Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov

In October 1921, when a New York reporter asked Richard Strauss which of his own pieces he liked most, he answered: “Those that reflect myself and my opinions most clearly: Zarathustra, Quixote, and Domestica.”

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


Richard Strauss
Don Quixote, Op. 35, symphonic poem (38')
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (40')


Gautier Capuçon cello
Lawrence Power viola

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall

Dress rehearsal
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In October 1921, when a New York reporter asked Richard Strauss which of his own pieces he liked most, he answered: “Those that reflect myself and my opinions most clearly: Zarathustra, Quixote, and Domestica.” The power of Don Quixote lies in the way Strauss was able not only to describe the story, but also to express the psychological transformations of the individual characters by working with the musical themes that represent them. Don Quixote is played by solo cello, alternating with violin in places. Strauss entrusted Sancho Panza to clarinet and tenor tuba and Dulcinea to oboe. According to English critic Ernest Newman, “Nowhere outside the work of glorious old Bach is there such a combination in music of inexhaustible fertility of imagination.” Strauss finished Don Quixote in 1897 in Munich and the première took place a year later in Cologne.

The public first heard Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances is an arrangement for two pianos, which the composer played together with Vladimir Horowitz. Eugene Ormandy conducted the orchestral première in January 1941 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The work opened up to the audience a breathtaking and enchanting world of sound filled with rich harmonies and imaginative rhythms that are not far off from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We find quotes in it from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Golden Cockerel, the Dies Irae theme, and Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, which triumphs over the theme of death as a symbol of resurrection. Another extraordinary feature is the use of alto saxophone as a solo instrument. The music’s sonic beauty, compositional mastery, and inexhaustible wellspring of musical ideas make the Symphonic Dances one of the most impressive compositions of the twentieth century.


Gautier Capuçon  cello

Gautier Capuçon

Gautier Capuçon is a true 21st century ambassador for the cello. Performing internationally with many of the world’s foremost conductors and instrumentalists, he is also founder and leader of the ‘Classe d’Excellence de Violoncelle’ at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. A multiple award winner, he is acclaimed for his expressive musicianship, exuberant virtuosity, and for the deep sonority of his 1701 Matteo Goffriller cello “L’Ambassadeur”.

Committed to exploring and expanding the cello repertoire, Capuçon performs an extensive array of works each season and regularly premieres new commissions. His current projects include performing the world premiere of Tabachnik’s cello concerto “Summer” and collaborations with Danny Elfman and Thierry Escaich.

In the 2019/2020 season Capuçon appears with, amongst others, the philharmonic orchestras of Los Angeles / Philippe Jordan, Czech Philharmonic / Semyon Bychkov, and Rotterdam / Valery Gergiev; the symphony orchestras of St. Louis / Stéphane Denève, Singapore / Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Bavarian Radio / Gianandrea Noseda; and hr-Sinfonieorchester / Alain Altinoglu. He tours Europe and the USA with Leipzig Gewandhausorchester / Andris Nelsons and San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas, and is Artist-in-Residence at LuganoMusica.

As a chamber musician, this season he performs on tour with Yuja Wang in venues such as Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Vienna Konzerthaus, Barbican Centre London, and Philharmonie Paris, as well as with Renaud Capuçon, Frank Braley, Jérôme Ducros, and Leonidas Kavakos. Other regular recital partners include Nicholas Angelich, Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Lisa Batiashvili, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Artemis and Ébène quartets.

Recording exclusively for Erato (Warner Classics), Capuçon has won multiple awards and holds an extensive discography. His latest album – Chopin and Franck sonatas with Yuja Wang – was recorded live on tour last season. Earlier recordings include concertos by Shostakovich (Mariinsky Orchestra / Valery Gergiev) and Saint-Saëns (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France / Lionel Bringuier); the complete Beethoven Sonatas with Frank Braley; Schubert’s String Quintet with the Ébène Quartet; an album of encores recorded with Paris Chamber Orchestra / Douglas Boyd and Jérôme Ducros (entitled Intuition); and, most recently, an album of Schumann works, recorded live with Martha Argerich, Renaud Capuçon and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Bernard Haitink.

Capuçon has been featured on DVD in live performances with the Berliner Philharmoniker / Gustavo Dudamel (Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1) and with Lisa Batiashvili, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann (Brahm’s Concerto for Violin and Cello). A household name in his native France, he also appears on screen and online in shows such as Prodiges, Now Hear This, and The Artist Academy, and is a guest presenter on Radio Classique in the show Les Carnets de Gautier Capuçon.

Born in Chambéry, Capuçon began playing the cello at the age of five. He studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Paris with Philippe Muller and Annie Cochet-Zakine, and later with Heinrich Schiff in Vienna. Now, he performs with world leading orchestras, works with conductors such as Lionel Bringuier, Gustavo Dudamel, Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin; and collaborates with contemporary composers including Lera Auerbach, Karol Beffa, Esteban Benzecry, Nicola Campogrande, Qigang Chen, Bryce Dessner, Jérôme Ducros, Henry Dutilleux, Thierry Escaich, Philippe Manoury, Bruno Mantovani, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wolfgang Rihm, and Jörg Widmann.

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Lawrence Power  viola

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).


Sergei Rachmaninoff
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45

A graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff created mostly in the 20th century, but his music – influenced mainly by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – remains firmly rooted in the late Romantic style. Rachmaninoff himself commented on this: “I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new. I have made an intense effort to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me.” Although he composed three operas, an equal number of symphonies, several sacred works, and a number of remarkable songs, he is best known for his piano works, which include four concertos and a number of solo pieces. Rachmaninoff, himself an accomplished pianist, performed with success not only in his homeland but also in Europe and on the American continent. He was also active as a conductor, first in Moscow, where he conducted operas by Glinka and Tchaikovsky at the Bolshoi Theatre, then in Dresden from 1906 to 1909, before making his first major concert tour to the United States. Rachmaninoff did not accept the regime established after the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917, and soon afterwards left his homeland permanently. He first lived in Europe and in 1935 settled in the United States, where he developed a rich concert career and continued to compose. Although he privately and publicly criticized the Soviet regime, he bore the separation from Russia very hard; his family maintained Russian customs, surrounded themselves with Russian friends, and hired Russian servants. In exile, Rachmaninoff was an ardent patriot, which was especially evident after the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, when he donated his concert fees to support the Red Army. He died in California just four days before his 70th birthday.

His very last composition is Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, composed in 1940. Rachmaninoff gave the individual movements of this three-movement work titles seemingly indicating the times of day (Noon – Twilight – Midnight), but in reality it is probably a metaphor related to the stocktaking at the end of his life, when he was already very ill. Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, whose instrumental embellishments include the use of the alto saxophone as a solo instrument in the first movement, have been choreographed for ballet on several occasions, but more often they are performed as a stand-alone symphonic piece that can make an emotional impact in its own right.