violin, artistic director of the project
Josef Špaček is fast emerging as one of the most accomplished violinists of his generation. He studied with Itzhak Perlman at The Juilliard School in New York, Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and with Jaroslav Foltýn at the Prague Conservatory. He was a laureate of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, and won top prizes at the Michael Hill International Violin Competition in New Zealand, the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition in Denmark and the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York.
Highlights during the 2017/2018/2019 seasons include a return visit to the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht, as well as debuts with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Capitole de Toulouse and Thomas Søndergård, the Bamberger Symphoniker and Manfred Honeck, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Maxim Emelyanchev, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Michael Sanderling, the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and David Zinman, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg and Aziz Shokhakimov, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo and Tomáš Netopil, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra and Christian Vásquez, the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen and Daniel Blendulf and the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra and Lio Kuokman. He continues to appear as a soloist of the Czech Philharmonic for concerts, both in Prague and on tour, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, Jakub Hrůša and Thomas Adès.
Previous highlights include subscription concerts with the Czech Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev, a return visit to the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI Torino and James Conlon, his debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek, his Berlin debut with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin and Thomas Sanderling, his Amsterdam Concertgebouw debut with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Thomas Søndergård, his Tokyo debut with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and Jakub Hrůša and debuts with the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto and Gerard Korsten, the Sønderjylland Symphony Orchestra and Johannes Wildner and the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen and Adrien Perruchon (recorded by Mezzo Live HD TV), as well as recital debuts in among others Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and La Jolla, San Diego.
In addition to the above-mentioned orchestras, Josef Špaček has appeared across Europe, the US and Asia with orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, PKF – Prague Philharmonia, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Essener Philharmoniker, Tonkünstlerorchester Niederösterreich, Orchestre National de Belgique, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony and Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
The late Jiří Bělohlávek was an avid supporter of Josef Špaček and regularly invited him. Other conductors he works with include Semyon Bychkov, James Conlon, Christoph Eschenbach, Asher Fisch, Valery Gergiev, Roy Goodman, Jakub Hrůša, Manfred Honeck, Eliahu Inbal, Jun Märkl, Rossen Milanov, Tomáš Netopil, Thomas Sanderling and Thomas Søndergård.
Josef Špaček gives recitals and takes part in chamber music festivals in Europe (among others at the Rudolfinum in Prague, Konzerthaus in Vienna, Evian Festival, Kaposfest and Schloß Elmau), Asia and the USA (i.a., Kennedy Center, La Jolla, ChamberFest Cleveland and Nevada Chamber Music Festival).
Supraphon released a highly praised recording of the violin concertos by Dvořák and Janáček, and of the Fantasy by Suk, with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek (“Recording of the Week” of The Sunday Times, “Recording of the Month and of the Year” of MusicWeb International and 5* in Diapason), as well as a recital CD with works for violin and piano by Smetana, Janáček and Prokofiev with pianist Miroslav Sekera. In 2010 he recorded works by H. W. Ernst for Naxos. His first CD, released in 2006, includes a complete recording of the Sonatas for Solo Violin by Eugène Ysaÿe.
He has served as concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the youngest in its history. The orchestra has named him “Associate Artist” as of January 2016.
Josef Špaček performs on the ca. 1732 “LeBrun; Bouthillard” Guarneri del Gesù violin, generously on loan from Ingles & Hayday.
In spite of his age, the conductor and horn player Ondřej Vrabec (born 1979) is one of the most seasoned Czech artists. Though the majority of his recent musical activities is represented by conducting, he benefits from his rich artistic experience derived from intensive concert career of a soloist, chamber and orchestra player dated long before the threshold of his adulthood. He joined the horn section of the Czech Philharmonic at the young age of seventeen to be definitely appointed its solo horn player two years later.
He is a graduate of the Prague Conservatory (horn – Bedřich Tylšar, conducting – Vladimír Válek, Hynek Farkač, Miriam Němcová, Miroslav Košler) and of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (conducting – Radomil Eliška, Jiří Bělohlávek, František Vajnar and others). He has complemented his studies with frequent master courses (such as the London Master Classes and HornClass); the most precious impulse for forming his artistic approach was the cooperation with the elite of the world wind instrument school (Sergio Azzolini, Maurice Bourgue) and the artistic support of several prominent contemporary conductors (Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Jiří Bělohlávek, Benjamin Zander, among others).
Ondřej Vrabec was the absolute winner of the Competition of Conservatories in Ostrava and a finalist of several other chamber music competitions (Concertino Praga, Mozart Society Competition, etc.) In 2007, he ranked fourth in the Prague Spring International Conducting Competition and won an honorable mention from the jury as well as two other special awards for the most successful Czech participant. In 2015, he was a finalist of the Tokyo International Conducting Competition and earned an honorable mention. As a soloist he has performed with many Czech and foreign orchestras (such as the Czech Philharmonic, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, Bavarian Chamber Orchestra, Solistes Européens Luxembourg, NCPA Orchestra Beijing, Augsburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Košice Philharmonic Orchestra, Rzeszow Philharmonic and Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra) under the direction of world-famous conductors such as Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Edo de Waart, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Ian Volkov and Lü Jia. He also often gives solo recitals.
He is an active chamber musician (especially with the Brahms Trio Prague and the PhilHarmonia Octet and formerly with the Maurice Bourgue Ensemble, the Juventus Quintet and the Czech Philharmonic Horn Club). He has made many recordings for Czech Radio and released a number of gramophone titles. The profile compact disc of the Brahms Trio Prague, realized in a unique manner under the music and sound direction of Ondřej Vrabec himself, has met with many positive responses of critics both at home and abroad. A reviewer of the prestigious American Fanfare Magazine called this recording of Trio in E flat major, Op. 40 by Johannes Brahms “the best I know...”
As a conductor, Ondřej Vrabec regularly collaborates with leading Czech orchestras including the Czech Philharmonic, where he is the Assistant to the Chief Conductor. As such, he was actually the most frequently performing conductor of the Czech Philharmonic after Jiří Bělohlávek. He also conducted some foreign orchestras (such as the Japan Philharmonic, New Japan Philharmonic, Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra, Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra Košice, Galeria Wind Orchestra Tokyo, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, State Philharmonic Oradea, Uzhgorod Philharmonic and Lviv Virtuosos Academic Chamber Orchestra) and has appeared at international festivals such as the Prague Spring, Mitte Europa, and Český Krumlov. He is a permanent member of the team of conductors of the Ostrava Days International New Music Festival, one of the biggest contemporary music events around the globe. His opera performances include world premieres of operas Lists of Infinity by Martin Smolka and Encounter by Mojiao Wang and also two complete productions ofLe nozze di Figaro at the Opera in Ústí nad Labem and at the Prague Comedy Theater. Together with the legendary choreographer Yuri Vámos he prepared a ballet version of The Midsummer Night Dream for the National Moravian-Silesian Theater. He led the Prague Philharmonia’s historic first tour to South Korea (2011) and China (2012–2013).
In association with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra he has recorded three CDs, namely the complete symphonic works by British composer Andrew Downes (Artesmon / Czech Philharmonic), Planets by Gustav Holst and Symphony No. 2 by Arthur Honegger (Octavia Records, Japan). He has recorded a DVD Metamorphoses from his tour with the Czech Philharmonic Collegium and the popular group Čechomor (Album of the Year 2002 – Universal Music) and a CD with concertos for violin and viola by Karl Stamitz with Gabriela Demeterová (Supraphon). He also leads rehearsals of the Czech Philharmonic on behalf of world-famous maestros (Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Valery Gergiev, Manfred Honeck, Jiří Bělohlávek).
Gustav Holst (1874–1934) wrote his First Suite for Military Band Op. 29, No. 1 in 1909, yet it was only performed in public in 1920. He composed it for concert wind orchestra, which was unusual at the time. A trombonist himself, Holst mastered the technical possibilities of the wind instruments. The first movement is based on the ostinato theme in the bass, gradually taken up and developed by the instruments. The composer’s sense of instrumentation of a purely wind orchestra is largely evident in the second movement (Intermezzo), while the final section (March) possesses a slight tint of jazz rhythms.
Similarly to his piano sonatas and symphonies, the string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) can serve to reveal the development of the composer’s personal style. The String Quartet in F minor Op. 95, written in 1810 and 1811, was kept secret from audiences for some time, with the reason being its intimate nature. According to Beethoven biographers, the piece’s overall grim atmosphere was connected with his private life, particularly the incipient loss of hearing and several ill-fated love affairs, yet a more credible explanation seems to be of a creative character. Beethoven was aware that he had come up with new features, and so he decided to revise the work shortly before its being performed in public.
The first movement is very brief, yet abounding in inner contrasts. The contradictions in the following movement are exposed in a similarly direct manner. The chromatic connections and contrapuntal work are a surprising element in the second movement. The third movement is a scherzo, yet with the tempo designation “serioso”, on the basis of which the string quartet is commonly referred to as such. The sonata-rondo of the final movement is extremely segmented.
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) reworked two quartets for string orchestra which were already distant history in his time. They were pieces of kindred moods: Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor, “Death and the Maiden”, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in F minor Op. 95.
Paul Hindemith (1895–1963) composed his Symphony in B flat major in 1951. Made up of three movements, it applies the pre-Classicist model, based on the fast-slow-fast tempo contrast. The first movement is in the sonata form, with the main theme being delivered by cornets and trumpets, and the tension being created by the alternation of 2/4 and 3/4 time. The second theme is presented by the oboe and repeated by the tenor saxophone, bassoon and clarinet. The second movement is opened by the cornet and alto saxophone, with the individual instruments employing virtuoso elements. The third movement is a fugue, Hindemith’s personal, modern tribute to the Baroque masters he so admired.
Richard Strauss (1864–1949) created his Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings towards the end of World War II and it is widely believed that the piece served to express his mourning at Germany’s destruction, particularly the theatres in Munich, Dresden and Berlin which had premiered his works. In one of Strauss’s last opuses, the Neo-Romantic orchestra is brought to the very limit of its possibilities. The piece has a dark minor-key colouration and lacks the composer’s typical effects, with the melody undergoing constant, yes, metamorphoses. Near the very end of the composition, several bars of the funeral march theme from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”, are directly quoted.
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) dedicated his 1920 one-movement Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Symphonies d'instruments à vent)to the memory of Claude Debussy, who had died in 1918. In the first decades of the 20th century, the conception of instrumentation underwent significant change, with the composers abandoning the compact sound of the symphony orchestra, focusing instead on individual instrumental groups and affording a major colouring and structural role to instruments, thereby transforming ensembles into sets of soloists.
For a long time, the highly original application of wind instruments was typical of French creators, hence the texture of the Symphonies d'instruments à ventcan also be deemed a demonstration of Stravinsky’s admiration for this tradition. The piece’s form does not correspond to that of a symphony, not only owing to its only being made up of a single movement, but also its lacking the sonata structure. It alternates themes of various natures. The Symphonies d'instruments à ventwas premiered on 10 June 1921 in London. In 1947, when Stravinsky was granted American citizenship, he remade the piece for 23 instruments, while retaining the validity of the first version.
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