Photo illustrating page  Alisa Weilerstein Czech Phil: The Spring Stars I

Czech Phil: The Spring Stars I • Alisa Weilerstein


Czech Philharmonic

American cellist Alisa Weilerstein belongs to the most frequent guests of the Czech Philharmonic. She will launch the concert series named Spring Stars of the Czech Phil by a popular piece by Edward Elgar. In the second half, principal guest conductor Jakub Hrůša will perform musical poem A Summer's Tale by Josef Suk with the orchestra.

Duration of the programme 1 hod 40 min

Programme

Edward Elgar
Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 85 (30')

— Intermission (10') —

Josef Suk
A Summer's Tale, Musical Poem for Large Orchestra, Op. 29 (54')

Performers

Alisa Weilerstein cello

Jakub Hrůša conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Marek Eben host

Photo illustrating the event Czech Phil: The Spring Stars I Alisa Weilerstein

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

9 Mar 2021  Tuesday 8.15pm

Concert will be broadcasted on ČT art and social media of the Czech Philharmonic on 9th March at 8.15pm.

Concert will be broadcasted on ČT art and social media of the Czech Philharmonic on 9th March at 8.15pm.

Concert will be broadcasted on ČT art and social media of the Czech Philharmonic on 9th March at 8.15pm.

Performers

Alisa Weilerstein  violoncello
Alisa Weilerstein

“A young cellist whose emotionally resonant performances of both traditional and contemporary music have earned her international recognition, … Weilerstein is a consummate performer, combining technical precision with impassioned musicianship.” So stated the MacArthur Foundation when awarding Alisa Weilerstein a 2011 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. An exclusive recording artist for Decca Classics since 2010, she is the first cellist to be signed by the prestigious label in more than 30 years.

For her first album on the Decca label, Weilerstein recorded the Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin. The disc was named “Recording of the Year 2013” by BBC Music. Her second Decca release, on which she plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, topped the U.S. classical chart. Weilerstein released her fifth album on Decca in September 2016, playing Shostakovich’s two cello concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Pablo Heras-Casado, in performances recorded live the previous season.

Weilerstein has appeared with all the foremost orchestras of the United States and Europe, collaborating with conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Alan Gilbert, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Yuri Temirkanov, and David Zinman. Her major career milestones include an emotionally tumultuous account of Elgar’s concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim in Oxford, England, for the orchestra’s 2010 European Concert, which was televised live and subsequently released on DVD by EuroArts. Other highlights of that time include her debut at the BBC Proms in 2010.

Committed to expanding the cello repertoire, Weilerstein is an ardent champion of new music. She gave the New York premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus, and has worked extensively with Osvaldo Golijov, who rewrote Azul for cello and orchestra (originally premiered by Yo-Yo Ma) for her New York premiere performance. At the 2008 Caramoor Festival, she gave the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violoncello and Piano with the composer at the keyboard. Joseph Hallman, a 2014 Grammy Award nominee, has also written multiple works for Weilerstein.

Weilerstein has appeared at major music festivals throughout the world, including Aspen, Edinburgh, Jerusalem Chamber Music, La Jolla Summer Fest, Mostly Mozart, Salzburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Tanglewood, and Verbier. In addition to her appearances as a soloist and recitalist, Weilerstein performs regularly as a chamber musician. She has been part of a core group of musicians at the Spoleto Festival USA for the past eight years and also performs with her parents, Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, as the Weilerstein Trio.

The cellist is the winner of both Lincoln Center’s 2008 Martin E. Segal prize for exceptional achievement and the 2006 Leonard Bernstein Award. She received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2000 and was selected for two prestigious young artists programs in the 2000/2001 season.

A graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Richard Weiss, the cellist also holds a degree in history from Columbia University. In 2008, Weilerstein, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine, became a Celebrity Advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Jakub Hrůša  principal guest conductor
Jakub Hrůša

Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

He is a frequent guest with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna, Berlin, Munich and New York Philharmonics; Bavarian Radio, NHK, Chicago and Boston Symphonies; Leipzig Gewandhaus, Lucerne Festival, Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Chamber and The Cleveland Orchestras; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has led opera productions for the Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, and Zurich Opera. He has also been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival and served as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years.

His recording of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Bamberg Symphony was nominated for a Gramophone Award, and his Dvořák Violin Concerto CD with the Bavarian Radio Symphony was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2020, his recordings of Dvořák and Martinů Piano Concertos with Bamberg Symphony, and Vanessa from Glyndebourne, won BBC Music Magazine Awards. Other releases include Dvořák and Brahms Symphonies with Bamberg Symphony, Suk’s Asrael with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, and Dvořák’s Requiem and Te Deum with the Czech Philharmonic.

Hrůša studied at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society. He was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize, and in 2020 was awarded the Antonín Dvořák Prize by the Czech Republic’s Academy of Classical Music, and – with Bamberg Symphony – the Bavarian State Prize for Music.

Marek Eben  host
Marek Eben

Compositions

Edward Elgar
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 85

Adagio – Moderato
Lento – Allegro molto
Adagio
Allegro – Moderato – Allegro, ma non-troppo – Poco più lento – Adagio

Edward Elgar is one of the four most prominent composers in British music history – together with Henry Purcell, George Friedrich Handel and Benjamin Britten. A relatively long period of time separates him from Handel, the late Baroque composer of English oratorios. To this day, therefore, Elgar is still called “the greatest English composer since Handel”. Several compositions by Elgar have remained staples of the international classical repertoire to this day as well. One of them is his only cello concerto.

In the very beginning, Elgar received his musical education from his father, a music dealer and organist in the town of Broadheath where Elgar was born, who taught him the piano, organ and violin. Thereafter, Elgar learned to play other instruments on his own and was a self-taught composer. In musical circles, where academicians prevailed over spontaneous creators, he felt rather lonely. He decided to become a freelance musician at a relatively young age and never accepted permanent employment. He made a living as a conductor, performer, teacher and composer. The list of his works is very long and is dominated by occasional pieces, choral compositions, church music, marches, chamber music – in short, commissioned works. In 1889 he married the daughter of a high-ranking officer of the British Army, who not only brought property and social status to the marriage, but above all gave him a lot of love and understanding. Elgar did not have much self-confidence and suffered from doubt and depression all his life, but his wife Alice always stood by his side. In 1899, Elgar composed the orchestral work Enigma Variations, Op. 36, which brought him great fame at the age of 42. The composition is a tribute to Alice and to the many friends who stood behind Elgar at the beginning of his career when nothing was certain. Conductor Hans Richter declared it a masterpiece, and its performance in Britain and Germany established Elgar’s lasting reputation.

Elgar’s most fruitful period then followed – in the 1910s he composed, among other works, two symphonies and the Violin Concerto in B minor, but his greatest success was the first four of the Pomp and Circumstance Marches. The very first march in the first series was praised by the future King Edward VII, who asked Elgar to provide lyrics for it because he thought the melody would make a great song. That was done and today the Land of Hope and Glory is an unofficial anthem of the British Empire, and as a tradition it is sung by the audience every year on the closing night of the BBC Proms.

The horrors of the First World War, the loss of one of his close friends, and the serious illness of his wife Alice caused Elgar’s mental health to decline during the following decade. Nevertheless, he managed to compose several successful chamber pieces, especially the masterful Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85. His wife’s death in the spring of 1920 totally paralyzed him. From then on, he basically just produced arrangements and instrumentations as well as writing some incidental music. In the final four years of his life, however, he returned to orchestral compositions and worked on his third symphony, which he left unfinished. At that time, fast progress was being made in the recording of music, so a number of Elgar’s works, played by outstanding performers, were recorded under the composer’s supervision.

The Cello Concerto in E minor, completed in 1919, is undoubtedly the last major completed work by Edward Elgar. It is of an intimate, contemplative character with emotional depth, and at the same time, it is restrained. This reflects Elgar’s concerns in the aftermath of the First World War – he felt that the era of Victorian and Edwardian England was coming to an end, he was financially insecure, and he and his wife were both in ill health.

The concerto is shorter and more concise in terms of instrumentation than Elgar’s orchestral works of an earlier date. Although written in four movements, it is quite short, lasting only about half an hour. The concerto opens with a short recitative for solo cello, marked with Elgar’s favorite instruction, Nobilmente. The motif of this introduction, which returns briefly in the second movement and also at the end of the whole composition, contrasts sharply with the main theme, subsequently played by the violas, expressing resignation, bitterness, and only flickering moments of hope.

The first movement is linked to the second by a rhapsodic passage with pizzicato arpeggios, followed by the virtuoso Allegro molto. The heart of the piece is the passionate Adagio, paring down the orchestra so the solo cello can sing freely above it. Out of the deep melancholy of the third movement there rises a fast, fourth movement with an alternating character, as if to say, “Cheer up and carry on!”.

The premiere of the concerto, given at the beginning of the season by the London Symphony Orchestra on 27 October 1919, was a debacle. Elgar conducted the composition himself, but the other works in the program were conducted by Albert Coates, who had taken up most of the time available for rehearsal and not allowed enough time for Elgar to prepare the orchestra. During the composer’s lifetime, the concerto’s reputation was not established, although it was performed and recorded then. The work did not acquire a new life until the 1960s, when it was taken on by the legendary cellist Jacqueline du Pré. Thanks to her heartfelt, convincing interpretation, Elgar’s concerto became a very popular piece of the solo cello repertoire.

Josef Suk
A Summer’s Tale, tone poem for large orchestra, Op. 29

Voices of Life and Consolations
Midday
Intermezzo – Blind Musicians
In the Power of Phantoms
Night

Bohuslav Martinů had known the composer and violinist Josef Suk since the days of his studies at the Prague Conservatoire, and in particular since the 1922–1923 school year, when he was a pupil in Suk’s composition class in the advanced studies course. For many reasons, this did not involve intensive instruction, but the two men were respectful of each other in the years that followed: “…for you, Maestro Suk, I have undying admiration, and I make no secret of this”, Martinů wrote to Suk in 1930. But now we are getting ahead of ourselves. Josef Suk’s standing in the Czech musical world at the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th was not challenged, and his music including the tetralogy of major orchestral works had its enthusiastic admirers and detractors. Suk composed A Summer’s Tale (1907–1909) as the second work in that series, and it was premiered in January 1909 by the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of Karel Kovařovic. In five movements, A Summer’s Tale, Op. 29 tends to be characterised as a musical poem (or a poem about nature), and explanations of it very often resort to extra-musical and especially psychological connections. It follows upon the symphonic composition Asrael, in which Suk was most clearly dealing with the death of Antonín Dvořák (1904) and of his beloved wife Otilie (1905). Now—in his own words—after the tempest and the mystical silence of the night, he was clinging “to the tremors of the awakening earth and the rays of the rising sun”. Although these descriptive explanations might seem excessively poetic to us today, the work is remarkable for its intellectual depth and truthfulness.

In Suk’s music, A Summer’s Tale amounted to another step away from late Romanticism towards a modern mode of expression: in it he employs freely shaped melody in the context of expanded tonality, polyrhythm, and polyphony. Tone colour gains an autonomous role, and in handling it, Suk shows himself to be a true master of orchestration. It is no wonder that some critics put him alongside Mahler, Debussy, or Richard Strauss. While Karel Kovařovic appears in the printed score as the work’s dedicatee, the composer promised the autograph score to Oskar Nedbal, his former colleague from the Bohemian Quartet, who conducted A Summer’s Tale in Vienna the very next year after the Prague premiere. In the rather convoluted history of the travels of the autograph scores, copies, and other written sources for the composition, such names appear as Max Švabinský and Gustav Mahler—in all likelihood the author of the inscription “O lieber Tod, komm sachte!” on the proofs of the score from Universal Edition. But that is another story…

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