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Katia a Marielle Labèque • Czech Philharmonic


This entire programme could be given the title “Double”. You will be hearing a unique collection of three different works that share the theme of musical pairs in different forms and treatments.

Subscription series B | Duration of the programme 2 hours

Programme

Bohuslav Martinů
Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano, and tympani, H 271 

Bohuslav Martinů
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, H 292 

Henri Dutilleux
Symphony No. 2 (“Le Double”)

Performers

Katia a Marielle Labèque
pianos

Ivo Kahánek
piano

Michael Kroutil
tympani

Semyon Bychkov
conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Katia a Marielle Labèque • Czech Philharmonic

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall

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“Double” or affinity by choice (or otherwise): this is how one might characterise the connections and parallels between works on today’s programme. This also applies to some degree to the fates and artistic creeds of the works’ composers, so that is why “or otherwise” is written in parentheses. Depending upon the context, “double” can mean “dual”, “multiplied by two”, or even a look-alike; in musical terminology, the word meant “variation” during the Baroque period, and in the title of a composition it also refers to a work’s relationship to the concerto grosso genre. All of these meanings of the word “double” are employed by the two composers for the works being played this evening.

Concert on the 24th of January will be broadcasted live on Mezzo Live HD

Performers

Ivo Kahánek  piano

Ivo Kahánek

A musician of tremendous emotional power, depth, and expressiveness, Ivo Kahánek has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting artists of his generation. He is universally recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of Romantic piano music and is a particular specialist in Czech repertoire (awarded e.g. by Dispaison d’Or). He possesses a rare gift of creating an immediate and compelling emotional connection with his audiences. Kahánek came to public attention after winning the Prague Spring International Music Competition in 2004 and performing at the 2007 Proms Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek. He has collaborated with the most prestigious orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic (Sir Simon Rattle), the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic, and many others. He is a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

Michael Kroutil  timpani

Michael Kroutil

Michael Kroutil, born 1982, studied from 1999 to 2001 at the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory, then attended the Prague Conservatory. In 2003 he began taking private lessons from Karl Mehling, former timpanist of the Gewandhausorchester and a year later from Mark Steful, first timpanist of the same orchestra. Between 2005 and 2007 he studied the timpani and percussion at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Leipzig, and from 2011 attended the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste under the pedagogic guidance of Rainer Seegers, first timpanist of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Michael Kroutil has performed with a number of renowned German (Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Leipziger Kammerorchester, Mendelssohn Kammerorchester Leipzig, Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz, Thüringer Symphoniker, Westsächsisches Symphonieorchester, Deutsche Philharmonie) and Czech orchestras (PKF – Prague Philharmonia, Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of the National Theatre in Prague, the Pardubice Chamber Philharmonic). He has also regularly worked with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 2006 and 2007, Michael Kroutil participated in Gewandhausorchester recording projects for EuroArts. Since 2007 he has been first timpanist of the Czech Philharmonic, and is also a member of the international Solistes Européens Luxembourg.

Katia & Marielle Labèque   pianos

Katia & Marielle Labèque

“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”

Philip Glass

 

“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.”

The Times

 

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.

Semyon Bychkov  conductor

Semyon Bychkov

In recognition of the 2024 Year of Czech Music – a major celebration of Czech music celebrated across the Czech Republic every 10 years since 1924 – Chief Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov has put the music of Antonín Dvořák at the centre of his programmes with the Czech Philharmonic throughout the 2023–2024 season. In addition to conducting three programmes devoted to Dvořák in Prague, Bychkov and the Orchestra will tour the Dvořák programmes to South Korea, Japan, Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium and the United States, as well as recording the last three symphonies for Pentatone. 

Semyon Bychkovʼs tenure at the Czech Philharmonic began in 2018 with concerts in Prague, London, New York, and Washington commemorating the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. Following the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project, Bychkov and the Orchestra began their focus on Mahler. The first discs in a new Mahler cycle were released by Pentatone in 2022, with Symphony No. 5 chosen by The Sunday Times as its Best Classical Album.

Bychkovʼs repertoire spans four centuries. His highly anticipated performances are a unique combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy. In addition to guest engagements with the world’s major orchestras and opera houses, Bychkov holds honorary titles with the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – and the Royal Academy of Music, who recently awarded him an Honorary Doctorate. Bychkov was named “Conductor of the Year” by the International Opera Awards in 2015 and, by Musical America in 2022.

Bychkov began recording in 1986 and released discs with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra and London Philharmonic for Philips. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne featured Brahms, Mahler, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Strauss, Verdi, Glanert and Höller. Bychkov’s 1993 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with the Orchestre de Paris continues to win awards, most recently the Gramophone Collection 2021; 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 studied at the Leningrad Conservatory with the legendary Ilya Musin. Denied his prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and, has lived in Europe since the mid-1980’s. In 1989, the same year he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris, Bychkov returned to the former Soviet Union as the St Petersburg Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor. He was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra (1997) and Chief Conductor of Dresden Semperoper (1998).

Compositions

Bohuslav Martinů
Dvojkoncert pro dva smyčcové orchestry, klavír a tympány H. 271

In his Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani, H 271 (the title page of the autograph score is in French: “Double concert pour cordes, piano et timbales”) and his Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, H 292 (in his correspondence, the composer also called it his “Double Piano Concerto”), Bohuslav Martinů drew inspiration from duality, doubling, and the possibilities that arise from them, as well as from the Baroque concerto grosso genre. In a reminiscence, the composer described his conception of “double” as follows: “My work on the Concerto for Two Pianos has gone successfully. To tell the truth, I’m a concerto grosso kind of person. The descriptions of this form in nearly all textbooks are superficial, perhaps except for the fact that the soloists and orchestra alternate. [...] Where the symphonic form is retained, resorting to emotional elements is actually required, [...] while the concerto grosso allows strict order, a limitation or equilibrium of emotional elements, the limitation and appropriate balancing of gradations and dynamics, and an entirely different, strict structure of thematic organisation; in short, a different world. [...] The Concerto for Two Pianos is the ‘ideal type’ for this form.” The composer’s statement can be applied in general to all of his concertante works of this kind, and his Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani is undoubtedly one of the most successful.

“I’m exploding, choking, weeping”, declared Arthur Honegger in tears as he embraced Bohuslav Martinů at the world premiere of the Double Concerto in Basel on 9 February 1940. Apart from captivation with the composition, the moving circumstances of the work’s creation certainly also played a role: sympathy for the tragedy that had struck Czechoslovakia and its inhabitants, which the composer seems (even to us today) to have sensed in advance and written into the music. Martinů began composing his Double Concerto in August 1938, and he finished it on 29 September 1938, on the day of the Munich Agreement that broke up the Czechoslovak state. He composed it for Paul Sacher and his Basel Chamber Orchestra. The composer adapted the work’s instrumentation to the possibilities of that orchestra. Martinů was staying with Sacher at the time when he finished the Double Concerto, and he dedicated the work to him with a pithy description of its creation: “To my dear friend Paul Sacher to commemorate the quiet and fearful days spent at Schönenberg amongst the deer and the threat of the war.” The anxiety and the threat of war are understandable, but what about the deer? The composer’s wife Charlotte recalled that while staying with Sacher, they often observed “with radiant vision” how the deer “hid quietly behind the trees” and made “graceful movements”. That experience of tranquillity in the mountainous Swiss landscape – also a symbol of fragility – stands against the background of the anxiety from the approaching catastrophe. In a reminiscence about her husband’s composition, Mrs. Martinů mysteriously added that the Double Concerto, “in the middle of the third movement are the footsteps of approaching deer”. It is left to the imagination to find exactly where in the music this happens.

Bohuslav Martinů
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra H 292

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.

Henri Dutilleux
Symfonie č. 2 „Le Double“

As I indicated in the introduction, there are some connections and parallels between Dutilleux and Martinů. Dutilleux studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1933 to 1938 at a time when Martinů was also in Paris. He, too, was enchanted by Debussy and enthusiastically studied the works of Igor Stravinsky and Albert Roussel (as Martinů did, studying on his own). He was a great friend of Marcel Mihalovici, to whom Martinů was also very close, and it was Mihalovici who apparently introduced Dutilleux to Martinů’s compositions. At the time, Dutilleux was also imperilled by the Nazi regime, and during the Second World War he was a politically engaged artist – he served in the musical wing of the National Front, which sympathised with the resistance movement. He, too, composed works for Paul Sacher and his orchestra and dedicated them to him (Mystère de l’Instant, 1989, for harpsichord, string orchestra and percussion). Incidentally, he went about composing the work excitedly, because he knew and greatly admired the Double Concerto that Martinů had dedicated to Sacher, and in his own composition he wished to come to terms with Martinů’s work.

Dutilleux composed two symphonies. His Symphony No. 2 (“Le double”) was one of fourteen works commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation for the celebrating of the 75th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in 1956, and it is dedicated to Koussevitzky and his wife Natalie. Charles Munch, the music director of the BSO at the time, was entrusted with commissioning and choosing the compositions. (Martinů, a close friend of Munch, composed two works for the anniversary celebrations: Symphony No. 6 – Fantaises symphoniques, H 343, and The Parables, H 367.) Charles Munch conducted the world premiere of Dutilleux’s Symphony No. 2 on 11 December 1959 in New York with the BSO.

In his Symphony No. 2, Dutilleux divided the players into a large orchestra and a small one with 12 soloists, in which all of the families of instruments are represented (woodwinds – oboe, clarinet, bassoon; brass – trumpet and trombone; strings – 2 violins, viola, and cello; plucked instruments – harpsichord; percussion – timpani and celesta). According to the composer, the work was composed in a state of “ecstasy, [...] it really is an extremely intense work, and perhaps even somehow anxious”. Although the composition was commissioned in 1954 and was written between 1955 and 1959, the sketches reveal an urgent, persistent search for form and timbre – the instrumentation and number of players in the small orchestra changed twice (e.g. the guitar was replaced by harpsichord). The composer was also dissatisfied with the title: at first he called it a “Concerto for Large and Small Orchestra” and later a “Concerto for Two Orchestras”. Dutilleux was a perfectionist, and he revised the work several times (for example, he made changes to the orchestration involving the harpsichord, the use of which he called a kind of “nostalgia” for the eighteenth century).

Concerning the work’s form and instrumentation, Dutilleux said that although the division of a group of 12 soloists placed in a semicircle in front of the conductor and the rest of the orchestra might evoke a traditional concerto grosso, he was actually attempting to escape from the form, “the prefabricated dimension of which seems to be incompatible with the today’s [musical] language. I have attempted to avoid the stumbling block of a rather archaic form.” The players of the small orchestra do not have individual solos as such; the whole that is created in combination represents the composition’s solo element. The small orchestra converses with the large one, but it is also combined and confronted with the larger group, and their overlapping creates many opportunities for the plentiful use of polyrhythm and polytonality. Each of the symphony’s movements is monothematic and tends towards variations. “A certain character of sound produced by the large orchestra finds an equivalent in the chamber orchestra in the manner of mirroring, or else one of the orchestras suddenly gives way and allows room for the vibrations of the other.” In a way, the small orchestra is a reflection of the large one, like a kind of “double”.

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