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Czech Chamber Music Society • Jiří Vodička
Czech Philharmonic concertmaster Jiří Vodička and a chamber orchestra of his colleagues offer an original programme introduced by a work by another Vodička, the concertmaster of the Munich ensemble of the elector in late 18th century. Next are two Baroque works, a brief spiritual opus by Arvo Pärt, and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony.
Sonata F major, Op. 1, No. 6 (10'-13')
Concerto grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 4 (10')
Pietro Antonio Locatelli
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 3, No. 12 (20')
Silouan’s Song (6')
Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a (25'-30')
Jiří Vodička violin
Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall
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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.
“It is the fulfilment of a dream we shared with Jiří Bělohlávek: after two years of preparations, we are ushering in regular concerts of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. This name does not stand for one particular ensemble; instead it represents a project in which the orchestra members will be performing in various chamber groups,” said David Mareček, Chief Executive Officer of the Czech Philharmonic, in the spring of 2018. Jiří Bělohlávek was convinced that it was healthy for the Czech Philharmonic to play in a smaller ensemble. In a smaller orchestra, with a repertoire spanning the Baroque to the present, the musicians can hone the intonation, phrasing and collaboration of individuals within the whole. The Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, consisting exclusively of the members of the Czech Philharmonic put together for a specific occasion, has been officially established in the 123rd season.
Sonata in F major, Op. 1, No. 6
Wenceslaus Wodiczka (Vodička), Archangelo Corelli, and Pietro Antonio Locatelli were among the leading violinist-composers of their day. Or were they really composer-violinists? It’s hard to say. In any case, their works very clearly exhibit their knowledge of the violin’s technical and expressive possibilities. And how else should we begin the lighter half of the programme than with humour: Czech Philharmonic concertmaster Jiří Vodička will play a sonata by his namesake!
Wenceslaus Wodiczka (ca. 1715–1774) still remains somewhat underappreciated, but he was an interesting composer from the end of the Baroque and the dawn of Classicism. He was probably born in Bohemia, but by 1732 he had become a violinist in the Munich court ensemble of Karl Albrecht, Prince-Elector of Bavaria. He spent time in Paris and possibly in London as well, and from 1745 he was back in Munich, where he ultimately became the concertmaster of the court ensemble and earned the title of court councillor. While performing those offices, he also taught violin at the Seminarium Gregorianum, a Jesuit institution, and he is assumed to have written a treatise on violin playing published in ca. 1757 in Amsterdam, making him the first Czech author to deal with violin pedagogy at an advanced level. Wodiczka’s family had artistic inclinations (his wife was the singer Marie Johanna Brentani) and was in contact with the family of Leopold Mozart. His Six Sonatas, Op. 1, for violin and harpsichord are dedicated to Elector Karl Albrecht and were first published in Paris in 1739 as Sei sonate a violino solo e basso, i.e. with figured bass. The final Sonata No. 6 in F major is undeniably at once the work of a young composer full of creative energy and of a first-rate soloist.
Concerto grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 4
Archangelo Corelli (1653–1713) was at least two generations older, and he is mainly associated with the development of the Baroque concerto grosso and of violin technique. He came from Fusignano in the present-day Italian province of Ravenna. He became famous in Paris and travelled the world, finally settling down in Rome under the protection of important patrons of the nobility and ecclesiastical hierarchy. Despite humble origins, he died a respected and wealthy man. His supporters included the former Queen of Sweden Kristina (yes, the Kristina who order the looting of cultural artefacts from Bohemia at the end of the Thirty Years’ War) and Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, whose palace was the site of famed concerts largely organised and planned by Corelli. The Concerti grossi, Op. 6, which Corelli composed around the 1680s and prepared for publication near the end of his life, are associated with his employment by Ottoboni. The form is typical of the Baroque concerto, with the orchestra divided into a concertino (a group of soloists) and a ripieno (tutti), and these groups communicate with each other. Opus 6 contains 12 concertos, the most famous of which is the eighth, called the Christmas Concerto, but the Concerto grosso No. 4 in D major is also played rather often. The entire collection was published posthumously in 1714 in Amsterdam.
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 3, No. 12
One of Corelli’s successors was Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695–1764), who is called the Paganini of the 18th century. He was born in Bergamo, northern Italy, and his exceptional musical talent soon brought him to the concert stage. He is sometimes said to have studied under Corelli, but this is not certain; stylistically, he is closer to Vivaldi. While working in Rome, Locatelli also served various patrons including Cardinal Ottoboni. In the 1720s he gave concert tours in Italy and Germany, then in 1729 he moved to Amsterdam, known for the printing of books and music, and he remained there until his death. He proved to be a practical businessman and enjoyed success as composer, violin virtuoso, and teacher, besides being a book expert and intellectual. L’arte del violino, Op. 3 (1733), a collection of twelve violin concertos, is one of his best-known works. Like the other 11 concertos, the concluding Violin Concerto in D major is in three movements (Allegro – Largo – Allegro). In it Locatelli exploits in particular the violin’s high range, and in the “capricci” he lets the soloist shine. According to Locatelli’s contemporaries, these highly virtuosic, technically difficult passages in the outer movements, rather like cadenzas, were among the most difficult violin music yet written. The composer himself wrote a fitting inscription with the first capriccio of the 12th concerto: Il Laberinto armonico, facilus aditus, difficilis exitus (Harmonic labyrinth, easy to enter, but difficult to exit).
The second part of the programme seems to offer a deliberate contrast with the Baroque compositions: in place of Locatelli’s brilliance, we hear the minimalism of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (*1935), who does nothing for show and does not allow the notes to intoxicate him. Instead, he is interested in existential questions and the spiritual dimension of human life. Both this orientation and also his experimentation with the compositional techniques of the 20th century meant that Pärt’s music did not fit in with the official demands for Socialist Realism. Under pressure from the government, he left the Soviet Union in 1980. He passed through Vienna on the way to Germany, where he worked for more than a quarter century. He did not return to his homeland until 2008. Silouan’s Song (1991) for string orchestra is a typical example of Pärt’s distinctive technique of tintinnabuli, which is characterised by very sparing means of expression, inspiration from the music of the Middle Ages and Orthodox Church, and immersion in silence. Yet from this ascetic sound, in which one can sense the fear of the Lord, there grows an emotionally powerful prayer based on a text by the monk Silouan of Athos, in which he speaks of desire for God: “My soul yearns after the Lord and I seek Him in tears. How could I do other than seek Thee, for Thou first didst seek and find me, and gavest me to delight in Thy Holy Spirit, and my soul fell to loving Thee. …” Besides the orchestral version, the composer also arranged Silouan’s Song for eight cellos (2012).
Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906–1975) had experiences of his own with accusations of formalism in Soviet Russia. The composer, pianist, and teacher was a native of Saint Petersburg. Interpretations of his works tend to be coloured by the period when he lived, which was marked by frequent historical and political upheavals; the Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”) is not the only work that comes to mind. The roots of the Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a are found in Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet (1960). The composer wrote it in just three days in Dresden, where he was working on music for the film Fünf Tage – Fünf Nächte, and during his free time he took in the atmosphere of the city, which had been destroyed during the war. However, the Eighth String Quartet is regarded as something of a summation of the composer’s life, and quotes from his own compositions (such as the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and his symphonies and concertos) and from music by other composers (including Tchaikovsky and R. Strauss) are scattered throughout the work. The cryptogram DSCH (using the German spelling Dmitri Schostakowitsch and German note names: S = E flat, H = B natural) opens the quartet and permeates the whole work, the melancholy character of which is underscored by the key of C minor and by the tempo structure (Largo – Allegro molto – Allegretto – Largo – Largo. Largo appears three times!). The violist and conductor Rudolf Barshai, founder of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, made this arrangement of the Eighth String Quartet as the Chamber Symphony.