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Czech Philharmonic • Tomáš Netopil
Tomáš Netopil again brings a new perspective on 18th century music. The orchestra and pianist Tom Borrow join forces in Mozart’s Piano Concerto. The dramatic melodrama Medea will be the centrepiece. Its composer, Jiří Antonín Benda, had a successful career in German musical centres, and with the new genre, he wished to compete with Italian opera.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K 491 (30')
— Intermission —
Jiří Antonín Benda
Medea, melodrama (50')
Tom Borrow piano
Zuzana Stivínová Medea
Jiří Hájek Iason (Jason)
Michaela Zajmi Nursemaid
Šimon Halouzka, Jan Vychytil Sons of Medea
Alice Nellis director
Tomáš Netopil conductor
Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall
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In January 2019, Tom Borrow was called on to replace renowned pianist Khatia Buniatishvili in a series of 12 concerts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. At only 36 hours’ notice, he performed to sensational public and critical acclaim. Chief music critic of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, Yossi Schifmann, hailed his performance as “brilliant, outstanding… Tom Borrow is already a star and we will all surely hear more about him”. Tom has since been reinvited to the IPO multiple times. International Piano magazine ran a two-page feature on Tom, naming him their “One To Watch”, Gramophone gave him the same accolade (“an exciting young pianist...individuality and elegance") and Diapason has written “Tom Borrow already has everything of a great”. He has recently been named a BBC New Generation Artist 2021–2023.
Born in Tel Aviv in 2000, Tom Borrow has performed as soloist with all major orchestras of his native country and has won every national piano competition in Israel. He began studying piano with Michal Tal at the Givatayim Music Conservatory, and currently studies with Tomer Lev of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. Tom has been regularly mentored by Murray Perahia, through the Jerusalem Music Centre.
After the IPO success, Tom has been invited by other major orchestras around the world – including the Cleveland Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Santa Cecilia Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, New Jersey Symphony, Basque National Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra and others – and by leading conductors Semyon Bychkov, Sakari Oramo, Thierry Fischer, Xian Zhang, Robert Trevino, Omer Wellber, Petr Altrichter and Yoel Levi. Tom has toured Eastern Europe with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, to regular standing ovations, and to South Korea with the Tel Aviv Soloists.
Equally in-demand on the chamber music front, Tom has been invited to the Verbier Festival, Wigmore Hall, Festival Piano aux Jacobins (Toulouse), Vancouver Recital Series and elsewhere. WWFM Radio (US) has featured Tom as an outstanding young talent, and RAI televised his recent Rome concert. His first album will be released soon, on Hanssler Classic.
A graduate of the musical drama department of the Prague Conservatoire, while still a student she made guest appearances at theatres including the Divadlo Na zábradlí, the E. F. Burian Theatre, and Semafor. After her studies, she became a member of the Kašpar theatrical company and subsequently accepted her first engagement at the National Theatre. In 1995 she won an Alfréd Radok Award for the role of Justina in The Miraculous Magician, and she was also nominated for the same prize for her performance in the world premiere of Václav Havel’s play Leaving. She returned to the National Theatre as a guest in 2007, when she played the role of Auntie from Liverpool in the jazz opera A Walk Worthwhile. Her second engagement at the National Theatre began in 2019 with the role of Ritter in the play Lunch with Wittgenstein, and she is continuing with the portrayal of Vassa in the play Vassa Zheleznova.
Besides performing on stage, she also devotes herself to film and television. For roles in the films Traps, Angel Exit, and Faithless Games, she was nominated for a Czech Lion Award from the Czech Film and Television Academy.
Jiří Hájek studied singing at the Pardubice Conservatoire, the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava (Peter Mikuláš), and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (René Tuček). Since 2004 he has been a soloist at the J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen, and during his engagement there he has performed more than 30 roles of the Czech and worldwide repertoire. Beginning in 2003 he became a regular guest at the Prague State Opera, and since the 2010/2011 season he has been a soloist at the National Opera, where he appears mainly in such Mozart roles as Don Giovanni, Papageno, and Count Almaviva. He also makes guest appearances at the National Theatre in Brno, where he has taken part in productions directed by Jiří Heřman (B. Smetana: Libuše, B. Martinů: Epic of Gilgamesh). He has had very successful collaborations with Alice Nellis (P. Glass: Les Enfants terribles, S. Stucky: Mozart and the Others) and Ondřej Havelka (G. Rossini: Barber of Seville, J. Křička: The White Man). In 2017 he took part in Dagmar Pecková’s project Wanted at Prague’s Lucerna.
Michaela Zajmi, née Kapustová, a soloist with the National Theatre in Prague since 2009, is a graduate of the Prague Conservatoire (Yvona Škvárová). Already as a student she was successful at several competitions (Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary, Leoš Janáček Prize, Czech Republic Conservatoire Competition etc.). She further perfected her singing under Antonie Denygrová and at masterclasses with Peter Dvorský and Brigitte Fassbaender.
She has made guest appearances on important Czech stages. For the roles of Rossini’s Cenerentola (National Theatre in Brno) and Donizetti’s Jane Seymour (National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava) she was nominated for a Thalia Award. She also performs abroad (Glyndebourne Tour, Teatro Regio Torino etc.)
As a concert artist she collaborates with leading Czech orchestras and conductors as well as with foreign ensembles (Budapest Festival Orchestra). She also appears with her husband the cellist Bledar Zajmi (Efes International Festival in Turkey, Maurice Ensemble).
Alice studied at the Prague Conservatory and later graduated from the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University with a major in English and American Studies and the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. She has worked as a translator and has been teaching at the Film Faculty since 2002. In 2000, she directed her debut film Ene Bene starring Iva Janžurová and Theodora Remundová. The film won many international awards (including the main prize at the San Francisco International Film Festival). Her collaboration with Iva Janžurová and her daughters – actresses Theodora and Sabina Remundová – continued with the film Some Secrets (2002), for which Alice received the Best New Director Award at the 50th San Sebastian International Festival. The film also won her the Czech Lion Award for the best screenplay in 2002. Her other feature films include Little Girl Blue (2007), Manas and Papas (2010), Perfect Days (2011), Revival (2013), Angels (2014) and The Seven Ravens (2015). She also wrote the script for all her films. As an actress, she has appeared in The City of the Sun.
Besides the silver screen, Alice works in various theatres. She collaborates with Prague stages Divadlo Na zábradlí (Perfect Days, Floods), Divadlo Bez zábradlí (Love, When She Danced, Long Day’s Journey into Night), Café Theatre Černá labuť (The Human Voice, Pink Champagne) or Divadlo v Řeznické (Help). For her own play Floods performed in Divadlo Na zábradlí she won the 3rd prize in the Alfréd Radok Awards competition.
An inspirational force, particularly in Czech music, Tomáš Netopil celebrates his ninth season as General Music Director of the Aalto Musiktheater and Philharmonie Essen in 2021/2022. Mozart’s La finta giardiniera features this season as well as Don Giovanni plus Strauss’s Arabella – while in recent seasons in Essen, Netopil has led performances of titles including Rusalka, Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Pique Dame, and Der Rosenkavalier.
Tomáš Netopil is also Principal Guest Conductor with Czech Philharmonic Orchestra with whom, in addition to concerts at the Rudolfinum Hall in Prague, he performs on tour including for the Dvořák Prague Festival. Guest-conducting performances during 2021/2022 include return invitations with Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, Aspen Festival, Brno Philharmonic, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, RAI Torino as well as his concert debut with the Staatstheater Hannover.
In Summer 2018 Tomáš Netopil created the International Summer Music Academy in Kroměříž offering students both exceptional artistic tuition and the opportunity to meet and work with major international musicians. In Summer 2021, in association with the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Academy established the Dvořákova Praha Youth Philharmonic with musicians from conservatories and music academies, coached by principal players of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Tomáš Netopil has held a close relationship with the Dvořák Prague Festival for some time and was Artist in Residence in 2017, opening the Festival with Essen Philharmoniker and closing the Festival with Dvořák’s Te Deum and Wiener Symphoniker.
Operatic highlights beyond Essen include Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden (La clemenza di Tito, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, La Juive, The Bartered Bride, and Busoni’s Doktor Faust), Vienna Staatsoper (his most recent successes include Idomeneo, Der Freischütz, and a new production of Leonore) and for Netherlands Opera (Jenůfa). His concert highlights of recent seasons have included Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich as well as engagements with Orchestre de Paris, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Orchestre National de Montpellier, Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo.
Tomáš Netopil’s discography for Supraphon includes Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (the first ever recording of the original 1927 version), Dvořák’s complete cello works, Martinů’s Ariane and Double Concerto, and Smetana’s Má vlast with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. During his tenure in Essen, he has recorded Suk’s Asrael and Mahler’s Symphonies No. 6 and 9.
From 2008–2012 Tomáš Netopil held the position of Music Director of the Prague National Theatre. He studied violin and conducting in his native Czech Republic, as well as at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm under the guidance of Professor Jorma Panula. In 2002 he won the 1st Sir Georg Solti Conductors Competition at the Alte Oper Frankfurt.
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K 491
A total of 27 piano concertos have been attributed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The first few are just piano sonatas by other composers arranged as concertos by the wunderkind, but the later concertos are among the supreme instrumental works of not only Mozart, but also the entire piano concerto genre as we know it from the latter third of the 18th century.
In 1781 Mozart settled in Vienna permanently. Having had constant disagreements with his Salzburg employer Archbishop Colloredo, he stepped down from his post and began making a living mostly by teaching the children of noble families and giving subscription concerts. Royalties from his compositions made up an additional part of his income. Mozart expected that after moving to Vienna, he would achieve artistic success and commensurate compensation, meaning a livelihood. He began enjoying artistic success very quickly with the premiere of the singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail in the summer of 1782. However, Mozart was never able to achieve complete financial stability. Nonetheless, his early years in Vienna were some of his most fruitful. This was thanks both to commissions from the court and to the successful subscriptions concert, at which Mozart appeared as the composer, presenter, and performer.
At one of those concerts in April 1786 at Vienna’s Burgtheatre he played his Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, the next to last of the 12 concerts Mozart wrote between 1784 and 1786. Mozart seldom composed in minor keys, and some scholars believe that whenever he did so, he had something important weighing on his heart. This may be why these works are still especially important in Mozart’s oeuvre and enjoy great popularity. While the two symphonies in G minor (K 183 from 1773 and K 550 from 15 years later) are probably Mozart’s reaction to the ideas of the Sturm und Drang movement, in the piano concertos in D minor and C minor, the composer’s sense of musical drama bubbled to the surface, as it was fully revealed in his late operas and especially in Don Giovanni. In the Piano Concerto in C Minor, it is not only the unusual key that makes the concerto one of Mozart’s greatest. Also worth noting are the prominent woodwind parts, which emerge from the sound of the whole ensemble in dialogues with the piano and in solo passages. In Vienna, where there was no lack of good players and high quality instruments, Mozart could even afford to include clarinets and oboes in the orchestra at the same time. That combination, unusual in those days, opened up new possibilities, resulting in an extraordinarily rich palette of colours.
At first glance, this instrumental concerto in the standard three movements is a typical example of how special Mozart was as a composer. His talent does not consist solely of nearly inexhaustible melodic inventiveness, but also of masterful handling of concrete musical forms. He is able to do this fully while also enhancing the forms with little compositional details, thereby disturbing the form and avoiding a merely schematic approach. The Piano Concerto in C Minor contains many such moments. For example, the 3/4 metre of the Allegro first movement is unusual. The orchestral exposition presents the main theme, while already giving the wind instruments prominence as they pass a descending chromatic motif back and forth. Contrary to expectations, the piano’s solo entrance does not repeat the main theme from the orchestral exposition, but instead introduces new melodic material. Not literally a contrast, the material’s character brings only partial calming, as the serious mood continues to penetrate to the surface with the entrances of the full orchestra. The ending of the first movement also makes an unexpected effect; after the solo cadenza, the coda, somewhat unexpectedly, is not played by the orchestra alone—the solo piano joins in, dying away to pianissimo with a sequence of arpeggios to end the movement. The second movement, Larghetto, is in E flat major, and it is brighter in mood. The atmosphere is calm, and cantabile motifs emerge in the piano part as well as in the woodwinds. The virtuosic third movement (Allegretto) brings back the serious C minor mood. Mozart chose the form of variations, two of which are in the major mode, recalling the lyricism of the previous movement. Like in the first movement, however, the coda returns to the principal minor key, but this time, instead of dying away, the music comes to a dramatic, decisive end.
“Awaiting us is the lovely task of celebrating the 300th anniversary of Benda’s birth with his brilliant dramatic work Medea”, says Tomáš Netopil about preparations for performing Benda’s melodrama. Since his appointment as a chief guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, he has been systematically working on performances of music of the late Baroque and Classical periods.
The name of the composer Jiří Antonín Benda appears only sporadically in music history textbooks. Born in Staré Benátky (present-day Benátky nad Jizerou), he is usually mentioned as a member of the famous Benda/Brixi family of composers and also as a member of the “Bohemian musical diaspora”. In Czech music education, this term is sometimes misleadingly interpreted with the meaning of emigration as understood in the 20th and 21st centuries, somewhat distorting our image of the lives of these composers. Generally, composers and instrumentalists were leaving voluntarily, mostly seeking better working conditions, pay, and social standing. Some of them also went along to the placers where their noble employers happened to be working. Most of these “emigrants” spent the rest of their lives at their new places of employment. They usually were not motivated to return home by relationships with culture, language, or often even religion. This is also the case with Jiří Antonín Benda, who moved to Potsdam at the age of 20 with his parents and siblings, where he worked under the supervision of his older brother František in the court ensemble of King Frederic II of Prussia. He was quickly captivated by the ideals of the Enlightenment in his new environment, became a Protestant, and joined a lodge of Freemasons. From 1750 he served as court Kapellmeister in Gotha, but he resigned in 1778 to seek a permanent appointment in Berlin, Hamburg, Mannheim, or Vienna, but he returned to Gotha a year later after failing to secure a position. From then on, rather than to composing he devoted himself to philosophy and correspondence with friends or to taking trips around Europe, during which he performed his works.
Although Benda composed three Italian operas during his first years of employment in Gotha, the German singspiel obviously lay closer to his heart. Unlike Italian opera, bound by strict rules of musical stylisation, the singspiel allowed far more room for the text itself, and this was logically important to Benda, a learned man with philosophical leanings. In 1774 he became familiar with the melodrama Pygmalion by Jean-Jacques Rousseau with music by Anton Schweitzer. Benda was so captivated by the combination of music with the art of dramatic acting that he decided to develop Rousseau’s concept further. That same year he composed Ariadne auf Naxos to a text by the German dramatist Johann Christian Brandes. A year later, Benda composed Medea, for which he chose a text by his court librettist Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter. The two works caught on relatively quickly as genre prototypes—Ariadne as a lyrical monologue and Medea as its more dramatic counterpart. Medea deals with the Greek legend of Jason’s jealous wife who, as a result of his infidelity, killed not only his lover and her father, but also the children she had with Jason. Although these works by Benda are now seldom performed, his music has its secure place in the development of the genre of musical drama of the last quarter of the 18th century.
Since then, the melodrama has undergone several transformations, but it has persevered as one of the genres of musical theatre. During the 19th century, a new genre called the concert melodrama established itself, its proponents being Carl Maria von Weber, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt. The best known Czech representative of the genre is Zdeněk Fibich’s trilogy Hippodamia with texts by Jaroslav Vrchlický. Arnold Schoenberg’ Pierrot lunaire is an example of the use of the melodrama genre in the 20th century.