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Czech Philharmonic • Ariane


Choosing Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony for the Advent period is no coincidence. Václav Talich called it the “Christmas Symphony” for the lovely melody of the slow movement.

Subscription series B | Duration of the programme 1 hour 45 minutes

Programme

Bohuslav Martinů
Ariane, a lyric opera in one act, H 370, concert performance of the opera (35')
–––
Antonín Dvořák
Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60 (41')

Performers

Jessica Muirhead soprano
Zoltan Nagy baritone
Richard Samek tenor
Jozef Benci bass
Peter Mikuláš bass

Members of the Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster

Tomáš Netopil conductor

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Ariane

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall

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Choosing Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony for the Advent period is no coincidence. Václav Talich called it the “Christmas Symphony” for the lovely melody of the slow movement. The whole symphony is imbued with the peaceful happiness the composer was experiencing at the time of writing. He was finally getting international recognition and his works had begun to be played in Vienna, Berlin, London, and other great cities around the world. He was receiving commissions from the most important musical institutions and the new symphony was making its way triumphantly from Prague to Leipzig, Dresden, Cologne, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Budapest. During the rehearsals for its London première, the conductor Hans Richter wrote to Dvořák: “This morning was the first rehearsal of your beautiful work. I am proud of the dedication. The orchestra is really enthusiastic. The performance is on Monday the 15th at 8 p.m. I’m sure it will be a great success. It is also being lovingly rehearsed…”

Another Christmas gift is the concert performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane. Tomáš Netopil made an acclaimed recording of this lovely one-act opera with the Essen Philharmonic in 2016 and four years later he is preparing a live performance in Prague. Georges Neveux turned the homecoming of Theseus into a stage play and for Martinů it was material that allowed him to catch his breath: “I’m writing a new little opera, one act, to take a bit of a rest from the big opera, The Greek Passion, which is taking a lot of work.” In just a month in the summer of 1958, Martinů was able to compose the music for the well-known story of the king’s daughter Ariane (Ariadne), who helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. Opera will be sung in French.

Performers

Jessica Muirhead  soprano

Zoltan Nagy  baritone

Richard Samek  tenor

Richard Samek

Prague audiences have primarily heard and seen the tenor Richard Samek at the National Theatre, where he has portrayed the Prince (Rusalka), Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni), Tamino (Die Zauberflöte) and Alfredo (La traviata). He has also dazzled in Classical and Romantic roles (as well as the 20th-century repertoire) in Plzeň, Brno and Ostrava, as well as abroad, including in Germany (four years ago, he appeared at the prestigious Semperoper) and France.

His performances are captured on recordings of Johann Strauss’s operettas, and operas by Bedřich Smetana (with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek) and Zdeněk Fibich. His discography includes an acclaimed recording of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, made with the mezzo-soprano Dagmar Pecková.

Moreover, Richard Samek is a sought-after concert soloist, frequently performing with the Czech and Brno Philharmonics (appearing at major Czech festivals too). He has also closely collaborated with the Orchestra dell’Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, with whom in the current season he will give a concert of Antonín Dvořák’s cantata The Spectre’s Bride.

Jozef Benci  bass

Jozef Benci

Jozef Benci is a distinguished opera and oratorio performer. A graduate of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava and the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno, he is a soloist of the Slovak National Theatre and Prague’s National Theatre, and has frequently been invited to appear with the Czech and Slovak Philharmonics. Milestones in his career include victory at the prestigious George Enescu International Competition in Bucharest (2001) and an acclaimed performance of a concert version of Bedřich Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride (the role of Kecal) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek, at the Barbican Centre in London, a recording of which advanced to the final of the Grammy Awards, as well as collaboration with the celebrated soprano Edita Gruberová.

Besides being an accomplished performer of Classical and Romantic opera roles, he is a sought-after concert soloist. His repertoire includes Janáček (Glagolitic Mass, which he recorded with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and Tomáš Netopil), Verdi (performances with the conductor Nello Santi) and Dvořák (this July, he sang in his Stabat Mater opposite the Czech Philharmonic; and at this year’s Dvořák Prague festival he dazzled in his Te Deum).

Peter Mikuláš  bass

Prague Philharmonic Choir  

The Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC), founded in 1935 by the choirmaster Jan Kühn, is the oldest professional mixed choir in the Czech Republic. Their current choirmaster and artistic director is Lukáš Vasilek, and the second choirmaster is Lukáš Kozubík.

The choir has earned the highest acclaim in the oratorio and cantata repertoire, performing with the world’s most famous orchestras. In this country, they collaborate regularly with the Czech Philharmonic and the Prague Philharmonia. They also perform opera as the choir-in-residence of the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.

This season, they will appear at four choral concerts of their own, with programmes focusing mainly on difficult, lesser-known works of the choral repertoire. Again this year they will be devoting themselves to educational projects: for voice students, they are organising the Academy of Choral Singing, and for young children there is a cycle of educational concerts.

The choir has been honoured with the 2018 Classic Prague Award and the 2022 Antonín Dvořák Prize.

Lukáš Vasilek  choirmaster

Lukáš Vasilek

Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting and musicology. Since 2007, he has been the chief choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC). Most of his artistic work with the choir consists of rehearsing and performing the a cappella repertoire and preparing the choir to perform in large-scale cantatas, oratorios, and operatic projects, during which he collaborates with world-famous conductors and orchestras (such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic).

Besides leading the PPC, he also engages in other artistic activities, especially in collaboration with the vocal ensemble Martinů Voices, which he founded in 2010. As a conductor or choirmaster, his name appears on a large number of recordings that the PPC have made for important international labels (Decca Classics, Supraphon); in recent years, he has been devoting himself systematically to the recording of Bohuslava Martinů’s choral music. His recordings have received extraordinary acclaim abroad and have earned honours including awards from the prestigious journals Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, and Diapason.

Tomáš Netopil  principal guest conductor

Tomáš Netopil

Since the 2018/2019 season, Tomáš Netopil has been the Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, with which he regularly prepares concert programmes at the Rudolfinum and on tours. The 2022/2023 season was his tenth and final as General Music Director of the Aalto Theater and Philharmonic in Essen, Germany. From the 2025/2026 season, he will take up the post of chief conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. 

In 2018, Tomáš Netopil created the International Summer Music Academy in Kroměříž, offering students exceptional artistic instruction and the chance to meet and work with major international musicians. In the summer of 2021, in association with the Dvořákova Praha Festival, the Academy established the Dvořák Prague Youth Philharmonic with musicians from conservatories and music academies, coached by principal players of the Czech Philharmonic.

As evidenced by his engagement in Essen, Tomáš Netopil is a sought-after opera conductor. From 2008 to 2012, he was the music director of the Opera of the National Theatre in Prague. Operatic highlights beyond Essen include the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden (La clemenza di Tito, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, La Juive, The Bartered Bride, and Busoni’s Doktor Faust), the Vienna Staatsoper (his most recent successes include Idomeneo, Der Freischütz, and a new production of Leonore), and the Netherlands Opera (Jenůfa). His concert highlights of recent seasons have included the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich as well as engagements with the Orchestre de Paris, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai, the Orchestre National de Montpellier, and Concentus Musicus Wien.

Tomáš Netopil’s discography for Supraphon includes Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (the first-ever recording of the original 1927 version), Dvořák’s complete cello works, Martinů’s Ariane and Double Concerto, and Smetana’s Má vlast with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. During his tenure in Essen, he has recorded Suk’s Asrael and Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 6 and 9.

He studied violin and conducting in his native Czech Republic and at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm under the guidance of Professor Jorma Panula. In 2002 he won the inaugural Sir Georg Solti Conductors Competition at the Alte Oper Frankfurt. In his spare time, he likes to fly small planes.

Compositions

Antonín Dvořák
Symphony No. 6 in D Major Op. 60

Allegro non tanto
Adagio
Scherzo: Presto
Finale: Allegro con spirito

Antonín Dvořákʼs Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60 is sometimes given the epithet “Czech”. Written in autumn 1880, it is the work of a mature composer whose music had just started to achieve worldwide recognition. Characteristically free of conflict, full of optimism and joy, it reflects a happy period in Dvořak’s life, when he achieved the success he desired with audiences, performers, critics and publishers. The contented atmosphere is ushered in by the first movement, Allegro non tanto, in sonata form. The second movement, Adagio, is an ardent nocturne. It opens with a brooding theme, which returns three times in minor variations, thus giving the movement the form of a rondo. The third movement, a scherzo (Presto), echoes Dvořák’s favourite Czech dance, the furiant, and recalls his somewhat earlier set of Slavonic Dances. The movement is framed by strongly rhythmic music which contrasts with a relaxed trio in the middle section. Like the first movement, the finale, Allegro con spirito, is written in sonata form. It underlines the joyful atmosphere of the work, achieving a full symphonic breadth and ends with a graduated coda which leaves the audience in no doubt that this is a work written by someone experiencing joyous moments as he was composing.

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