The ceremonial opening of the season will begin in the spirit of opera, commemorating the great works of Bedřich Smetana and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, but the focal point of the programme will be Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony. For Dmitri Shostakovich, who was constantly criticised by the Soviet regime for a lack of optimism, the Second World War amounted to a certain kind of artistic refuge: “Then the war came, and sorrow became something usual. We were able to speak about it, to weep openly for those whom we had lost. People ceased to be afraid of tears. Before the war, there was perhaps not a single family that had not lost someone – a father, brother, or dear friend. Everyone had someone to weep for, but they had to do so quietly, under their blankets, where no one could see them. Everybody was afraid of everybody else, and we were oppressed and smothered by sorrow. I, too, was suffocating. I had to write about it. I had to write a Requiem for all those who had died, who had suffered. I had to describe the terrible machinery of extermination and protest against it. The Seventh Symphony and Eighth Symphony are my Requiem. I feel boundless sorrow for those who were killed by Hitler, but my sorrow is no less great for those killed at Stalin’s orders. I suffer for everyone who was tortured, shot, or starved to death. There had been millions of these victims before the war with Hitler even began. The war brought many new sorrows and new devastation, but at the same time I did not forget about the horrors of the pre-war years. That is what my symphonies are about, including the Eighth.”
The Bartered Bride, overture to the opera
Polka, Furiant, Skočná, dances from the opera The Bartered Bride
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Eugene Onegin, Op. 24, letter scene from Act I of the opera
Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 65
Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov was born in Leningrad in 1952, immigrated to the United States in 1975, and has been based in Europe since the mid-1980s. Like the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the cultures both of the East and the West.
Following his early concerts with the Czech Philharmonic in 2013, Bychkov and the Orchestra devised The Tchaikovsky Project, a series of concerts, residencies and studio recordings which allowed them the luxury of exploring Tchaikovsky’s music together. Its first fruit was released by Decca in October 2016, followed in August 2017 by the release of the Manfred symphony. The projectculminates in 2019 with residencies in Prague, Vienna and Paris, and Decca’s release of all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini.
Fourteen years after leaving the former Soviet Union, Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, the same year as he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. His international career had taken off several years earlier when a series of high-profile cancellations resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In 1997, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, and the following year, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Bychkov conducts the major orchestras and at the major opera houses in the U.S. and Europe. In addition to his title with the Czech Philharmonic, he holds the Günter Wand Conducting Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with which he appears annually at the BBC Proms, and the honorary Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. He was named “Conductor of the Year” at the 2015 International Opera Awards. On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. With repertoire that spans four centuries, the coming season brings two weeks of concerts with the New York Philharmonic, which includes the US première of Thomas Larcher’s Symphony No. 2, and the Cleveland Orchestra where he will conduct Detlev Glanert, Martinů and Smetana. In Europe, his concerts include performances with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and the Royal Concertgebouw.
Bychkov’s recording career began in 1986 when he signed with Philips and began a significant collaboration which produced an extensive discography with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings – the result of his 13-year collaboration (1997–2010) with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne – include a complete cycle of Brahms’s Symphonies, and works by Strauss, Mahler, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Verdi, Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin was voted BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year in 2010; and his recent recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was selected as BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month.
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