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Czech Philharmonic • Concert for subscribers
Eight concerts and one public dress rehearsal – the Czech Phil’s gift to its subscribers who stayed with the orchestra in the 125th season through all the cancelled concerts and TV broadcasts, who kept their fingers crossed and sent beautiful supportive messages. Tickets are available also for general public.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102 (20')
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 "Italian" (27')
Kirill Gerstein piano
Semjon Bychkov conductor
Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall
Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic
Tel.: +420 227 059 227
Customer Service office hours are on weekdays from 09:00 a.m. to 06:00 p.m.
Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic
Tel.: +420 227 059 227
Customer Service office hours are on weekdays from 09:00 a.m. to 06:00 p.m.
Chief Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov with pianist Kirill Gerstein will play Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which the composer wrote as a gift for his son Maxim, who performed it on May 10, 1957, on his nineteenth birthday, at an entrance concert at the Moscow Conservatory. In the second half of the concert, the Czech Phil will play Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Italian Symphony, written when the twenty-four-year-old author was fascinated by his stay in the sun-lit Mediterranean.
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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.
“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.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102
Shostakovich was one of the greatest symphonists not only of the twentieth century, but also of all of music history. His fifteen symphonies composed between 1925 and 1971 mirror half a century of life in the Soviet Union when the crushing weight of history in that part of the world was destroying human lives. After the First World War—the self destruction of worldwide European hegemony—there were many Russian artists reporting on the dramatic developments in their ingenious works (the writer Bulgakov, for example), and Shostakovich was unquestionably among them. We can hardly imagine Shostakovich composing outside of Russia. Unlike Stravinsky or Prokofiev who were successful abroad, Shostakovich was a “chronicler”, and in his works we read and hear a description of what was happening to people in the Soviet Union. His music depended largely on it political and cultural context, so it cannot be seen in black and white—the search for a compromise between the free expression of an artistic idea and the unimaginably powerful pressure of the all-important state ideology led to the creation of highly disparate works. The fact that we can recognise the same composer in his propaganda music and in his Thirteenth Symphony (“Babi Yar”) is proof of Shostakovich’s musical genius.
Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Piano Concerto No. 2 as a gift for his son Maxim, who performed it on 10 May 1957, the day of his 19th birthday, at his graduation concert from the Moscow Conservatoire. This enchantingly fresh composition, bristling with energy, is immediate, playful, and at first glance seems to be free of the multiple layers of intellectual content that are so typical of Shostakovich’s other, more serious works. But here, too, there are hidden planes of meaning. Shostakovich seems to have inserted all kinds of family references into the music—jokes that only the father and son could fully understand. Of course, every pianist notices the obvious passage in the third movement, where Shostakovich quotes an etude from the collection The Piano Virtuoso by Charles-Louis Hanon. This joke must have resonated wonderfully in conservatoire circles, because in those days Hanon etudes were mandatory at Russian music schools, and the students had to memorise them. So we might also imagine the father trying to compose while the sound of his son banging on the piano keys could be heard from the adjacent room…
The composition is written in the usual three-movement concerto form, and it calls for a relatively small orchestra. Although music critics have condemned the work many times, it has won over the hearts of audiences and performers, and it is performed frequently. The energetically burlesque outer movements frame a perfectly contrasting bittersweet andante that is dramatically at the heart of the concerto and guarantees the work its lasting popularity.
Symphony No. 4 in A Major (“Italian”), Op. 90
Andante con moto
Con moto moderato
On 3 February 1809, a son named Felix was born to the wealthy family of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn. He began playing piano and violin at the age of seven, at age nine he made a public appearance, and already at 12 he began composing. Wisely, Felix’s father did not stand in the way of the development of his son’s talent; to the contrary, he actively supported the boy—perhaps as a banker, he was well aware of how fleeting wealth was, and that the only thing that could immortalise his name was an act of artistic creativity. Felix was fortunate to have grown up surrounded by plenty in what was then one of Germany’s richest families, and never in his life did he have to concern himself with earning a living. Already as a child, he was composing symphonies, cantatas, songs, choruses, and attempts at musical drama. Many of these compositions (including symphonies!) were performed soon after they were written at regular Sunday household concerts, for which leading professional musicians were hired, so the young composer received immediate feedback—what would Antonín Dvořák have given to have had something like that! After the travels of his youth (Germany, England, Scotland, Italy), he became the conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and he served in that capacity continuously from 1835 (with the exception of the years 1841–1842) until the end of his life. As its conductor, he improved the Leipzig orchestra, establishing its outstanding reputation, which continues to this day.
Mendelssohn composed five mature symphonies. The Symphony in A Major (“Italian) was the third to be written, but based on the opus numbers assigned by the composer, it was his fourth. Mendelssohn’s first sketches for the symphony date from his journey to Italy in 1830/31. The Hamburg native was enthralled by sunny Italy’s joyous atmosphere and temperament. The young Felix sent home letters full of colourful accounts of everything he experienced and saw abroad, and he showed his talent as an artist by supplementing his descriptions with lovely drawings. The composer noted his sources of inspiration: “For most of my music I am indebted to things that are not, in fact, musical: ruins, paintings, the beauty of nature.” He also wrote that he did not begin sketching the symphony until he had visited Naples, because he said that experience must not be left out. Of course, there is no descriptive narrative of concrete scenery. Instead, the composer poured into his music the impressions that Italy made on him, so we can view the symphony’s individual movements as four pictures of Italian life through the eyes of a young German intellectual. The sunny Allegro vivace takes us to the joyous merriment of Rome’s carnivals. The Andante con moto was inspired by a religious procession with a dignified atmosphere interrupted only by two melodic, pastoral episodes, during which it is as if the observer momentarily diverted his gaze, dreaming of the beauties of nature. The minuet Con moto moderato was apparently inspired by Goethe’s poem Lilis Park, then in the trio, according to the scholar Thomas Grey, the composer expresses his homesickness (French horns symbolising Germany’s forests and hunting). The concluding Presto is filled with the rhythms of Italian folk dancing, the Roman saltarello and the wild Neapolitan tarantella.
Mendelssohn composed his “Italian Symphony” after returning to Berlin in 1832. The composer conducted the first performance in March 1833 in London. Although the public received the symphony enthusiastically, the composer was not satisfied with it, and he soon began work on its revision. He never finished the new score, and he never had the work published during his lifetime. It did not appear in print until four years after his death.