The official opening concert of this year’s Dvořák Prague Festival promises a unique experience: the solo part in the most celebrated work in cello literature, Dvořák's famous Concerto in B minor, rendered by the legendary American cellist Yo-Yo Ma in collaboration with supreme interpreters of Dvořák’s music – the Czech Philharmonic under conductor Jiří Bělohlávek. And as a contrast to this work ranking among Dvořák’s most renowned we'll hear his rarely-performed Second Symphony.
Tickets and contact informationMore about tickets
Tickets are available on the website of Dvořákova Praha festival.
Dvořák Prague Festival Infopoint
Jan Palach square, Prague 1, Czech Republic
+420 775 875 875
Where to pick up tickets reserved online?
Tickets reserved on our website can be picked up at all the festival’s points of sale, except the Ticketpro network.
Where to pick up tickets that have already been purchased?
Tickets already paid for on our website can be picked up only at the Dvořák Prague Festival Ticket Centre, the Perfect System Service Centre, the box office of the Municipal hall, or starting 14 August 2017 also the box office of the Rudolfinum.
Turning sixty years old this year, Yo-Yo Ma stands among the very highest elite of solo performers and is often called the greatest cellist of the present day. Born in Paris to a musical family of Chinese origin, at the age of five he moved with his parents to New York. He was a true child prodigy, playing the violin and viola from his early childhood before switching definitively to cello at the age of four. When only five he gave his first public performance, and when seven he played for President John F. Kennedy. He is renowned for his diverse repertoire, ranging from the unaccompanied cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach through film music by John Williams to Chinese folk melodies. He collaborates with numerous first-class conductors, orchestras, and soloists, and has received many prestigious awards including the National Medal of Arts, the Glenn Gould Prize, and multiple Grammy Awards. Most often he plays a precious instrument from 1733 by the Italian master Domenico Montagnana.
Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Czech Philharmonic
Principal Guest Conductor, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor Laureate, BBC Symphony (London)
Renowned Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek was appointed Music Director and Artistic Director of the Czech Philharmonic in 2012, following on from his successful tenure as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, of which he is now a Conductor Laureate. He was Chief Conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra (1977–89), Music Director of the Prague Philharmonia (1994–2004), was appointed President of the Prague Spring Festival in 2006. From 2013 to 2017, he was Principal Guest Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
In opera, he has collaborated with the Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opéra National de Paris, the Teatro Real Madrid, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Zurich Opera, and the National Theatre in Prague. He has also conducted and recorded several opera-in-concert presentations with the BBC Symphony, to great acclaim. Confirming his preeminence as the conductor of Janacek, this past season he conducted the Czech Phil in a concert presentation of Jenůfa at the London Royal Festival Hall, as well as in full production the San Francisco Opera. This was followed by a performance of Janacek The Makropulos Case with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
Under his leadership the Czech Philharmonic is enjoying unprecedented success both at home in Prague, and on extensive tours. Together they have toured in the past three seasons on three continents, including Europe, Asia and North America. Their recent residency in Vienna at the Musikverein was a great success, and has lead to similar events being planned in other world capitals. The Czech Philharmonic announced in January 2017 that their partnership with Maestro Bělohlávek is now officially extended to 2022!
In addition to his ongoing Prague seasons and touring engagements with the Czech, he continues to perform as a guest conductor with the world’s major orchestras, including recent appearances with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (including at the London Proms), New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Washington National Symphony, and Deutsches Symphony Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Vienna Symphony Orchestra. In the coming season, in addition to major projects with Czech Phil, he looks forward to engagements with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Bayerische Rundfunk Orchestra Munich, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, St Petersburg Philharmonic, and more.
With the Czech Philharmonic, he will conduct a major Asian tour in Autumn 2017 with concerts in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, in addition to appearances on tour in Europe, the highlight of which will be a performance of Janáček Glagolitic Mass at the Salzburg Festival in August 2018.
Jiří Bělohlávek has recorded extensively, with recent projects with the Czech Philharmonic including the complete symphonies and concertos of Dvořák. The series with Decca continues in the coming season, when a major disc of Suk will be recorded.
In 2012 he was awarded an honorary CBE for his services to British music.
The year 1896 was important for the history of Czech music for two reasons: on 4 January, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was founded, and on 19 March, Antonín Dvořák conducted the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 during his ninth and final concert tour in England. Although Dvořák was very happy about this composition, even writing about the “pure joy” which this work brought to him, in his modesty he could not know or guess that it would become one of his most frequently performed pieces, and for many people the best cello concerto ever, sometimes called the “king”. The paradox is that Dvořák had never been particularly drawn to the concertante form and did not recognise the cello as a solo instrument: he actually complained that it “whinges up above, and grumbles down below”. Nevertheless, by serendipitous circumstances, in the autumn of 1894 he decided to compose a concerto for cello. His first attempt at a solo concerto for this instrument was made almost thirty years ago, but Dvořák held this early concerto in such low regard that he did not mind the loss of its autograph (found after the composer’s death) and never included it in any list of his works.
The first and the most important impulse for Dvořák to choose this genre was a cello concerto by the American composer and cellist Victor Herbert. At that time, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory in New York; Herbert taught the cello there and was also the principle cellist with the New York Philharmonic Society. Dvořák was so excited by Herbert’s work that he studied its score in great detail and several months later began to compose his own cello concerto. Perhaps in line with the deeply intimate Biblical Songs created in the spring of 1894, Dvořák continued on this personal level, revealing in his new work his experiences at that particular time in his life: being homesick and missing his children (except for his son Otakar who was with him in the U.S., his other five children remained in Bohemia), longing after his summer home in Vysoká, where he could work undisturbed, and reminiscing about gravely ill Josefina Kounitzová, his sister-in-law and friend, whom Dvořák had loved in the past. The combination of Dvořák’s creative élan and inner melancholy gave rise to his innermost composition, dominated by a firm compositional order, which is not without hope. Josefina is memorialized in the concerto by the melody of Dvořák’s song Leave Me Alone from the cycle Four Songs, Op. 82, of which Josefina was particularly fond.
The concerto is in three movement. It opens with a grandiose orchestral introduction, expanding from two main themes. While the first is characterized by bigger melodic intervals, the second theme consists of a sweet, gentle melody. A seemingly spontaneous idea was born after a long and laborious struggle, after which Dvořák found its correct form. He himself admitted that the lyrical theme of the introductory Allegro made him tremble. In the second movement he went even further, creating one of his most impressive lyrical expressions. This is where the quotation from the song Leave Me Alone is heard. Then comes the rondo, which represents the symbol of hope, of resurrection after a dark night on the cross, an image of the pain transformed. Dvořák wrote it a few weeks before he left New York for good; this might be why it is elated by an eager expectation, which, however, was spoiled upon Dvořák’s return to Bohemia by the news of Josefina’s premature death. In response to this sad fact, Dvořák radically changed the conclusion of the whole concert, inserting a new section of sixty bars before the original short coda, after which the solo violin again quotes Josefina’s favourite song.
The world premiere of the concerto was held in London’s Queen’s Hall on 19 March 1896 and was conducted by the composer himself. Originally, the composition was to be premiered by Dvořák’s close friend and mentor of the cello part, Hanuš Wihan, to whom the work was dedicated, but in the end its performance was entrusted to a young English cellist, Leo Stern. It is rumoured that the change of cellists was caused by Wihan’s rather insensitive insistence to play his own virtuoso cadenza, which Dvořák resolutely rejected, but the real reason was probably bad timing. Stern went to see Dvořák in Bohemia and worked hard with him, practising almost seven hours a day in order to master it because the composition was extremely difficult for him in terms of intonation. Stern also presented the work at the Prague premiere on 11 April 1896 and later in Leipzig, Chicago and New York.
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major belongs to the period which Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) later considered to be a matter of the past. He did not like his compositions from this period and often destroyed them, which he allegedly almost did with this score (fortunately it did not happen). This composition of 1865 with Opus No. 4 still shows some signs of a beginner’s quest, which can be observed in the very scope of work (its duration is about 50 minutes). Dvořák was self-taught in composition and therefore the pieces from the early stages of his career were a kind of laboratory where he learned various compositional techniques. Most of these early compositions bear a little resemblance to his typical style. Formally, however, his Second Symphony is a rather interesting experiment. None of its movements starts with the main theme, but in all four cases the entry of the leitmotif is preceded by an introduction. In contrast to the tradition, Dvořák used a number of themes for the construction of the first movement, so in comparison with the classical sonata form this movement is rather loose, almost rhapsodic. This fact as well as the nature of the melodic lines (as if “endless” like the Wagnerian ones) in the whole symphony reflect Dvořák’s enthusiasm for Wagner at the time. The exception is the second movement, which foreshadows his later masterful adagios. Noteworthy is the introduction of the fourth movement containing a theme which appeared many years later as one of the key musical ideas of his opera Rusalka.
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