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At its second appearance in Santander, the leading Czech orchestra will play an all-Czech programme. Dvořák’s energetic Carnival Overture will precede Bohuslav Martinů’s original Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra played by the Labèque sisters. Leoš Janáček's magnificent Glagolitic Mass with Czech soloists will close the evening.
Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, H 292
Glagolitic Mass, cantata for soloists, choir, orchestra and organ
Katia and Marielle Labèque pianos
Evelina Dobračeva soprano
Lucie Hilscherová alto
Aleš Briscein tenor
Jan Martiník bass
José Antonio Sainz Alfaro choirmaster
Semyon Bychkov conductor
“The best piano duo in front of an audience today”
New York Times
“The Labèque sisters are tremendous. They are great performers, and great interpreters. And they are wonderful supporters of music – not only modern music, but just music. It is great to work with them”
“Whether Mozart or Stravinsky, their musical line always sounds as if it’s being woven for the very first time... But the illusion of improvisation is the genius of their performances. In all their recordings there is a deceptive sprezzatura that is born of throwing the preparation to the winds and hanging onto each others ears.”
Katia and Marielle Labèque are sibling pianists renowned for their ensemble of synchronicity and energy. Their musical ambitions started at an early age and they rose to international fame with their contemporary rendition of Gershwinʼs Rhapsody in Blue (one of the first gold records in classical music) and have since developed a stunning career with performances worldwide.
They are regular guests with the most prestigious orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus, London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Filarmonia della Scala, Philadelphia Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle, Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam and Vienna Philharmonic, under the direction of Marin Alsop, Alain Altinoglu, Semyon Bychkov, Sir Colin Davis, Gustavo Dudamel, Gustavo Gimeno, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Pietari Inkinen, Louis Langrée, Zubin Mehta, Juanjo Mena, Andres Orozco-Estrada, Seiji Ozawa, Antonio Pappano, Matthias Pintscher, Georges Prêtre, Sir Simon Rattle, Santtu-Matias Rouvali, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leonard Slatkin, Michael Tilson Thomas and Jaap van Zweden.
They have appeared with Baroque music ensembles such as The English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Il Giardino Armonico with Giovanni Antonini, Musica Antica with Reinhard Goebel and Venice Baroque with Andrea Marcon, il Pomo d’Oro with Maxim Emelyanychev and also toured with The Age of Enlightenment & Sir Simon Rattle.
Katia and Marielle have had the privilege of working with many composers including Thomas Adès, Louis Andriessen, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Bryce Dessner, Philip Glass, Osvaldo Golijov, György Ligeti, Nico Muhly and Olivier Messiaen. At Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles they presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s new Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel. In spring 2017 also saw the world premiere of Bryce Dessner’s concerto at Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and John Storgards and in June 2020 a new concerto written by Nico Muhly, will receive its world premiere at Lincoln Center with New York Philharmonic and Jaap van Zweden.
The Labèques play in festivals and renowned venues worldwide including the Vienna Musikverein, Hamburg Musikhalle, Munich Philharmonie, Carnegie Hall, Royal Festival Hall, La Scala, Berlin Philharmonie, Blossom, Hollywood Bowl, Lucerne, BBC Proms, Ravinia, Tanglewood and Salzburg. An audience of more than 33,000 attended a gala concert with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at Berlin’s Waldbühne, now available on DVD (EuroArts). A record audience of more then 100.000 attended the Vienna Summer Night Concert in Schönbrunn (now available on CD and DVD by Sony). More than 1.5 million viewers followed the event worldwide on TV.
For their own label, KML Recordings, they have released a CD Box “Sisters”. Previous releases include a Gershwin/Bernstein album, and their project Minimalist Dream House (50 years of Minimalist music). The DVD “The Labèque Way, a letter to Katia and Marielle by Alessandro Baricco” produced by El Deseo (Pedro and Augustin Almodóvar) and filmed by Félix Cábez is released by EuroArts. Their biography “Une vie à quatre mains” by Renaud Machart is published by Buchet-Chastel.
Labèque’s label KML Recordings joined the historical label Deutsche Grammophon, their first collaboration being Stravinskyʼs Rite of Spring and Debussyʼs Epigraphes Antiques, followed by “Love Stories” with music by Leonard Bernstein and David Chalmin, “Amoria” a journey to their Basque roots covering five centuries of music, “Moondog”, a tribute to Louis Thomas Hardin, one of the true geniuses of his time. They just released a new album “El Chan” dedicated entirely to American composer Bryce Dessner, including his Concerto for two pianos with Orchestre de Paris conducted by Matthias Pintscher. The album is dedicated to the film director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritú, who created the album cover artwork.
Most recent performances include concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Camerata Salzburg, Elb Philharmonie Hamburg and Thom Yorke, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Semyon Bychkov, Dresden Staatskapelle at Easter Festival Salzburg with Andres Orozco-Estrada , Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic, including return visits to the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl and Cincinnati Symphony. At the invitation of the Philharmonie Hall in Paris for a special “Week End”, attention was focused on “Amoria”, “Invocations” and their new project for two guitars and two pianos with David Chalmin and Bryce Dessner including a piece written for them by Thom Yorke “Don’t fear the Light” with Thom Yorke as special guest.
Dramatic soprano Evelina Dobračeva began her musical career studying accordion, conducting and teaching in her hometown Syzran, Russia. She graduated with a diploma before relocating to Germany, where she began singing under the tuition of Norma Sharp, Snezana Nena Brzakovic and Julia Varady at the Hanns Eisler Music College Berlin. She claimed the highest level of scholarship from the German Republic and was a prize winner at the Würzburg Mozart Competition in 2006.
She performed at the Bayerische Staatsoper (Khovanshina), Cincinnati Opera (Tosca), Bolshoi Theatre (Pique Dame) and Theater St Gallen (Onegin and Fidelio). In concert she has recently sung Erwartung with the Capella Cracoviensis, the War Requiem with the LPO conducted by Vladimir Jurovsky, at Musikverein Vienna; Carnegie Hall and with the Spanish Radio, Verdi Requiem with the Scottish Orchestra, Mozarteum Salzburg, The Bells with Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Shostakovich 14 with Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
The Czech mezzo-soprano Lucie Hilscherová makes guest appearances at the National Theatre in Prague, the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava, the J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen, the Silesian Theatre in Opava, the State Theatre in Košice, and the Mannheim National Theatre. She has also appeared as Háta in The Bartered Bride in Tokyo (2010, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Suntory Hall, conductor Leoš Svárovský) and London (2011, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Barbican Hall, conductor Jiří Bělohlávek).
She is in demand for concert performances of the lieder and oratorio repertoire, and she also enjoys interpreting the works of contemporary composers. She has collaborated with important orchestras and conductors, appearing at such festivals as Musikfest Stuttgart, Beethovenfest Bonn, Grafenegg Musik-Sommer, Prague Spring, the Easter Festival of Sacred Music in Brno, Smetana’s Litomyšl, the St. Wenceslas Music Festival, and the Peter Dvorský International Music Festival in Jaroměřice.
Aleš Briscein studied clarinet, saxophone and opera singing at the Prague Conservatory. He has participated in prestigious festivals (Edinburgh International Festival or Prague Spring) and collaborated with outstanding orchestras and conductors, including Christoph von Dohnányi, Valery Gergiev, Sir John Eliot Gardiner or Tomáš Netopil.
Recent highlights include Der fliegende Holländer in Prague, War and Peace in Geneva, Makropulos Affair at Salzburg Festival, Dalibor and Die Königskinder in Frankfurt, Die tote Stadt in Berlin and Dresden, From the House of the Dead in Munich, Wozzeck in Vienna, Jenůfa in Bologna, Così fan tutte and Mazeppa in Berlin, Lohengrin in Erl and Two Widows in Angers and Nantes. His concert repertoire includes, among others, Mahler’s 8th symphony, Beethoven's 9th symphony and Missa solemnis, Dvořák’s Stabat mater, as well as Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, or Stravinsky’s Les Noces.
Young czech Bass Jan Martiník was born in 1983 in Ostrava where he studied on Janáček Conservatory and on the University of Ostrava with Eliška Pappová. 2003 he won the International Singing Competition Antonín Dvořák in Karlovy Vary in the category Junior and was also rewarded with the second prize in the category "Lied". Jan Martiník is laureate of the International Competition Jelena Obraztsova, where he won the special prize for the best Tchajkovsky romance. 2007 he was finalist in Placido Domingo´s Competition "Operalia" and in 2009 in Cardiff Singer of the World, where he won the category "Song".
While studying at the university he appeared in roles at the NDM Ostrava, including Pistola (Falstaff), Leporello (Don Giovanni) and Truffaldino (Ariadne auf Naxos). At the National Theatre Prague he sung roles including Masetto (Don Giovanni), Larkens and José Castro (La fanciulla del West), Leporello (Don Giovanni) in the new production in Estates theatre.
From 2008 to 2011 Jan Martiník was a member of Komische Oper Berlin, where he sung roles including Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Colline (La bohème), Surin (Pique Dame) and Nachtwächter (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg). In Volksoper Vienna he sung Betto (Gianni Schicchi), 1.Nazarener (Salome) as well as Zuniga in Carmen. Since 2012/13 Jan Martiník is a member of Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, where he performes roles including Colline (La Bohéme), Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Eremit (Der Freischütz), as well as Father Trulove (The Rake´s Progress).
In concerts the young Bass was working with well known orchestras such as Czech Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Brimingham Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as well as the King´s Consort and the Collegium 1704. Amongst other pieces of the concert repertoire he has performed Jesus in St. Matthews Passion, as well as the Aria Part, the Bass Parts in Mozart, Dvořák and Verdiʼs Requiem, Dvořák Te Deum, Beethovens 9. Symphony and Haydns Schöpfung. Jan Martiník is already known for his sincere interpretations of Schubertʼs Winterreise and Dvořák Biblical Songs.
The beauty of his voice matches with a splendid technique and a comical talent, which makes him one of the leading singers of the young generation.
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.
As Antonín Dvořák was fifty years old, he was faced with a difficult decision over whether to interrupt the promising progress of his career as a tireless European composer, a status he had achieved after years of effort, to abandon his recently obtained position as a professor at the Prague Conservatoire, and to set out across the Atlantic Ocean to meet a new challenge. Of course, middle-aged men need challenges, so having thought it over for half a year, Dvořák decided to accept the offer of the position of director of a conservatory in New York. There, he found a source of new inspiration that enabled him to compose his most famous works of the following three years. After all, who among us does not know his Ninth Symphony (“From the New World”), the String Quartet No. 12 (“American”), the Biblical Songs, Humoresques, and the Cello Concerto in B Minor?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While Dvořák’s fiftieth birthday was being celebrated in Prague on 8 September 1891, the composer was hard at work in seclusion in Vysoká near Příbram, composing and considering whether to go to America. He completed a cycle of three concert overtures, which were first played on 28 April 1892 at the Rudolfinum on a concert programme as part of a farewell tour that Dvořák gave before departing for the New World. At the premiere, the pieces still bore the original titles Nature, Life, and Love, and the whole work was linked together by themes of nature. The pieces got their final titles two years later when the first edition was published. The second overture was renamed Carnival. What Dvořák had in mind was not so much a masked ball as the metaphor of the “carnival of life”, which is well suited for New Year’s Eve and for celebrating the New Year. Carnival contrasts starkly with the other two overtures (In Nature’s Realm, Op. 91 and Othello, Op. 93). It is jubilant, energetic, and sonically intoxicating, yet in the middle section it is also meditative and dreamy. The brilliant orchestration greatly contributes to the music’s character, with plenty of brass and percussion including the tambourine, unusually for Dvořák.
Martinů was commissioned to composed the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra by the husband and wife Pierre Luboschutz and Genia Nemenoff, who together constituted a piano duo. Martinů met them in 1942 in the USA at the summer orchestral festival in Tanglewood, where he taught composition. He wrote the concerto during the first two months of 1943, and he dedicated it to the couple. In the programme for the world premiere on 5 November 1943 in Philadelphia (with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugen Ormandy and the dedicatees as the soloists), Martinů wrote: “In the Concerto, [...] I have used the pianos for the first time in the purely ʻsoloʼ sense, with the orchestra as accompaniment. The form is free; it leans rather toward the Concerto grosso. It demands virtuosity, brilliant piano technique, and the timbre of the same two instruments calls forth new colours and new sonorities.” In this way, he distanced himself from earlier concertante compositions in which he had also used two pianos in solo episodes: the Concerto grosso, H 263 (1937) and the Tre ricercari, H 267 (1938). The Belgian piano duo of Janine Reding-Piette and Henry Piette (also a married couple) enjoyed tremendous success with this Concerto from the mid-1950s onwards. They were “electrified” by the work, and they asked Martinů to compose a second concerto for two pianos and orchestra for them. Although the composer is said to have agreed, the work ultimately was never written because of his deteriorating health. After one performance, a critic wrote enthusiastically: “This concerto will be like the Tour de France; it’s going on a Tour du monde.” It seems that the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra is the “ideal type” not only for the concerto grosso form, as the composer commented, but also for piano duos consisting of close relatives, which is again the case at this evening’s performance.
Among great creative figures, Leoš Janáček is remarkable in that the older he got, the more “youthful”, original, and modern the music that he wrote became. This was perhaps because he had lost everything. Released by the cruelty of fate from his ties and concerns for his parents and his children, he was truly able to find himself. He cast aside conventions and tried to get to the heart of things.
Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass is one of the most powerful sacred compositions in music history. The 72-year-old composer wrote the music to the text in Old Church Slavonic in 1926 at his favourite spa, Luhačovice. “The rain in Luhačovice is pouring, just pouring. I look out of the window at the gloomy mountain Komoň. The clouds come rolling in, and the wind tears and scatters them. […] The darkness becomes denser and denser. Now I look out into the black of night; lightning slashes into the darkness.” That is how Janáček described the atmosphere that August, when he began writing his Glagolitic Mass. The decision was made quickly. Although he had taken an interest in the Old Church Slavonic text of the Mass a few years beforehand and had made a few sketches, the music that he ultimately began writing in Luhačovice had nothing in common with those sketches. For Janáček, starting the new work was quite emotional. His ideas had to mature, but once creative fervour had taken hold, he composed quickly. He sketched out the entire Mass in just three weeks! By October 1926, he had finished it. He made more quite substantial changes after the premiere, which took place on 5 December 1927 in Brno. Janáček was able to make cuts. He is never verbose; he is precise.
For example, in the movement “Věruju” (Credo) he shortened the orchestral interlude that contained a very powerful passage inducing the atmosphere before the choir begins singing about Christ’s crucifixion. Janáček originally scored this harsh passage for three (!) sets of tympani, and he combined them with expressive music for brass and organ. In a letter to Kamila Stösslová he wrote: “…so I’m doing a bit of a depiction of the legend that when Christ was stretched out on the cross, the heavens were torn. So I wrote rumbling and lightning…” His wife Zdena supposedly told him: “Leoš, that’s impossible; you’re cursing at the Lord God there.” And a while later Janáček said: “So I’ve gotten rid of the tympani there…”
Although the Glagolitic Mass is a musical setting of a liturgical text, the work is not confessional in character. To Ludvík Kundera’s review, in which he called the composer an “old man” and a “firm believer”, Janáček’s reply was “No old man, no believer, you youngster”. This is often quoted, but we must take it with a grain of salt. Janáček was unquestionably a spiritual person. He was raised in the environment of the church at the Benedictine Monastery in Old Brno. However, he was not a practicing Catholic. We know only that he brought his children up in faith and prayer. He apparently felt distanced from the Catholic Church, so he was attracted to the idea of writing a Mass, but to the Old Church Slavonic text.