrand Chamayou piano

Kirill Gerstein piano

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic Semyon Bychkov

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall


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Performers

Kirill Gerstein  piano
Kirill Gerstein

The multifaceted pianist Kirill Gerstein has rapidly ascended into classical music’s highest ranks. His early training and experience in jazz has contributed an important element to his interpretive style. 

Mr. Gerstein is the sixth recipient of the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award. Since receiving the award in 2010, Mr. Gerstein has shared his prize through the commissioning of boundary-crossing works by Timo Andres, Chick Corea, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen, and Brad Mehldau. Mr. Gerstein was awarded First Prize at the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, received a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and a 2010 Avery Fisher Grant. 

In the 2018/2019 season Gerstein gives the world premiere performance of Thomas Adès’ new Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer, with performances in Boston and in Carnegie Hall, New York. Elsewhere in this season, Gerstein appears with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder. He performs in China with the Shanghai and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestras, with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, and the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paolo. He plays recitals in London, Stuttgart, Lisbon, Singapore, Melbourne and Copenhagen, as well as chamber performances with the Hagen Quartet, Veronika Eberle and Clemens Hagen in Lucerne, and with actor Bruno Ganz for recitals in Germany and Austria. 

In autumn 2018 Gerstein’s recording of Scriabin’s Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, with the Oslo Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko was released on LAWO Classic’s. Future recording releases this season include Busoni’s Piano Concerto on myrios classics in spring 2019 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto Nos. 1–3 in summer 2019, part of Semyon Bychkov’s Tchaikovsky Project recorded for Decca with the Czech Philharmonic. 

Born in 1979 in Voronezh, in southwestern Russia, Mr. Gerstein studied piano at a special music school for gifted children and while studying classical music, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ extensive record collection. After coming to the attention of vibraphonist Gary Burton, who was performing at a music festival in the Soviet Union, Mr. Gerstein came to the United States at 14 to study jazz piano as the youngest student ever to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music. After completing his studies in three years and following his second summer at the Boston University program at Tanglewood, Mr. Gerstein turned his focus back to classical music and moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Solomon Mikowsky and earned both Bachelors and Masters of Music degrees by the age of 20. He continued his studies in Madrid with Dmitri Bashkirov and in Budapest with Ferenc Rados. An American citizen since 2003, Mr. Gerstein now divides his time between the United States and Germany. 

A committed teacher and pedagogue, Gerstein taught at the Stuttgart Musik Hochschule from 2007–2017 and from autumn 2018 he teaches as part of Kronberg Academy’s newly announced Sir András Schiff Performance Programme for Young Artists.

Semyon Bychkov  conductor
Semyon Bychkov

“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.

Compositions

Richard Strauss
Burleske for piano and orchestra in D minor

Burleske from 1885 is Strauss’s only work for piano and orchestra. That year Richard Strauss became assistant Kapellmeister to Hans von Bülow, the principal Kapellmeister of the Court Theater in Meiningen, Thuringia. Another factor in the twenty-one-year-old composer’s creative development was his acquaintance with the violinist of the Meiningen Court Orchestra, Alexander Ritter, the husband of one of Richard Wagner’s nieces. Through him Strauss became more familiar with Wagner’s ideas and the music of Franz Liszt. Above all, however, Burleske shows the unmistakable influence of Johannes Brahms, who came to Meiningen at that time to conduct a concert featuring his compositions. Strauss later wrote that since his meeting with Brahms, “he no longer hesitated to use a pleasing melody in his compositions”. Strauss intended the solo part in Burleske for Hans von Bülow, who was equally renowned as a pianist. The latter, however, rejected the work as “un-pianistic” and, above all, unplayable because the hand span was too much for him – Bülow was a small man with small hands and was aware of his limitations. It was finally premiered on 21 June 1890 at the Eisenach Festival by Eugen d’Albert, Liszt’s pupil and then much celebrated virtuoso, in the same concert as the premiere of Strauss’s symphonic poem Tod und Verklärung. “There are enormous technical and rhythmic difficulties for the soloist which demand the whole man,” wrote a critic. “It is an original, jocular work with arabesque-like twists that do not allow the listener’s attention to waver even for a moment.” In Burleske, there is already the parodic, ironic element so typical of Strauss, a deliberate exaggeration of the conventions used in Romantic virtuoso concertos. We can hear hints of motifs that would later become characteristic of Strauss, such as the mocking sounds of the flutes as we know them from his symphonic poem Till Eulenspiegel and the waltz rhythms; the composer’s sense of the art of instrumentation is already evident there. The main theme of Burleske is presented by the timpani, which continue to play an important role; their motif recurs throughout the twenty-minute piece, forming a sonic and rhythmic counterpart to the piano. The quiet conclusion after the last thunderous cascade is the opposite of the built-up finale, an effect usually applied in instrumental concertos.

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp Minor

Gustav Mahler completed Symphony No. 5 in the summer of 1902 at his summer home in Maiernigg in Carinthia and spent the next two years refining its instrumentation. This composition is another manifestation of Mahler’s innovation in the concept of form. The five-movement symphony is divided into three parts. The first two movements, linked through their thematic material, constitute the first part of the symphony (so the first movement can be seen as an exposition, i.e., introduction to the whole symphony, and the second movement as the first movement proper). The Scherzo in the center constitutes the second part. The third part consists of the last two movements. The frequently performed Adagietto is scored for strings and harp only; it is Mahler’s declaration of love to his wife Alma. It functions as a kind of intermezzo before the final movement. Mahler also does not follow the classical convention in his choice of the tonal plan, which is why he refused to include the key in the title. In a letter to the publisher Peters he wrote: “From the order of the movements (where the usual first movement now comes second) it is difficult to speak of a key for the ‘whole Symphony’, and to avoid misunderstandings the key should best be omitted. The main movement (No. 2) is in A minor, the Andante (No. 1) is in C sharp minor. Symphonies are named after the main movement – but only if it stands first, which has always been the case – with the exception of this work.”

The symphony was premiered on 18 October 1904 under the composer’s baton in Cologne, then on 20 February 1905 in Berlin. On 2 March 1905 it was first performed in Prague by the orchestra of the New German Theater under Leo Blech, and on 5 March, Mahler personally conducted it in Amsterdam. On the day of the Prague concert the press warned: “The audience is urged to take their seats before the beginning (starting at half past seven), as the first two movements of the symphony will be played without interruption and no one will be admitted.” The reviews pointed out that Mahler “began his artistic activity in the local theater [in Prague] and wanted to be considered half at home here.” It was noted that Mahler was influenced by Wagner (the first movement’s funeral march was compared to Siegfried’s death scene from Götterdämmerung), and, as regards the scherzo movement, by Anton Bruckner. The Adagietto was liked the most, but in the view of one of the critics, the overly complicated polyphonic technique in the final movement made too many demands on the listener. Bruno Walter, Mahler’s follower and the future great promoter of his work, expressed the same opinion after the Berlin premiere: “It was the first and I think the only time that I was not satisfied with a performance of Mahler’s work. The instrumentation of the complicated contrapuntal tangle is hard to follow, and Mahler himself complained to me that he was still unable to achieve perfection with the orchestra.” The composer returned to the Symphony No. 5 again in the year of his death and only then, as noted by Bruno Walter, did he consider it complete.

All of Mahler’s symphonies are essentially programmatic works: the First Symphony originally bore the title “Titan” (which Mahler later discarded), while his Second and Fourth Symphonies contain a vocal component that provides guidance. Especially after his experience with the First Symphony, Mahler refrained from specifying the content and did not provide any program for the Fifth Symphony, which made it difficult for even the experienced listeners on first hearing. The writer and music historian Romain Rolland, who attended a performance of the symphony on 21 May 1905 in Strasbourg, wrote: “He wished to prove that he could write pure music, and to make his claim surer he refused to have any explanation of his composition published in the concert program […]; he wished it, therefore, to be judged from a strictly musical point of view. It was a dangerous ordeal for him.” Mahler’s music has often taken on additional context in conjunction with other artistic modes: the powerfully emotional Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, for example, accompanies the film directed by Luchino Visconti based on Thomas Mann’s short story Death in Venice.

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