New Year’s Concert • Czech Philharmonic

This year, we have decided to welcome in the new year with you in Czech style with four beautiful works, each of which is original and a supreme musical celebration. Antonín Dvořák, who conducted the very first Czech Philharmonic concert, composed three concert overtures titled In Nature’s Realm, Carnival, and Othello in 1891.

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Antonín Dvořák
Carnival, Op. 92

Josef Suk
Praga, Op. 26

Bedřich Smetana
Prague Carnival

Leoš Janáček


Music of the Castle Guard and the Police of the Czech Republic

Jakub Hrůša

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event New Year’s Concert • Czech Philharmonic

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall

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Jakub Hrůša  principal guest conductor

Jakub Hrůša

Born in the Czech Republic, Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Music Director Designate of The Royal Opera, Covent Garden (Music Director from 2025), Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

He is a frequent guest with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna, Berlin, Munich and New York Philharmonics; Bavarian Radio, NHK, Chicago and Boston Symphonies; Leipzig Gewandhaus, Lucerne Festival, Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Chamber and The Cleveland Orchestras; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has led opera productions for the Salzburg Festival (Káťa Kabanová with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2022), Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, Opéra National de Paris, and Zurich Opera. He has also been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival and served as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years.

His relationships with leading vocal and instrumental soloists have included collaborations in recent seasons with Daniil Trifonov, Mitsuko Uchida, Hélène Grimaud, Behzod Abduraimov, Anne Sofie Mutter, Lukáš Vondráček, Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Rudolf Buchbinder, Gautier Capuçon, Julia Fischer, Sol Gabetta, Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen, Karita Mattila, Leonidas Kavakos, Lang Lang, Josef Špaček, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Klaus Florian Vogt, Yuja Wang, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Alisa Weilerstein and others. 

As a recording artist, Jakub Hrůša has received numerous awards and nominations for his discography. Most recently, he received the Opus Klassik Conductor of the Year nomination and the ICMA prize for Symphonic Music for his recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, and the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik for his recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, both with Bamberg Symphony. In 2021, his disc of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Bamberg Symphony and Frank Peter Zimmermann was nominated for BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone awards, and his recording of the Dvořák Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Augustin Hadelich was nominated for a Grammy Award. His recordings of Dvořák and Martinů Piano Concertos with Ivo Kahánek and the Bamberg Symphony, and Vanessa by Samuel Barber from Glyndebourne both won BBC Music Magazine Awards in 2020.

Jakub Hrůša studied at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society. He was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize, and in 2020 was awarded both the Antonín Dvořák Prize by the Czech Republic’s Academy of Classical Music, and – together with Bamberg Symphony – the Bavarian State Prize for Music.

Prague Castle Guard and Czech Police Band  

Prague Castle Guard and Czech Police Band

Prague Castle Guard and Czech Police Band is a large brass orchestra which has been representing Czech musical culture in a highly professional fashion for more than sixty years, not only at home, but also abroad. Its establishment in 1945 carried on a rich tradition of military, police and gendarme bands from the First Czechoslovak Republic. They were ensembles which were always an integral part of our musical culture and also an example of the nation’s musical development.

The primary duties of the Band of the Castle Guards and Police of the Czech Republic include musical accompaniment at all state ceremonies at Prague Castle, primarily state visits and initial audiences with ambassadors. The orchestra is a significant cultural representative of the Police of the Czech Republic and also performs all tasks resulting from this position.

The ensemble also includes smaller groups – the Domino Brass Trio, the Prague Brass Sextet, The Brass Quintet, the Brass Octet, the Big Band, Largo and the Formanka Small Brass Orchestra. Their focus and repertoire suitably supplement the orchestra’s wide range of activities. In addition to its duties, the orchestra has always given concerts and made recordings. It has made more than twenty CDs. The orchestra’s most important annual concert activities include performing at the Prague Spring International Music Festival and during the Saint Wenceslas celebrations.

Prague Castle Guard and Czech Police Band has toured sixteen countries in Europe, Mongolia, Japan and the USA, where it headlined at the famous Carnegie Hall in 2002.


Josef Suk
Praga op. 26, symfonická báseň

On the 4th of January, a boy was born in Křečovice, a little village 50 kilometres south of Prague. He was given the name Josef after his father. He exhibited musical talent early playing violin, piano, and organ, and he began his studies at the Prague Conservatoire at the age of eleven. First, he studied violin under Antonín Bennewitz, then piano under Josef Jiránek, and composition under Karel Stecker. When he turned seventeen in 1891, the year the previous work on today’s programme was composed, he began his composition studies in the advanced class taught by Antonín Dvořák. Who knows how he took his teacher’s decision to depart for America, but he later became a favourite pupil of Dvořák, a visitor to the composer’s summer residence in Vysoká near Příbram, and an assistant in making piano reductions of the master’s works. It was there that Suk met Dvořák’s daughter Otilie, who later became his wife.

1891 was also the year when a student string quartet was established at the Prague Conservatoire at the initiative of the director Bennewitz and of Hanuš Wihan, the professor of chamber music. Josef Suk played second violin in the quartet. In 1892, the recent graduates began giving concert appearances as the Bohemian Quartet (the Czech Quartet after 1918), and when they thrilled Vienna in 1893, doors were opened to them in Europe, and they became one of the most important chamber music ensembles of their day. Josef Suk played in the Bohemian Quartet for 41 years, almost the entire period of the ensemble’s existence, and in that time he gave more than 4,000 concerts around Europe and all over the world. It is difficult to imagine how Suk managed to compose at all, being enormously busy as a performing artist continually on the road.

Once while on a tour of Spain, he decided to compose a musical depiction of his beloved Prague that would express the city’s greatness and beauty. He chose to make it a symphonic poem, and he composed it between the spring and October of 1904. At the end of the summer, he wrote to his publisher Mojmír Urbánek: “I’m nearly finished with Praga – about four more pages. There won’t be any choir, organ or bells, but it will be lovely even without them.” In an earlier conversation, the pragmatic publisher had apparently persuaded the young composer to avoid the use of excessively monumental forces that would limit opportunities for the work’s performance. Ultimately, Urbánek succeeded only in part – the work does not, in fact, call for choir, but contrary to Suk’s quoted letter, organ and bells are heard at the work’s grandiose conclusion. The Czech Philharmonic gave Praga its premiere with Oskar Nedbal conducting on 18 December 1904 in Pilsen, and it was heard in Prague on 25 March 1905 at the Rudolfinum under the composer’s baton.

Antonín Dvořák
Carnival Overture, Op. 92

“Whatever we have in Czech history that is truly great has grown from the bottom up!” This sentence by the famous Czech author Jan Neruda tells us a great deal about the history of the Czech nation and its great figures. It certainly applies unreservedly to Antonín Dvořák, whose growing artistry took him from a little village to the world’s greatest metropolises.

When Neruda wrote these words in 1884, he was 50 years old. And what was Antonín Dvořák doing in 1891 at age 50? He was a famous, sought-after composer, an artist whose popularity had long since crossed the borders of Austria-Hungary and spread all over Europe. It was in the year of his 50th birthday that he was offered the directorship of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He considered the matter very carefully, consulting with many of the people who were close to him. For example, he wrote to his friend Alois Göbl in June 1891: “I’m supposed to go to America for two years! […] Should I accept the offer? Or not? Send me word.” Dvořák had never been very fond of celebrations, so it is no surprise that in early September he refused to take part in celebrations in Prague for his 50th birthday because he was spending time with his family at his beloved summer home in Vysoká, where he went to rest and to compose. Four days after his birthday (12 September 1891), he finished orchestrating Carnival Overture, Op. 92, the second work in a cycle of three concert overtures that are programmatic in character. We do not have a concrete programme from the composer, but he clearly realised something here that no one would have expected from him in the realm of symphonic music. Two years earlier, he had already gone down this path in chamber music with his Poetic Tone Pictures, Op. 85, thirteen pieces for solo piano, about which he jokingly commented: “I’m not just an absolute musician, but also a poet.” Dvořák had originally conceived his triptych of concert overtures depicting three aspects of human life as a single whole with the title “Nature, Life, and Love”. All three overtures are also carefully motivically interconnected. Ultimately, however, the composer told his publisher Simrock that his overtures “each can also be played separately”, and he gave them the opus numbers and titles In Nature’s Realm, Op. 91, Carnival Overture, Op. 92, and Othello, Op. 93. The first performance of all three overtures took place on 28 April 1892 at the Rudolfinum in Prague at the composer’s farewell concert before his departure for America, with Dvořák himself conducting the orchestra of the National Theatre. Dvořák also conducted their second performance, this time across the ocean on 21 October 1892 at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Pražský karneval

On 14 September 1883, when Bedřich Smetana finished the score of his Introduction and Polonaise, the first two movements of the cycle Prague Carnival, he did not know that he had only the last half year of life. He had originally intended that Prague Carnival would follow up stylistically on his cycle of Bohemian Dances. The composer wanted to develop further the idea of a cyclical ordering of dances in the loftier genre of the symphonic poem he had employed in Má vlast (My Country). Fate, however, intervened. Smetana never finished his last two compositions; Prague Carnival and the opera Viola remained torsos. The composer was unable to attend the first performance of the Introduction and Polonaise in April 1884 because of his rapidly worsening illness, although the concert was a celebration of this sixtieth birthday. The performance left the audience perplexed. According to period reports, the work made a depressing impression on Smetana’s friends, and it was long regarded as a failure or even as being decadent. The fragmentariness, succinctness, and harmonic astringency that are typical of Smetana’s late works are in fact connections back to his progressive Gothenburg period, and in the Polonaise, the composer even employed a theme he had already notated in his sketchbook in 1858.

Leoš Janáček

The life of Leoš Janáček took many twists and turns before he arrived at the compositional style of his greatest operas and symphonic works, which have now made him one of the most famous and most frequently performed Czech composers abroad. Janáček grew up with the music of the church and of folk culture. He gained his first experience in the church choir in Hukvaldy and later at the Augustinian monastery in Staré Brno. In 1872, the composer and choirmaster Pavel Křížkovský was hired to lead the choir there, and Janáček later became his successor. At the same time, he was studying at a secondary school in Staré Brno and at a teachers’ college. After graduating, he furthered his studies at the organ school in Prague. Thereafter, he was engaged in important activities in the field of folklore studies and pedagogy, collecting and publishing Moravian songs, leading the organ school in Brno, and conducting at the Brno Beseda concert hall. At first Janáček focused on writing choral music, then he turned his attention to other genres. The opera Jenůfa became a success after initial difficulties and obstacles baring its path to the stage. Later on, his other operas (Káťa Kabanová, The Makropulos Affair etc.) won recognition at home and abroad, as have his symphonic works (Taras Bulba, Lachian Dances etc.).

One of those symphonic works is the Sinfonietta, JW VI/18, probably the most famous of all of Janáček’s compositions. The idea originated when the newspaper Lidové noviny asked Janáček to write some music as a salutation for the Eighth Sokol Gymnastics Festival. Janáček began by writing fanfares, then he expanded them into a five-movement work, making use of his recollections of the sound of a military band. Václav Talich conducted the premiere at the Rudolfinum in Prague in 1926 with a military band joining the Czech Philharmonic as part of a cultural programme in association with the Sokol festival, and Czechoslovak Radio recorded the performance.