Czech Philharmonic • Velvet Revolution Concert


The Velvet Revolution Concerts are intended to remind us of our civilisation’s democratic values and to present a programme that supports those ideals. For the occasion, the season’s artists-in-residence have chosen songs by Maurice Ravel and Béla Bartók and the final symphony of Gustav Mahler—a hymn celebrating life and humanity.

  • Duration of the programme 1 hod 55 min

Programme

Maurice Ravel
Five Greek Folk Songs (8')

Béla Bartók
Five Hungarian Folk Songs, Sz 101 BB 108 (6')

— Intermission —

Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 9 in D major (81')

Performers

Magdalena Kožená mezzo-soprano

Simon Rattle conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic Velvet Revolution Concert

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall


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Sir Simon Rattle recalled: “It isn’t often that I fall in love with an orchestra, and most of my relationships with orchestras date back quite a while. But when I conducted the Czech Philharmonic for the first time, the kind of music I would like to hear the orchestra play occurred to me immediately. It has been able to preserve its own typical sound, which is perfectly suited to Mahler. One of my old mentors was Berthold Goldschmidt, who conducted the British premiere of Mahler’s Third Symphony, among other things. Of the many wonderful things he told me about Mahler’s Ninth, one thing really stuck with me: ‘Remember that Mahler put everything he hated about Austria into the first scherzo and everything he hated about Vienna into the second one. If you have that in mind, you’ll never be far off the mark.’”

Performers

Magdalena Kožená  mezzo-soprano
Magdalena Kožená

Born in the Czech city of Brno, Magdalena Kožená studied voice and piano at the Brno Conservatory and at Bratislava’s Academy of Performing Arts. Magdalena signed as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist in 1999 and released her first album of Bach arias on its Archiv label. Her recital debut recording of songs by Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů followed in 2001 – the same year she was honoured with Gramophone’s Solo Vocal Award.

She was named Artist of the Year by Gramophone in 2004 and has since received numerous other prestigious awards, including the Echo Klassik, Record Academy Prize Tokyo, and Diapason d’or. In 2017, Magdalena forged a long-term relationship with Dutch classical music label Pentatone and has since released 3 recordings, the most recent of which is a collaboration with Yefim Bronfman entitled ‘Nostalgia’ (August 2021).

During her career, Magdalena has worked with the world’s leading conductors, including Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Gustavo Dudamel, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Roger Norrington. Her list of distinguished recital partners includes the pianists Daniel Barenboim, Malcolm Martineau, András Schiff and Mitsuko Uchida, with whom she has performed at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, and at the Aldeburgh, Edinburgh and Salzburg festivals. She is also in demand as soloist with the Berlin, Vienna and Czech Philharmonics, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras.

Magdalena bookends her 2022/23 season with two European piano recital tours: firstly with Yefim Bronfman at Edinburgh, Merano and Helsinki Festivals, Philharmonie Essen, Musikfest Berlin and Schloss Elmau and later with Mitsuko Uchida in Antwerp, Dortmund, Budapest and Prague Spring Festival. She re-joins her friends at Venice Baroque Orchestra for a concert tour of South America, performing a programme inspired by Handel’s Alcina and looks forward to reviving the role of Varvara (Káťa Kabanová) in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra and returning to Mozartwoche Salzburg in a semi-staged performance of Don Giovanni.

On the opera stage, Magdalena returns to the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin for Idamante (Idomeneo) and makes her operatic debut at the Gran Teatro del Liceu as Ottavia (Poppea). She also makes her much anticipated role debut in the title role of Alcina with Les Musiciens du Louvre in a tour to Paris, Hamburg, Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.

Magdalena was appointed a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2003 for her services to French music.

Simon Rattle  conductor
Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle was born in Liverpool and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. From 1980 to 1998, Sir Simon was Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and was appointed Music Director in 1990. In 2002 he took up the position of Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker where he remained until the end of the 2017/2018 season. Sir Simon took up the position of Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra in September 2017. He will remain in this position until the 2023/2024 season, when he will become the orchestra’s Conductor Emeritus. From the 2023/2024 season Sir Simon will take up the position of Chief Conductor with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in Munich. He is a Principal Artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Founding Patron of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Sir Simon has made over 70 recordings for EMI record label (now Warner Classics) and has received numerous prestigious international awards for his recordings on various labels. He regularly tours within Europe and Asia and has strong longstanding relationships with the world’s leading orchestras and opera houses.

Music education is of supreme importance to Sir Simon, and his partnership with the Berliner Philiharmoniker broke new ground with the education programme Zukunft(zavinac)Bphil, earning him the Comenius Prize, the Schiller Special Prize from the city of Mannheim, the Golden Camera and the Urania Medal. He and the Berliner Philharmoniker were also appointed International UNICEF Ambassadors in 2004 – the first time this honour has been conferred on an artistic ensemble. In 2019 Simon announced the creation of the LSO East London Academy, developed by the London Symphony Orchestra in partnership with 10 East London boroughs. This free program aims to identify and develop the potential of young East Londoners between the ages of 11 and 18 who show exceptional musical talent, irrespective of their background or financial circumstance. Sir Simon has also been awarded several prestigious personal honours which include a knighthood in 1994, becoming a member of the Order of Merit from Her Majesty the Queen in 2014 and was recently bestowed the Order of Merit in Berlin in 2018. In 2019, Sir Simon was given the Freedom of the City of London.

The 2022/2023 season will see him conduct the London Symphony Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Staatskapelle Berlin, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for their special ‘Freedom’ concerts. He will return to the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin to revive Mozart’s Idomeneo, and in summer 2023 he returns to the Aix en Provence Festival with the London Symphony Orchestra, where they will perform Gerard McBurney’s Wozzeck. He will tour Japan and South Korea with the London Symphony Orchestra, and later in the season they will embark on a tour to Australia.

Compositions

Gustav Mahler
Symfonie č. 9 D dur

Andante comodo
Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers
Rondo. Burleske. Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig
Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend

After the monumental Eighth Symphony—known as the “Symphony of a Thousand”—with vocal soloists and choir, and after the vocal symphony Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), which the composer supposedly gave a programmatic title because of a fatalistic fear of the number nine (Beethoven, Bruckner, and Dvořák all wrote their ninth symphonies as their final symphonic creations), Gustav Mahler’s subsequent Ninth Symphony is more modest. Whether the tale of his fear of the number nine is true or just a legend nurtured by Alma Mahler, the composer did not cheat death. The Ninth Symphony became his last, while a tenth remained a torso, beautiful but unfinished.

Mahler’s symphonic oeuvre is remarkably complex. What is behind the musical structure shall forever remain a mystery that the composer did not reveal. In addition, unlike with the rest of his symphonies, there is a lack of details about the process by which the Ninth Symphony came into being. We do not learn much from the correspondence, nor can much be inferred from the preserved sketches, the first of which probably date from the summer of 1908. Mahler devoted his concentration to work on the symphony during the summer holiday of 1909 in the southern Tyrolean village Altschluderbach. At the time, he wrote to the conductor Bruno Walter: “You have guessed quite rightly the reason for my silence. I have been very hard at work, and I have finished a new symphony (my ninth). Unfortunately, the end of summer holiday is approaching, and I am in the annoying situation that—like always, once again this time—still completely out of breath, I have to leave behind paper and go back to the city and work. I am probably fated to it. The work itself (if I still know it because so far I have been writing as if under a spell, and now that I am beginning to orchestrate the last movement, I no longer remember the first) is a very agreeable enrichment of my little family. Something is said in it that I have had on the tip of my tongue for a long time—perhaps I would place it (as a whole) alongside the Fourth Symphony (but it is quite different). The score has been written down in terrible haste, and to someone else’s eyes it would certainly be illegible. I very much hope that this winter I shall manage to make a fair copy.” A comparison with the Fourth Symphony (1900) might seem odd. In the finale of the Fourth, Mahler uses the human voice for a musical setting of a text from the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) as a lovely depiction of heavenly joys. Das Lied von der Erde, which preceded the Ninth Symphony, is a farewell to life that creates, if you will, a kind of link between the Mahler of the aforementioned Fourth Symphony and that of the Ninth; the purely instrumental Ninth Symphony is likewise a farewell, but rather than a tragic parting, it is reconciled, equanimous. We also find a similarity with the Fourth Symphony in the placement of a slow movement at the conclusion.

Mahler finished orchestrating the Ninth Symphony in December 1909 in New York, where he had taken over leadership of the New York Philharmonic that autumn, but he never got to hear it played. Nonetheless, he was in error when in June 1909 he wrote to his wife Alma that “the works of human hands are fleeting and mortal, but that which remains is what one becomes by tireless striving. [...] What we leave behind ourselves, if anything, is just skin, a shell...” The work of a great personality is lasting, and Mahler knew it. After all, in a different context, he also wrote: “My time will come.”

The Vienna Philharmonic gave the posthumous premiere of the Ninth Symphony with Bruno Walter conducting on 26 June 1912 in the Great Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. Members of Vienna’s avant-garde understood the work immediately. Alban Berg called it the most beautiful thing that Mahler had ever written, and Arnold Schoenberg regarded the work as transcendent: “It almost seems as though this work must have a concealed author who used Mahler merely as his spokesman, as his mouthpiece. This symphony is no longer couched in the personal tone. It consists, so to speak, of objective, almost passionless statements of a beauty which becomes perceptible only to one who can dispense with animal warmth and feels at home in spiritual coolness. [...]It seems that the Ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not yet ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too near to the hereafter. Perhaps the riddles of this world would be solved, if one of those who knew them were to write a Tenth. And that probably is not to take place”, said Schoenberg in his memorable Prague lecture about Mahler given in the year of the symphony’s premiere. The Czech premiere took place on 6 November 1918 with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Otakar Ostrčil, a devoted interpreter of Mahler’s legacy. Another devoted interpreter was Alexander Zemlinsky, who performed the Ninth Symphony on 14 January 1923 with the orchestra of the New German Theatre and several times in the 1930s with the Czech Philharmonic as a guest conductor.

Mahler’s Ninth is very remote from classical formal models. It contains no clearly defined tonal relationships, and the two outer movements are both at a slow tempo. The symphony combines artful polyphonic writing with innovative harmonies. In the first movement, Mahler rejects the traditional handling of themes, yet at the same time the composer seems to be seeking a way back to it. The Scherzo “at the tempo of a leisurely landler” (the score says to play “somewhat clumsily and very coarsely”) has been likened to a dance of death. The composer dedicated the third movement, a burlesque rondo (to be played “very defiantly”) “to my brothers in Apollo”; its merriment is balanced on a precipice. Then the concluding Adagio dies away into nothingness and breaks all ties with earthly life.

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