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Chief conductor Semyon Bychkov will appear with two orchestras in a single evening: the Czech Student Philharmonic and the Czech Philharmonic. The student orchestra, which as been taking part in a growing number of projects at the Rudolfinum in recent years, will play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47
Semyon Bychkov conductor
Czech Student Philharmonic
“I am greatly looking forward to appearing in this programme on the same stage with the members of the Czech Philharmonic together with our young student orchestra. To me, there is symbolism in the combination of these two works because I regard Shostakovich as the Beethoven of the 20th century. While Beethoven suffered physically, Shostakovich suffered mentally. In this sense, there is a special connection between the fates of the two men, just as there is between the two symphonies. In the case of Beethoven, his former hero Napoleon, to whom he had originally dedicated his Eroica, had now turned into his enemy, attacking Austria and even occupying Vienna in 1805. Originally, Shostakovich had to speak of his Fifth Symphony as ‘a Soviet composer’s response to just criticism’. But to his friends, he admitted that the conclusion was a satirical portrait of a dictator, deliberately empty but swimming in boundless flattery”, says Bychkov.
In the modern history of the Czech Philharmonic, when the first steps were being taken towards an educational programme, the idea arose in 2006 – while Václav Riedlbauch was still the executive director – of giving symphonic concerts for student audiences, i.e. for a new generation of listeners. And who would be playing? The Czech Philharmonic, of course! The problem was that the orchestra was already so busy that their participation in such concerts was out of the question. So the choice fell to the former Prague Student Orchestra, an ensemble with many years of tradition of a youthful, enthusiastic approach to music. This worked wonderfully, because the students in the audience saw their peers on stage. For these concerts, the ensemble took the name Czech Student Orchestra. Bound by their love of music, these musicians gave performances from 2006 to 2010 under the leadership of the conductor Marko Ivanović, playing such works as Janáček’s Sinfonietta, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Cello Concerto, and Te Deum, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suite.
When new management took over in 2011, the Czech Philharmonic greatly expanded its educational activities, and that was an opportunity for renewal of the student orchestra’s activities, renamed as the Czech Student Philharmonic. The idea is to give the rising generation of musicians – mostly students at music schools, whether grammar schools with a music emphasis, conservatoires, or academies of music – the regular opportunity of rehearsing and performing great symphonic, concertante, and choral works. Over time, the efforts turned towards creating a permanent orchestra that would support its members in the perfecting of their ensemble playing and in the creation of long-term relationships and mutual understanding. The Czech Student Philharmonic musicians also serve as “bearers of light” in relation to their peers by showing them that young people can love classical music and can present it enthusiastically to others.
Since the 2013/2014 season, the orchestra has been performing regularly at concerts of the Czech Philharmonic’s educational series Four Steps to the New World (under the baton of Marko Ivanović), and at the series Penguins at the Rudolfinum (with Vojtěch Jouza) and Who’s Afraid of the Philharmonic? (with Ondřej Vrabec). In April 2019, the Czech Student Philharmonic appeared with Ida Kelarová and the Čhavorenge children’s choir at Šun Devloro concerts – musical celebrations of International Romani Day. In November 2019, the orchestra played under the baton of Robert Kružík at the Students’ Day Concert with the participation of Joachim Gauck and Petr Pithart.
In June 2020 the conductor Simon Rattle came to Prague insisting that he did not want to conduct just the Czech Philharmonic, but also “some orchestra with young people”. When the choice fell to the Czech Student Philharmonic, that was an enormous challenge for its members. Sir Simon enjoyed working with the young musicians, and he was unsparing in his praise: “The Czech Student Philharmonic reminds me of the orchestra of the Verbier Festival, which is made up of the best music students from all around the world, led by players from the Metropolitan Opera. That’s the level they are on.” Those are nice, flattering words, but they also mean an enormous obligation for all of the young musicians, as far as their future is concerned. Each individually and all of them together have it within their reach through the power of their common bond to remain diligent and conscientious in their preparation and to concentrate as attentively as possible. In the autumn of 2020 they were able to play just two concerts with Josef Špaček in the dual role of soloist and conductor. “I would really like to work with them again sometime; they were so attentive and kind! I had an incredibly good time with them,” said Josef Špaček afterwards.
Celebrating both his fifth season as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic and his 70th birthday, Semyon Bychkov will celebrate his birthday with three concerts in November pairing Beethoven’s Fifth with Shostakovich’s Fifth. It is a season which opens in Prague with the official concert to mark the Czech Republic’s Presidency of the EU and continues with concert performances of Dvořák’s Rusalka as part of the Dvořákova Prague International Music Festival. Later in the season, Bychkov will conduct Rusalka at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Bychkov's tenure at the Czech Philharmonic was initiated in 2018 with concerts in Prague, London, New York and Washington marking the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. With the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project in 2019, Bychkov and the Orchestra turned their focus to Mahler. In 2022, Pentatone has already released two discs in the ongoing complete symphonic cycle – Mahler’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies.
Bychkov's repertoire spans four centuries. The unique combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy ensure that his performances are highly anticipated. In addition to being a guest with the major orchestras and opera houses across Europe and the US, Bychkov holds honorary titles with the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – and the Royal Academy of Music from whom he recently received an Honorary Doctorate. In 2015, he was named "Conductor of the Year’ by the International Opera Awards.
Bychkov began recording for Philips in 1989 and released discs with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne included a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, together with works by Strauss, Mahler, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Verdi, Glanert and Höller. His 1992 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library recommended recording (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 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, he 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 in 1975. He returned in 1989 as Principal Guest Conductor of the St Petersburg Philharmonic and, the same year, was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. In 1997, Bychkov was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, and in 1998, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Po dokončení své Třetí symfonie v roce 1804 začal Ludwig vanBeethoven s prvními skicami díla, které by dále rozvíjelo tutéž ideu – boj završený šťastným vítězstvím. Vlastní kompozice Symfonie č. 5 c moll op. 67, která z těchto skic vzešla, probíhala v letech 1807–1808 souběžně se Šestou symfonií. Obě díla poprvé zazněla na koncertě v Divadle na Vídeňce 22. 12. 1808.
Svou Pátou symfonií pokračoval Beethoven ve svém úsilí o koncipování symfonie jako celistvého hudebního útvaru neustále gradujícího od začátku až do finále, nikoli sledu samostatných vět, z nichž by hudebně nejzávažnější byla první věta, jak tomu bylo zvykem do té doby. Současně propojil všechny věty důsledným monotematismem – důrazný motiv, který symfonii otevírá a který jí dal na základě Beethovenova údajného výroku o bušení osudu na bránu později přídomek „Osudová“, proplouvá svým rytmem celým dílem. První věta uvedená zmíněným tématem je sevřenou sonátovou formou. Příznačná je její tónina c moll, ve starší barokní afektové estetice vyjadřující smutek a soužení, která byla v řadě dosavadních Beethovenových děl od Kantáty na smrt císaře Josefa II. přes Patetickou sonátu po smuteční pochod ze zmíněné Třetí symfonie atributem nejhlubší tragiky. Volná lyrická věta je variační formou se dvěma tématy zpracovanou na bázi ronda. Krajní části trojdílného scherza znovu operují se známým hlavním tématem první věty, jeho durové trio je energickým až tanečním fugatem. Na místě závěrečné reprízy nečekaně přijde mezihra, která vygraduje do radostného finále celé symfonie. Její extatický hymnický charakter podporují pochodové rytmy a výrazná instrumentace s významnou účastí dechových nástrojů. Beethoven zde využívá mimo jiné tří pozounů a vůbec poprvé ve své tvorbě i pikoly a kontrafagotu.