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It is no secret that the music of Viennese composers, especially the Strauss family, has a special magic. Their rich melodic invention and light touch are perfectly suited not only to the ballroom or operetta stage, but also to New Year celebrations. You can truly look forward to Vienna native Manfred Honeck and Kyrgyz soprano Katharina Konradi.
Johann Strauss II
Die Fledermaus (The Bat), Op. 262
Overture to the operetta
“Mein Herr Marquis”, aria from the operetta (13')
Die Libelle (Dragonfly), polka-mazurka, Op. 204 (5')
Johann Strauss II
Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring), waltz, Op. 410 (6')
Richard Strauss | arr. Tomáš Ille
Mondscheinmusik (Moonlight Music) arranged for French horn and string orchestra from the opera Capriccio, Op. 85 (4')
Johann Strauss II
Wiener Blut (Viennese Blood), Op. 354
“Es hat den Grafen nichts genutzt – Grüß dich Gott, du liebes Nesterl!”, recitative and aria from the operetta (4')
Plappermäulchen (Chatterboxes), musical prank, fast polka, Op. 245 (3')
Franz von Suppé
Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant)
Overture to the operetta (10')
Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow)
“Es lebt eine Vilja”, aria from the operetta (5')
Gold und Silber (Gold and Silver), waltz, Op. 79 (8')
“Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß”, aria from the operetta “Giuditta” (5')
Johann Strauss II
Auf der Jagd (On the Hunt), fast polka, Op. 373 (2'20)
Im Krapfenwald’l (In Krapfen’s Woods / Cuckoo Polka), polka française, Op. 336 (4'50)
Unter Donner und Blitz (Thunder and Lightning), fast polka, Op. 324 (3')
Katharina Konradi soprano
Radek Baborák french horn
Manfred Honeck conductor
Katharina Konradi was born in Bischkek, Kyrgyzstan, and is the first soprano from this country to have an international career as a lied, concert and opera singer. She has been a member of the Hamburg State Opera since 2018. She sings the major soprano roles and it was not long before other renowned opera houses offered her engagements, for instance the Semperoper in Dresden as Zdenka in Arabella by Richard Strauss, the Bayreuth Festival as the young shepherd in the production of Tannhäuser and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss.
Katharina Konradi is also highly sought-after as a concert soloist in major concert halls. She has given concerts with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, the Symphony Orchestra of the MDR or the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestri as Thomas Hengelbrock, Manfred Honeck, Paavo Järvi, Kent Nagano, Daniel Harding and Gustavo Dudamel. She also performed in the traditional ZDF Advent Concert 2021 together with the Staatskapelle Dresden under the baton of Petr Popelka in the Frauenkirche Dresden.
Lied interpretation is a special passion for the young soprano. She regularly gives recitals at international places as the Schubertiada in Vilabertran, Schubertiade in Hohenems/Schwarzenberg, Wigmore Hall in London, Zarzuela Theatre in Madrid, the Boulez Hall in Berlin or the Konzerthaus in Vienna. She enjoys an artistically fruitful association performing chamber music together with the Trio Gaspard and the Schumann Quartet.
In 2016 she won the German Music Competition and was supported until the end of 2021 by the BBC in the context of the New Generation Artist programme.
The French horn player and conductor Radek Baborák is one of the most prominent classical music figures internationally. Since making his solo debut in 1989, he has been collaborating with the world’s leading orchestras, important soloists and ensembles, and top conductors. After having played principal French horn in orchestras for many years (with the Berlin Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, and Czech Philharmonic) and having gained much experience in the field of chamber music and in the artistic leadership of ensembles (Baborák Ensemble — Orquestrina, Czech Horn Chorus, Afflatus Quintet), in 2008 he began devoting himself to a parallel career as a conductor in the tradition of instrumentalists who have chosen to realise their artistic visions and dreams by conducting their own performances. Baborák’s main mentor and model in this has been Maestro Daniel Barenboim, whom Baborák has assisted with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Baborák has also played as a soloist under Barenboim’s baton, taken part in Boulez Ensemble chamber music projects, and taught as a professor at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin.
The initial impulse for Baborák stepping onto the conductor’s podium was an invitation from the musicians of the Mito Chamber Orchestra to stand in for their indisposed chief conductor, Maestro Seiji Ozawa, during a tour of Europe in 2008. Baborák became Ozawa’s pupil, and their work together climaxed at the jubilee 100th concert of the MCO, at which Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was heard—Radek Baborák conducted the first two movements, and Seiji Ozawa conducted the third movement and finale.
In 2011 Baborák took the initiative in founding the Czech Sinfonietta, a festival orchestra that he conducts. He is also the chief conductor and since 2013 the artistic director of the Prague Chamber Soloists. In 2017 he was appointed as chief guest conductor of the Yamagata Symphony Orchestra. Radek Baborák’s repertoire includes music of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras as well as works by composers of the 20th and 21st centuries including Na'ama Tamir Kaplan, Toshio Hosokawa, John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Antti Sakari Saario. He has given the world premieres of works by Jean-Gaspard Páleníček, Lukáš Hurník and Aleš Březina and of his own compositions. In 2021 he became the chief conductor of the West-Bohemian Symphony Orchestra.
Over the last quarter century, Manfred Honeck has firmly established himself as one of the world’s leading conductors, renowned for his distinctive interpretations and arrangements of a wide range of repertoire. For more than a decade, he has served as Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, celebrated in Pittsburgh and abroad. Together, they have continued a legacy of music-making that includes several Grammy nominations and a 2018 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance. Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra serve as cultural ambassadors for the city as one of the most frequently toured American orchestras.
Born in Austria, Manfred Honeck received his musical training at the Academy of Music in Vienna. Many years of experience as a member of the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra have given his conducting a distinctive stamp. He began his career as assistant to Claudio Abbado and was subsequently engaged by the Zurich Opera House, where he was bestowed the prestigious European Conductor’s Award. Following early posts at MDR Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, he was appointed Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Stockholm. For several years, he also served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. From 2007 to 2011, Manfred Honeck was Music Director of the Staatsoper Stuttgart.
As a guest conductor Manfred Honeck has worked with the world’s leading orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Staatskapelle Dresden, London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Accademia di Santa Cecilia Rome, and the Vienna Philharmonic, and is a regular guest with all of the major American orchestras. Operatic guest appearances include Semperoper Dresden, Royal Opera of Copenhagen and the Salzburg Festival.
Manfred Honeck holds honorary doctorates from several North American universities and was awarded the honorary title of Professor by the Austrian Federal President. An international jury of critics selected him as the International Classical Music Awards “Artist of the Year” 2018.
When the 19-year-old Johann Strauss II (1825–1899) appeared before the Viennese public in the fall of 1844, his debut became a sensation. The eldest son of the famous conductor Johann Strauss I performed at the Dommayer’s Casino as a violinist, composer and conductor of his own orchestra. The 600-seat hall was bursting at the seams with anticipation as to whether the son would live up to his father’s renown or whether it would be a debacle. But the young “Schani” had the audience wrapped around his little finger in a matter of minutes, and eventually the new fans carried him off on their shoulders to frenetic applause. Perhaps the only person not happy about this success was the composer’s father, who for a long time could not reconcile himself to his son’s musical career. On the one hand, he wanted his son to become a bank clerk, and on the other hand, he perceived him as a competitor. Johann Number Two later became Johann Number One and the darling of Vienna, writing more than 400 instrumental works, 16 operettas and one opera. To this day he is rightly regarded as “The Waltz King” and one of the main representatives of the golden era of Viennese operetta.
One of the top works of that era is undoubtedly the situation comedy Die Fledermaus (The Bat). This third operetta by Strauss was composed in just six weeks in 1874. Its libretto was written based on the successful French comedy Le Réveillon by Richard Genée, a Kapellmeister at the Theater an der Wien. Strauss was particularly enthused by the story because it tells in endearing exaggeration about the people of the time: A wife seduces her husband in disguise at a masquerade ball, her former lover finds himself in prison (quite inappropriately dressed in her husband’s dressing gown), the maid Adele poses as an actress at the ball and shows off with the laughing song Mein Herr Marquis (My Dear Marquis)... At first, the frivolousness, teasing and innuendos caused embarrassment among the Viennese audience, so that the operetta did not attain fame until its Berlin premiere the same year, but soon afterwards Vienna humbly returned to Die Fledermaus and the operetta was presented in all the world’s theaters. It is said that Strauss’s friend and admirer Johannes Brahms never missed a performance of Die Fledermaus in Vienna. In Prague, the operetta was first performed in the Czech language in September 1875 at the now defunct Arena on the Walls (located on the site of today’s National Museum); the Prague National Theater included it in its repertoire in 1888.
The operetta Wiener Blut (Viennese Blood) is named after Strauss’s famous waltz. Strauss did not compose this operetta himself, but it was compiled from his existing works by the conductor Adolf Müller. Its premiere took place after Strauss’s death on 26 October 1899, and its success dates from 1905, when it was staged at the Theater an der Wien. The story, set during the Congress of Vienna, is again full of confusion and funny misunderstandings; one of the operetta’s most famous arias is that by Countess Gabriele, “Grüss dich Gott, du liebes Nesterl!” (Hello, dear little love nest!).
From the wealth of Strauss’s instrumental works, today’s concert will feature his elegant waltz Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring), Op. 410. The part of the obligatory soprano was written for Bianca Bianchi, a famous singer of the Vienna Court Theatre, and the piano version was dedicated to Alfred Grünfeld (1852–1924), a composer and professor of the Vienna Conservatory, who was incidentally a graduate of the Prague Conservatory. Strauss’s three polkas, Unter Donner und Blitz (Thunder and Lightning, Op. 324), Im Krapfenwald’l (In Krapfen’s Woods, Op. 336) and Auf der Jagd (On the Hunt, Op. 373), are excellent examples of Strauss’s spectacular work with color and sound, be it the use of percussion, the expression of birdsong, or even the firing of a hunting rifle.
Josef Strauss (1827–1870), a younger brother of Johann Strauss II, an engineer and designer by profession, had a musical talent as well. After his elder brother had to slow down due to physical exhaustion, Josef took up a temporary position as Kapellmeister of his orchestra and wrote almost 300 compositions during a short career that tragically ended by his collapse during a concert. The polka-mazurka Die Libelle (Dragonfly) was inspired by his stay at Traunsee in Upper Austria; the musical prank Plappermäulchen (Chatterboxes) refers to the milieu of dance clubs and parties.
The music of the Strauss dynasty has been appreciated by many figures, including the German composer Richard Strauss (1864–1949), who paid tribute to the Viennese waltz in his opera Der Rosenkavalier. The instrumental mastery and melodic inventiveness of this composer will be represented at the concert today by his dreamy intermezzo Mondscheinmusik (Moonlight Music) from the final scene of his last completed opera Capriccio (1941–1942), in arrangement by pianist and composer Tomáš Ille for French horn and string orchestra.
The success of Jacques Offenbach’s music in Paris aroused interest in the genre of operetta also in 19th-century Vienna, but it was Franz von Suppé (1819–1895), born in Split as Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo de Suppe, who followed Offenbach’s example and began writing operettas to German texts. By the time he entered these waters, he was already a successful composer of theater music and, in particular, a conductor. In 1846, he first came to prominence as a composer with the operetta Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant), the overture to which with a strong cello solo became a popular concert piece. This tune is considered a possible inspiration for the American folk song I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.
One of the most important representatives of the following period of Viennese operetta was Franz Lehár (1870–1948). This composer with family ties to Moravia and Hungary attended the Prague Conservatory, where from the age of twelve he studied violin with Antonín Bennewitz, theory with Josef Förster (father of the composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster), and composition with Antonín Dvořák; later he took private lessons with Zdeněk Fibich. He graduated from the Prague Conservatory in 1888 at the Rudolfinum with Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 44. His career was determined by Dvořák’s legendary advice to him “to put the violin aside and devote himself to composing music”, as well as by the support of Johannes Brahms. However, Lehár did not forget his instrument and liked to include violin solos in his compositions. In 1902 he became conductor at the historic Theater an der Wien; three years later, he created a modern form of operetta in Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), in which a gentle waltz is a must. Since then, there have been many variations on the story of a couple in love who are constantly quarreling and do not reveal their true feelings for each other until the end. The famous song about the forest fairy “Es lebt eine Vilja” (Vilja song) is presented in Act 2 by the main protagonist, the “merry widow” Hanna Glawari from the fictional country of Pontevedro.
Lehár’s last operetta Giuditta was written in 1934. The work without a happy ending about a passionate woman who longs for great love, but is unable to find it, seems to be a more subtle variation on Bizet’s Carmen... At the premiere at the Vienna State Opera, the leading roles were played by Jarmila Novotná, a celebrated Czech singer, and Richard Tauber, a prominent Lehár interpreter. The premiere attracted more attention than any of Lehár’s previous works. It was broadcast live by 120 radio stations throughout Europe. Giuditta’s aria “Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß” (My lips they kiss so hot) is one of the most popular songs from this operetta. Lehár’s picture will be complemented by his waltz Gold und Silber (Gold and Silver), which he composed in 1902 for a ball of the same name given by Princess Paulina Metternich, a patron of music and arts and a great promoter of the works of Richard Wagner and Bedřich Smetana.