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Czech Philharmonic • Josef Špaček


This programme is framed by two of the major works in the history of music. Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony is the composer’s last and longest symphony. Among musicians it is so beloved that conductors voted it the third most popular of all symphonies.

Subscription series V | Duration of the programme 1 hour 30 minutes

Programme

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 41 in C Major, “Jupiter” K 551

Jiří Teml
The Labyrinth of Memory, a symphonic tableau (world premiere)

Dmitri Shostakovich
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77

Performers

Josef Špaček
violin

James Gaffigan
conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Josef Špaček

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall

Dress rehearsal
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This programme is framed by two of the major works in the history of music. Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony is the composer’s last and longest symphony. Among musicians it is so beloved that conductors voted it the third most popular of all symphonies. The Jupiter Symphony is the last of three great symphonies that Mozart composed in rapid succession in June and July 1788. The speed with which he composed the works and their formal interconnections led Nikolaus Harnoncourt to believe that Mozart had conceived them as a single whole. This hypothesis is supported by, among other things, the facts that the first movement of the Jupiter Symphony lacks the usual slow introduction and that its finale is unusually lengthy.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto fell victim to Zhdanov’s censorship, so the composer withheld it, and it was not premiered until seven years later. Meanwhile Shostakovich to continue working on the concerto with David Oistrakh, its dedicatee. The premiere with the Leningrad Philharmonic and Yevgeny Mravinsky was a definite success. The concerto contains references to Beethoven and Elgar along with the plentiful use of a motif based on Shostakovich’s name: DSCH (the German note names for d, e flat, c, and b natural). Another of the premieres of works written on commission for the Czech Philharmonic will feature the music of Jiří Teml, a popular and remarkably versatile composer and a Prague Spring laureate. His compositional style reflects the influence of Czech folk music.

Performers

Josef Špaček  violin, guest artist

Josef Špaček

“Working with Josef Špaček is amazing. He is a wonderful person with good heart. You can feel this in his playing, which is gracious, teeming with emotion. And his technique is marvellous. He is one of the greatest solo violinists of the present time,” says the conductor Manfred Honeck, under whom the young virtuoso has regularly given concerts, in the Czech Television documentary Devět sezón (Nine Seasons) The 2023 film provides an interesting account of Špaček’s life, also shedding light on his nine-year tenure as the Czech Philharmonic’s concert master.  

Although not having been a member for four years, Josef Špaček has not ceased to collaborate with the Czech Philharmonic, pursuing numerous joint projects. And even though appearing as a soloist with celebrated orchestras worldwide and as a chamber player at the most prestigious concert venues, he continues to perform in Czech towns and remote villages. 

Josef Špaček is a member of the exciting international Trio Zimbalist, giving performances all over the globe. He has regularly appeared in the Czech Republic with the cellist Tomáš Jamník and the pianist Miroslav Sekera, with whom he has created critically acclaimed albums. He has also made recordings with the Czech Philharmonic (featuring Janáček’s and Dvořák’s violin concertos, and Suk’s Fantasy), the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Petr Popelka (Bohuslav Martinů’s music).

Born in 1986 in Třebíč, Bohemia, Josef Špaček showed his exceptional talent at an early age. Music was a natural part of his childhood (his father has been a cellist of the Czech Philharmonic for over three decades, and his siblings played instruments too), as described by his mother in the book Špačci ve fraku. After graduating from the Prague Conservatory 
(under the tutelage of Jaroslav Foltýn), Josef went on to study in the USA, where he attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (his teachers included Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo) and The Julliard School in New York (tutored by Itzak Perlman). 

After completing his formal education, he returned to his homeland, where he was named the youngest ever concert master of the Czech Philharmonic. At the same time, he performed as a soloist and chamber player, garnering international recognition. A watershed in his career was victory at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, whereupon he began receiving invitations from the world’s most renowned institutions. Due to his having an ever more challenging and busy schedule as a musician – and to his family situation, especially following the birth of three children – he resigned from the post of concert master of the Czech Philharmonic so as to focus solely on being a soloist. Owing to his immense talent and great diligence, his childhood dream to become a famous violinist has come to pass.  

James Gaffigan  conductor

James Gaffigan

“I like to bring people together, my favourite things in life are people and music. If I could do both in one profession, well, that is conducting,” says the conductor James Gaffigan, currently music director of the Komische Oper Berlin and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia. Born in New York City, he initially played the piano and the guitar, focusing on jazz and rock. At the age of 14, he also took up the clarinet and the bassoon, which he would later play in a student orchestra. Alongside a great passion for rock, James developed a fondness for classical music. Wishing to become a conductor, during a rehearsal he was afforded the first opportunity to try it out – and he immediately fell in love with leading an orchestra. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and the Shepherd School of Music in Houston. After stints as assistant to Michael Tilson Thomas at the San Francisco Symphony and Franz Welser-Möst at the Cleveland Orchestra, he was invited to guest with the Luzerner Symphonieorchester, which soon offered him the position of chief conductor. A significant milestone in his career was victory in the Sir Georg Solti International Conductors’ Competition in Frankfurt in 2004.

Today, James Garrigan is a sought-after conductor, popular among orchestras worldwide for being collaborative and open-minded, and for possessing a natural levity. He is regularly engaged in the USA (New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia  Orchestra, etc.), as well as in Europe (London Symphony Orchestra, Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest, Orchestre de Paris, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, etc.), performing a diverse repertoire. A great champion of contemporary music, Gaffigan has given world premieres of a number of pieces, including John Adams’s Tromba Lontana. He also conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker presenting in Austrian premiere Miroslav Srnka’s No Night, No Land, No Sky, at the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2015.

Over Gaffigan’s ten-year-tenure as principal conductor, the Luzerner Symphonieorchester gained great international renown within tours worldwide and made numerous acclaimed recordings. For some time, he was chief visiting conductor in the Netherlands and Norway. He currently serves as music director of the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra, working with highly gifted musicians aged between 15 and 18. His placing emphasis on music education of children and young people is also attested to by the project he has initiated as music director of the Komische Oper Berlin. An ardent fan of opera, James Gaffigan has regularly conducted productions at the Met in New York, the Bayerische Staatsoper and the Opéra national de Paris. 

Compositions

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symfonie č. 41 C dur „Jupiter“ K 551

Jiří Teml
Labyrint paměti, symfonický obraz (světová premiéra)

Dmitri Shostakovich
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77

Dmitri Shostakovich had many friends among contemporary Soviet performers, with whom he also worked closely in the performance of his works. These included the conductor Kirill Kondrashin, who premiered Shostakovich’s famous Fourth Symphony in C minor; the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom Shostakovich wrote two concertos for cello and orchestra; and the violinist David Oistrakh, to whom Shostakovich dedicated his two violin concertos. Shostakovich composed Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor in the years 1947–1948. Its inception was thus affected by the infamous circumstances of the first quarter of 1948, when Shotakovich, together with other prominent Soviet composers, was harshly and unfairly criticized and accused of modernism and formalism by the highest echelons of the Communist Party. Shostakovich somehow managed to stabilize the situation (created by Joseph Stalin and his right-hand man in cultural affairs, Andrei Zhdanov) and maintain his position of the “main export item of Soviet music” into the world, including the capitalist West. However, the process of Shostakovich’s return to favor was extremely complicated, as a result of which his First Violin Concerto was premiered as late as seven years after its creation – after Stalin’s death – on 29 October 1955 by David Oistrakh and the Leningrad Philharmonic under Yevgeny Mravinsky.

The composer himself wrote that this composition was “in its character essentially more of a symphony for solo violin and orchestra”. Oistrach commented on the piece, “The concerto represents an extremely interesting task for the performer. It is like a large, comprehensive Shakespearean role, which puts a great emotional and intellectual strain on the performer and which offers enormous opportunities not only to demonstrate the violinist’s virtuosity, but above all to express the deepest feelings, thoughts and moods.” Indeed – it is an exceptionally difficult piece to perform, but at the same time it does not feature any virtuoso effects which would be void of meaning. It has four movements designated both by their tempo and their form.

The first movement is a slow Nocturne. After a gloomy introduction, the solo violin presents the main theme of the whole first movement composed in sonata form. In the following section of the first movement, the solo instrument intertwines with the orchestra in a polyphonic manner. The second movement, Scherzo, is characterized by a pulsing rhythm. Here, for the first time, Shostakovich used the musical motif of DSCH (consisting of the notes D, E flat, C and B natural in German musical notation pronounced as “De-Es-Ce-Ha” = D-mitri Sch-ostakovich), applied in several of his compositions of a later date as his signature. In the First Violin Concerto, this four-tone musical motif can be heard repeatedly, albeit inconspicuously in the orchestral accompaniment.

The central theme of the third movement, Passacaglia, is presented at the very beginning by cellos together with double basses. The subsequent mournful theme played by the violin is extremely demanding in terms of keeping the prescribed nuances of expression. The movement concludes with a long cadenza, in which the solo instrument changes the mood from a melancholy cry to anxious indignation. This cadenza gradually accelerates attaca into the final movement, aptly called Burlesque. Here the composer was inspired by the frisky rhythm and melody of folk songs presented by scaramouches – ancient Russian wandering singers, actors and dancers.

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