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Each year, one of our concerts features the Czech Philharmonic Winds led by the conductor and French horn player Ondřej Vrabec. This year, the ensemble will be expanded to the size of a band for a programme of larger-scale works by Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Copland.
Fanfare for The Common Man (4')
Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (21')
— Intermission —
Signals from Heaven – I. Day Signal (2')
Paul Hindemith | arr. for wind band G. Duker
Mathis der Maler (30')
Signals from Heaven – II. Night Signal (3')
Czech Philharmonic Wind Harmony
Ondřej Vrabec conductor
Kristina Marková Stepasjuková piano
The original Czech Philharmonic Wind Ensemble was founded within the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in 1967 by its prominent wind instrument players under the patronage of Chief Conductor Karel Ančerl. The basis of the ensemble was a classic octet (pairs of oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn), complemented by flutes or other instruments, mostly brass ones. The word Harmonie designates an ensemble of mostly wind instruments established during the era of Classicism as an autonomous orchestra playing wind and brass repertoire, and is also figuratively used for a wind section of a symphony orchestra. Until 1995 when it ceased to exist, the Czech Philharmonic Wind Ensemble recorded many gramophone records and later compact discs for the Supraphon label, spanning music from the Baroque to the present day, including many premieres of contemporary Czech music. The discography of the Czech Philharmonic Wind Ensemble consists of the complete works for wind instruments by Ludwig van Beethoven, serenades and divertimenti by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, compositions by Leoš Janáček, František Vincenc Kramář-Krommer, Antonín Dvořák, Karel Janeček, Ivo Jirásek, Jiří Pauer, Jaroslav Rybář, etc. In 1972 the ensemble was awarded the Wiener Flötenuhr (Viennese Musical Clock) for its recording of Mozart’s serenades and divertimenti. The ensemble also gave concerts both in the Rudolfinum and elsewhere. It regularly performed at the International Prague Spring Festival as well as at the festivals in Salzburg and Lucerne.
This tradition is now followed by the Czech Philharmonic Wind Harmony, consisting exclusively of the players of the Czech Philharmonic. It was established in the 2018/2019 season as part of the project of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra as its version for wind instruments.
Kristina Marková Stepasjuková studied the piano at the Pardubice Conservatory (under Inna Tolmačová) and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (under Ivan Klánský), from which she graduated with a doctorate (P. I. Tchaikovskyʼs solo piano works). She then went on to study chamber music at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna (with Avedis Kouyoumdjian), and also attended a number of masterclasses (led by V. Ashkenazi, P. Jasmin, M. Perrahia, etc.).
She has garnered many accolades at national and international competitions (Prague Junior Note, Mozart Wunderkind in Vienna, Beethoven Hradec, Concorso Pianistico Internazionale Roma, Romantische Stern in Kassel, etc.), and has won prizes for piano accompaniment or chamber music performance at home and abroad (e.g. ISA Challenge – Klavierkammermusik).
In 2016, with the Czech Philharmonic’s Orchestral Academy, conducted by Ondřej Vrabec, she gave the world premiere of the British composer Peter Seaborne’s Piano Concerto No. 2. She has performed at festivals in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Japan and Russia.
Kristina Marková Stepasjuková is currently a member of the piano accompaniment sections at the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.
Ondřej Vrabec is an extraordinary figure on the Czech music scene. After over two decades he continues to successfully advance his artistic career as an award-winning conductor, seasoned solo horn player at the Czech Philharmonic, sought-after chamber musician, respected teacher at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and, newly, as Chiefconductor of the Carlsbad Symphony Orchestra.
He graduated from the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, supplementing his studies with numerous master classes. As a conductor, Ondřej Vrabec performs with many orchestras around the world (e.g. Japan Philharmonic, New Japan Philharmonic, Budapest Dohnányi Orchestra, Reykjavík Chamber Orchestra, London Soloists Chamber Orchestra) as well as in the Czech Republic, including the Czech Philharmonic (chief conductor’s assistant from 2014 to 2017). For many years he was a member of an international team of conductors at the renowned festivals of contemporary music Ostrava Days and NODO.
The American composer, teacher, and conductor Aaron Copland grew up in Brooklyn in a musical environment, but he first received thorough musical training from Nadia Boulanger in Paris. A fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation soon enabled him to devote himself exclusively to composing. Gradually he also became involved with organising musical events and teaching. He served as the chairman of the League of American Composers and of the American branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music. His first compositions combined elements of neoclassicism and jazz (Music for the Theatre, Piano Concerto), but his lack of public success led him to simplify his compositional language and to turn away from symphonic music in favour of film music, music for young people, ballets (Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Appalachian Spring), and opera. Copland became one of America’s most important composers of the interwar period.
Copland wrote the brilliant, untroubled Fanfare for The Common Man in 1942, which was premiered in March 1943 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Eugene Goossens. The piece inspired a number of later compositions including firm music. During the First World War, Goossens asked English composers to write fanfares to open symphonic concerts, and that proved to be so successful that he did the same thing during the Second World War in America. Of the 18 fanfares written for this purpose, only Copland’s has remained in the repertoire. The composer wrote it in reaction to the entry of the USA into the war.
Igor Stravinsky came from Oranienbaum, not far from Saint Petersburg. He was born to a musical, aristocratic family; his father was a bass opera singer at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg and was a friend of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Stravinsky studied law for four years, then in 1907 he began studying music privately with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The first public performances of his works came in 1908, and a year later Sergei Diaghilev commissioned a new ballet from him. The Paris premiere of The Firebird (1910) opened doors to him in Europe. His reputation was enhanced by the subsequent ballets Petrushka (1911) and especially The Rite of Spring (1913), a musical depiction of archaic rituals. That ballet’s unrestrained dancing and aggressive rhythms provoked a scandal at the premiere. During the interwar period, jazz influences and Neoclassicism (Piano-Rag-Music; the ballet Pulcinella) supplanted the inspiration from Russian folklore that had typified his first stylistic period. In 1939 Stravinsky abandoned Europe for the USA, and towards the end of the Second World War he began to take an interest in suprapersonal, biblical subject matter and in music from before the Baroque period. In the 1950s, he developed his own approach to serial techniques, which he employed in his later works (Threni, Requiem canticles etc.).
The Concerto for Piano and Winds Instruments (which also has parts for contrabass and timpani) became Stravinsky’s first major work for piano. He wrote it in Paris in 1923–1924 and revised the score in 1950. It was one of the works that signalled the end of the earlier Russian folklore period and opened the door to neoclassicism and jazz, alongside his Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920). Stravinsky long maintained the exclusive rights to perform the work, which contrasts calm passages with sections where the orchestra and piano engage in dynamic motion. In this concerto, the robust sound of the piano stands out comfortably in any context, and it is used not only for virtuosic passages, but also as an exceptionally agile percussion instrument.
Tōru Takemitsu was one of the most successful Japanese composers writing music in the style of what we call Western classical music, which he combined with elements of folk lore, traditional melody, and the use of Japanese instruments. He got his first experiences with Western music listening to American radio broadcasts while working for the American occupying forces at the end of the Second World War. He developed an aversion to traditional Japanese music at an early age, and under the influence of Western music, he began teaching himself to compose when he was 16 years old. Gradually, however, he supplemented his musical training, and in 1958 he was strongly influenced by meeting Igor Stravinsky, who heard a composition by Takemitsu while visiting Japan. During the 1960s, the composer renewed his interest in Japanese music and began writing works combining the cultures of the East and West – in 1967 he employed this combination in the composition November Steps for biwa, shakuhachi, and orchestra, which was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 125th anniversary. Takemitsu regarded the blending of cultures and musical styles as the basis for a new worldwide trend leading to the uniting of all nations.
Takemitsu composed his two antiphonal fanfares Signals from Heaven in 1987. The first, Day Signal, was commissioned for celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the Select Live Under the Sky Jazz Festival in Tokyo, and the second, Night Signal, was commissioned by the Scottish National Orchestra Society for the Musica Nova contemporary music festival in Glasgow. Today, these two short pieces frame a major work by Paul Hindemith. Day Signal serves as a wakeup in the morning, while the calmer Night Signal announces bedtime.
The German composer Paul Hindemith played violin from an early age, and he later studied both violin and composition at the Frankfurt Conservatoire. In 1915 he became the concertmaster of the Frankfurt Opera. At first, Hindemith composed in a romantic idiom inspired by Brahms and Reger, but soon his style became sharply dissonant. His music began to employ elements of parody and jazz and went in the direction of the “New Objectivity”, an aesthetic movement of the musical avant-garde after the First World War, which rejected the emotionality of Romanticism and was stylistically oriented towards Neoclassicism. Hindemith set out to shock the traditionalist, bourgeois public, and he succeeded in doing so with his operas (e.g. Sancta Susanna, The Nusch-Nuschi) and chamber music. Hindemith became the violist of the Amar Quartet, which played a major role in promoting modern music in Germany. He was one of the figures behind the establishment of an avant-garde chamber music festival in Donaueschingen, and from 1927 to 1935 he taught composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. From in the 1920s, he and Igor Stravinsky were among the chief representatives of tendencies towards Neoclassicism. After the Nazis came to power, he was forced to emigrate, and taught in Ankara, the USA, and Zurich. He also wrote treatises on music theory. Hindemith’s works encompass nearly ever musical genre from operas (Cardillac, Die Harmonie der Welt etc.) to symphonies, chamber music, oratorios, cantatas, and film music.
Mathis der Maler is Hindemith’s most frequently performed opera. He wrote his own libretto about the life of Matthias Grünewald, an important painter of the German Renaissance. The opera was the composer’s reaction to the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s and was meant as a defence of artists’ freedom of expression. Before finishing the libretto, Hindemith composed three orchestral passages that became the movements of a symphony performed in March 1934 by Wilhelm Furtwängler in Berlin. This evening, we will be hearing the Mathis der Maler Symphony, one of the most successful compositions of its day, in an arrangement for winds by Guy M. Drucker.