Czech Chamber Music Society • Calidore Quartet


The young Calidore Quartet (USA) is coming to Prague for the first time, joined by the superb Czech pianist Ivo Kahánek in a work by C. Franck, who has a major anniversary this year. Fans of the Czech quartet literature will certainly enjoy their interpretation of Smetana’s quartet “From My Life”.

  • Subscription series I
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  • Duration of the programme 1 hour 45 minutes
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  • Czech Chamber Music Society

Programme

Wynton Marsalis
At the Octoroon Balls (15')

Bedřich Smetana
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, “From My Life” (30')

— Intermission —

César Franck
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 14 (39')

Performers

Calidore Quartet
Jeffrey Myers violin I
Ryan Meehan violin II
Jeremy Berry viola
Estelle Choi cello

Ivo Kahánek piano

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society Calidore Quartet

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall


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Performers

Calidore Quartet  

The Calidore String Quartet are renowned for their “deep reserves of virtuosity and irrepressible dramatic instinct” (New York Times). For more than a decade, the Calidore has enjoyed performances and residencies in world’s major venues and festivals, released multiple critically acclaimed recordings and won numerous awards. The Calidore is recognized as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of a vast repertory; from the cycles of quartets by Beethoven and Mendelssohn to works of celebrated contemporary voices like György Kurtag, Jörg Widmann and Caroline Shaw.

The 2022–2023 season includes debuts in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid and Vancouver and returns to Wigmore Hall, Kennedy Center, Florence or Los Angeles. In September 2022, the Calidore performs at Carnegie Hall with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, in a memorial concert honoring the late composer André Previn. They also enjoy collaborations this season with the Emerson String Quartet, clarinetist Anthony McGill, bassist Xavier Foley, violist Matthew Lipman and harpist Bridget Kibbey. In their most ambitious recording project to date, the Calidore are preparing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s String Quartets for Signum Records. 

Recipient of a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant and a 2017 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, the Calidore String Quartet first made international headlines as winner of the $100,000 Grand Prize of the 2016 M-Prize International Chamber Music Competition. The quartet was the first and only North American ensemble to win the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, was a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and is currently in residence with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

Dedicated teachers and passionate supporter of music education, the Calidore String Quartet is committed to mentoring and educating young musicians, students, and audiences. In 2021 the Calidore joined the faculty of the University of Delaware School of Music and serve as artistic directors of the newly established Graduate String Quartet Fellowship Residency and the University of Delaware Chamber Music Series. 

The Calidore String Quartet was founded at the Colburn School in Los Angeles in 2010. Within two years, the quartet won grand prizes in virtually all the major US chamber music competitions, including the Fischoff, Coleman, Chesapeake, and Yellow Springs competitions. The Calidore was mentored by some of the most revered personalities and performers of the international chamber music scene including the Emerson Quartet, Quatuor Ébène, Andre Roy, Arnold Steinhardt or David Finckel. An amalgamation of “California” and “doré” (French for “golden”), the ensemble’s name represents its reverence for the diversity of culture and the strong support it received from its original home: Los Angeles, California, the “golden state.”

Ivo Kahánek  piano
Ivo Kahánek

A musician of tremendous emotional power, depth, and expressiveness, Ivo Kahánek has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting artists of his generation. He is universally recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of Romantic piano music and is a particular specialist in Czech repertoire (awarded e.g. by Dispaison d’Or). He possesses a rare gift of creating an immediate and compelling emotional connection with his audiences. Kahánek came to public attention after winning the Prague Spring International Music Competition in 2004 and performing at the 2007 Proms Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek. He has collaborated with the most prestigious orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic (Sir Simon Rattle), the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic, and many others. He is a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

Compositions

Wynton Marsalis
At the Octoroon Balls

Wynton Marsalis, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a very versatile musician. His father was a jazz pianist and three of his five brothers are also jazz musicians. He is known to the music community as an accomplished jazz trumpeter and performer of classical works. Among other things, his versatile talent is evidenced by the fact that he is the only musician so far to have won a Grammy Award in both the jazz and classical categories in the same year (he has received nine in total so far). His classical recordings include concert, chamber and solo works for trumpet from the Baroque to the 20th century. He is also a prolific composer of smaller jazz pieces as well as major works such as the oratorio Blood on the Fields and the monumental jazz symphony All Rise. This symphonic opus for a big band, a gospel choir and a symphony orchestra, drawing from jazz and blues to classical and world music, was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, which also gave its first performance under the direction of Kurt Masur. Marsalis’s Blues Symphony, which uses elements of blues and ragtime, was premiered by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2009. A year later, the Berlin Philharmonic premiered Marsalis’s Swing Symphony. One of his most successful recent works is the four-movement Violin Concerto in D major, recorded by the violinist Nicola Benedetti with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Decca.

Marsalis’s first string quartet, At the Octoroon Balls, was commissioned by Lincoln Center in New York in 1995. It is inspired by the life of the Creole minority in New Orleans with its culture and social customs. The word “Creole” was formerly used in New Orleans to refer to the descendants of settlers of French and Spanish descent, and later to people of mixed European and black descent whose ancestors included Africans or Native Americans. The word “octoroon” then referred to a person who was one-eighth black by descent from a great-grandparent. Marsalis was surrounded by traditional Creole music during his childhood and teen years in New Orleans. The quartet consists of seven movements that evoke places and events associated with this city and its Creole inhabitants. “A ball is a ritual and a dance,” Marsalis says about his inspiration. “Everybody was in their finest clothing. At the Octoroon Balls there was an interesting cross-section of life. People from different stratums of society came together in pursuit of pleasure and fulfillment. The music brought people together.”

Bedřich Smetana
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor “From My Life”

Bedřich Smetana’s chamber music pieces are low in numbers, but significant in their contribution to international music. In several cases, the intimate nature of chamber music gave Smetana the opportunity to cope artistically with the circumstances of his own life. He composed Piano Trio in G minor in response to the death of his four-year-old, musically gifted daughter Bedřiška. His two string quartets, both of which Smetana composed after losing his hearing, are a deeply personal account of his life as a man and an artist.

Smetana began work on his String Quartet No.1 in E minor “From My Life” in the fall of 1876 – it was his first chamber composition in two decades. Shortly before that, he had moved to Jabkenice in the Mladá Boleslav region to live permanently with his daughter Žofie and her husband Josef Schwarz, a head forester of the Thurn-Taxis princes. In a letter to his friend Josef Serbian, dated April 1878, Smetana writes, “My intention was to paint a tone picture of my life,” and continues to give a detailed account of the ideas behind the individual movements. The quartet is an example of a programmatic chamber piece, which was rather rare at the time – the public was more used to encountering programmatic content in symphonic music or in works for piano.

The first movement is in sonata form and refers to the composer’s youth full of artistic ideals and the Romantic inspiration, but there is already an announcement of his future misfortune, “the call of fate to the struggle of this life” – a central melodic idea that appears right at the beginning in the viola part. The second movement – Allegro moderato à la polka – takes us back to the dance halls and to the time when Smetana achieved his first successes as a composer of lively dance tunes. The second movement represents a welcome change of the dramatic atmosphere of the first movement and the resignation to fate at its end, it is. The middle section of the scherzo movement features a trio section marked meno vivo, in which the violin’s drawn-out chords are heard above the polka accompaniment of viola and cello, transferring us to the setting of aristocratic salons. The following deeply lyrical and heartfelt movement in the form of a rondo was characterized by Smetana in this way: “The third movement reminds me of the happiness of my first love, of the girl who later became my faithful wife.” The cello solo that introduces the third movement softly repeats the main “fateful” theme of the first movement. The final movement, again in sonata form, is divided into two sections. It expresses the composer’s roots in Czech national music and his “joy in following this path”. Suddenly, however, the musical flow is interrupted by a warning high E played by the violin, similar to the high-pitched tones ringing in Smetana’s before he went deaf. The movement ends with muted reminiscences of the themes of the first movement – in resigned acceptance of fate.

César Franck
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 14

8 November marks exactly 200 years since the birth of the Belgian-French composer, pianist and organist César Franck. He was born in Liège and from an early age showed extraordinary musical talent. He made his first concert tour when he was just 12 years old. A year later he came to Paris, where he studied privately with Anton Reicha. In 1837 he was officially admitted to the Paris Conservatoire. Later he taught at this school himself, and his class produced a number of outstanding graduates, including Ernest Chausson, Vincent dʼIndy and Louis Vierne. In 1858 he was appointed organist at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, a position he held until his death. As organist, he also worked closely with the legendary organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, whose instruments he commissioned for special concerts throughout France. Cavaillé-Coll’s instruments also influenced Franck’s compositional thought – he became known as a composer of “symphonic works” for organ. His series Six pièces pour Grand Orgue, for example, has made history in organ music. In the last 15 years or so of his life he used his creative abilities to greater effect. In chamber music, Franck is best known for his three late works – Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, Piano Quintet in F minor and String Quartet in D major.

Franck composed Piano Quintet in F minor in 1879 and dedicated it to his friend Saint-Saëns, who played the piano part at the premiere (although he reportedly did not personally appreciate the piece because of its excessive pathos). The quintet is an example of the cyclical form often used by Franck, where the thematic material from the first movement appears in the following movements and all together they form an organic whole. A dramatic introduction by the strings is followed by a subtle response from the piano. The dialogue continues for a while, followed by the main part of the movement (Allegro), whose first theme draws on the opening violin motif. Franck based the second theme on the material of the preceding solo piano passages. The whole movement is characterized by considerable dynamic contrasts which underline its passion. The melancholic middle movement introduces a certain calm, but the unstable harmonies and alternation of minor and major keys seem almost surreal at times, as if to further emphasize the unfulfilled longing. The stormy final movement impresses with the main theme played with increasing dynamics in unison by all the strings over the piano accompaniment. Shortly before the end reappears the theme from the first movement, which is also the main idea of the whole piece (it is also briefly heard in the middle of the second movement).

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