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Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov and Katia and Marielle Labèque

On Thursday 4th February, the Czech Philharmonic broadcasts its first self-dependent stream from the Rudolfinum. Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov will lead the orchestra in „Scotish“ symphony by Mendelssohn. In the first half, Katia and Marielle Labèque will perform Concerto for two pianos, which was written specially for them by Bryce Dessner.

Duration of the programme 1 hour 15 minutes


Bryce Dessner
Concerto for Two Pianos

— Intermission (10') —

 Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 ("Scottish")


Katia a Marielle Labèque pianos

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Semyon Bychkov and Katia and Marielle Labèque

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Tickets and contact information

Concert will be broadcasted on facebook pages of the Czech Philharmonic and other partners on 4th February at 8pm.

Concert will be broadcasted on facebook pages of the Czech Philharmonic and other partners on 4th February at 8pm.

In early February, the Dvořák Hall was supposed to witness the world premiere of a work commissioned by the Czech Phil to American composer and multi-instrumentalist Bryce Dessner. Instead, and for the first time ever, the orchestra will do its very own live stream of a concert from the Rudolfinum, which will be broadcast exclusively on social networks. Czech Phil Chief Conductor and Musical Director Semyon Bychkov will conduct the "Scottish" Symphony No. 3 by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. But before that, he will be joined by his wife Marielle Labèque and her sister Katia for the Concerto for Two Pianos, which Dessner wrote for the Labèque sisters. The concerto received its premiere in 2018.

"Bryce has written a magnificent concerto for us and it has became one of our favourite concertos in our repertory. His style is unique because he has a perfect knowledge of so many musical worlds and you can hear all of them in this concerto," recommend Katia and Marielle Labè​que, the soloists in Dessner's piece for the evening.


Katia & Marielle Labèque   pianos

Katia & Marielle Labèque

From the Basque region of France, then almost untouched by classical music, to the greatest concert halls in the world – this is the story of the Labèque sisters with a career spanning more than 50 years, who have been described as “the best piano duo in front of an audience today” (New York Times). But the shared story of the sisters, who have had a lifelong and intense relationship both professionally and personally, is much longer. The elder Katia first began playing piano under the tutelage of her mother, a pianist and piano teacher, and two years younger Marielle soon followed suit. In 1968, they entered the Paris Conservatory, but still as two soloists – the idea of forming a piano duo did not arise until after they had graduated from the conservatory, and so they then enrolled in a chamber music class there. They still remember how, while rehearsing Visions de l’Amen, they were suddenly interrupted by Olivier Messiaen, who happened to be passing by their class and wondered who was playing his piece. He was so impressed that he helped them record the work, which was not only their first recording experience but also an important invitation to the world of contemporary composers – after Messiaen, they worked with György Ligeti, Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio. Their career breakthrough came with their original arrangement of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which became one of the first gold records of classical music.

The Labèque sisters have performed in famous concert halls from the Musikverein in Vienna to Carnegie Hall in New York, have been guests at major festivals (BBC Proms, Salzburg, Tanglewood) and have appeared with the most celebrated orchestras in the world (Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, La Scala Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, etc.). “We don’t have the huge repertoire of a solo pianist or a violinist, but we have all the more freedom to create our own music and our own projects,” say the sisters, who collaborate with Baroque music ensembles (such as The English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Il Giardino Armonico with Giovanni Antonini), but they also venture into the field of “non-artificial” (natural) music (Katia even played in a rock band).

The problem of the limited repertoire for piano duo is also solved by addressing contemporary composers. In addition to the above mentioned, in 2015 they gave the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Double Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel. Two years later they premiered Bryce Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos expressly written for them, and recorded it for the album “El Chan”. The Labèques also performed this piece in Prague’s Rudolfinum – although due to the pandemic (2021) without an audience, only in a streamed version. However, this was not the Labèque sisters’ first meeting with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (whose chief conductor Semyon Bychkov is Marielle Labèque’s husband). In April 2017, the Dvořák Hall witnessed their performance of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, and a year later they made their solo debut there.

Semyon Bychkov  conductor

Semyon Bychkov

In the 2023/2024 season, Semyon Bychkov’s programmes centred on Dvořák’s last three symphonies, the concertos for piano, violin and cello, and three overtures: In Nature’s Realm, Carnival Overture, and Othello. In addition to conducting at Prague’s Rudolfinum, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic took the all Dvořák programmes to Korea and across Japan with three concerts at Tokyo’s famed Suntory Hall. Later, in spring, an extensive European tour took the programmes to Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium, and France and, at the end of year, the Year of Czech Music 2024 will culminate with three concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York. As well as featuring Dvořák’s concertos for piano, violin and cello, the programmes will include three poems from Smetana’s Má vlast, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass for which the orchestra will be joined by the Prague Philharmonic Choir. 

Bychkov’s inaugural season with the Czech Philharmonic was celebrated with an international tour that took the orchestra from performances at home in Prague to concerts in London, New York, and Washington. The following year saw the completion of The Tchaikovsky Project – the release of a 7-CD box set devoted to Tchaikovsky’s symphonic repertoire – and a series of international residencies. In his first season with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov also instigated the commissioning of 14 new works which have subsequently been premiered by the Czech Philharmonic and performed by orchestras across Europe and in the United States.

As well as the focus on Dvořák’s music, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic are exploring the symphonies of Mahler as part of PENTATONE’s ongoing complete Mahler cycle. The first symphonies in the cycle – Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 5 were released in 2022, followed in 2023 by Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”. Last season’s highlights included performances of Mahler’s Third Symphony in Prague and Baden-Baden, and during the 2024/2025 season, Bychkov will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 with the orchestra in Prague, New York, and Toronto, and Symphony No. 8 in Prague.

While especially recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has built strong and lasting relationships with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux, and Maurizio Kagel. More recent collaborations include those with Julian Anderson, Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert, Thierry Escaich, and Thomas Larcher whose works he has premiered with the Czech Philharmonic, as well as with the Concertgebouworkest, the Vienna, Berlin, New York and Munich Philharmonic Orchestras, Cleveland Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and one in the West. Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has lived in Europe since the mid-1980s. Singled out at the age of five for an extraordinarily privileged musical education, Bychkov studied piano before winning his place at the Glinka Choir School where, aged 13, he received his first lesson in conducting. He was 17 when he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory to study with the legendary Ilya Musin and, within three years won the influential Rachmaninoff Conducting Competition. Bychkov left the former Soviet Union when he was denied the prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic.

By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His international career, which began in France with Opéra de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, took off with a series of high-profile cancellations which resulted in invitations to conduct the New York and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras and the Concertgebouworkest. In 1989, he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997, Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and in 1998, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.

Bychkov’s symphonic and operatic repertoire is wide-ranging. He conducts in all the major opera houses including La Scala, Opéra national de Paris, Dresden Semperoper, Wiener Staatsoper, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Teatro Real. While Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, his productions of Janáček’s Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov each won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. In Vienna, he has conducted new productions of Strauss’ Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, as well as revivals of Strauss’ Elektra and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; while in London, he made his operatic debut with a new production of Strauss’ Elektra, and subsequently conducted new productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival, Strauss’ Elektra and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Madrid. He returned to Bayreuth to conduct a new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in summer 2024.

Bychkov’s combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that his performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, the warmth of his relationships is reflected in honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms. In Europe, he tours with the Concertgebouworkest and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France, and Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia, and Cleveland Orchestras.

Bychkov has recorded extensively for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Concertgebouworkest, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. His 13‑year collaboration (1997–2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne produced a series of benchmark recordings that included works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphonies No. 3, Das Lied von der Erde), Shostakovich (Symphony Nos. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninoff (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His 1992 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with the Orchestre de Paris was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (2020); 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). Of The Tchaikovsky Project released in 2019, BBC Music Magazine wrote, “The most beautiful orchestra playing imaginable can be heard on Semyon Bychkov’s 2017 recording with the Czech Philharmonic, in which Decca’s state-of-the art recording captures every detail.”

In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music in July 2022 and the award for Conductor of the Year from Musical America in October 2022.

Bychkov was one of the first musicians to express his position on the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, since when he has spoken in support of Ukraine in Prague’s Wenceslas Square; on the radio and television in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Austria, the UK, and the USA; written By Invitation for The Economist; and appeared as a guest on BBC World’s HARDtalk.


Bryce Dessner
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra

For the American composer Bryce Dessner (*1976), writing classical music is just one realm of his diverse activities. The musical career of this native of Cincinnati, Ohio began in the rock band The National, which he founded at the turn of the century with his brother, and which is still in successful operation today. Over time, besides songs he began to compose concert works, music for dance theatre, and film scores, and he became a symbol of success in a field sometimes referred to as crossover. He employs his experience with contrasting musical genres as a curator of festivals and other musical events, including MusicNOW and HAVEN, of which he is also a co-founder. With the release of the album Aheym in 2013, he first introduced himself as a composer of classical music. The recording contains a series of compositions for the famed Kronos Quartet, including Little Blue Something, which was inspired by an encounter with the music of the Czech alternative duo of Irena Havlová and Vojtěch Havel, and to be precise, their recording Little Blue Nothing. The pair create meditative compositions employing the unique sound of two viols da gamba, which Dessner describes as an important influenced at the beginning of his career as a composer.

Bryce Dessner’s film music credits include The Two Popes (2019) and collaboration on the music for The Revenant (2015) by the director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Dessner’s visit to the director’s homeland inspired his first work for two pianos and the Labèque sisters, the suite El Chan, named for a legendary spirit from the depths of a canyon. The Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra is a further collaborative step. While writing it, the composer visited the piano studio where the sisters were working, and their music collection became part of the new work’s inspiration. Bryce Dessner, who has moved from the USA to Paris, professes to have been influenced by a number of French composers, such as Olivier Messiaen, Francis Poulenc, and Henri Dutilleux.

In his own words, the composer understands the two pianos “more like one gigantic instrument than like two contrasting voices”, and the perfect ensemble playing of Katia and Marielle Labèque reinforces that impression. The concerto is in the classical three-movement form with an alternation of fast and slow passages, and the orchestra sound is enhanced by a wide range of percussion including various metal objects. The work was composed in 2017 and was premiered in April 2018 in London with the London Philharmonic Orchestra accompanying Katia and Marielle Labèque.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 ("Scottish")

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–1847) is one of the most famous composers of the early Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, he soon exhibited a versatile musical talent as not only a composer, but also a pianist, organist, and conductor. One of his achievements as a performer and promoter was the reawakening of the musical community’s interest in the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. His own compositions won great acclaim in Great Britain, which he visited on ten occasions.

The details of the creation of the symphony commonly called the “Scottish” and its position in the context of the composer’s oeuvre are a bit of a mystery to music historians. It is certain that the first impulse for writing the symphony came during Mendelssohn’s first visit to the British Isles in 1829 when he was accompanied by Karl Klingemann, a friend of the family who was working there in the diplomatic services. One of the goals of his visit was to meet the writer Sir Walter Scott, the literary idol of the Romantic movement in Europe. Although their encounter supposedly did not turn out the way that Mendelssohn had hoped (they caught the author just as he was leaving home and managed to exchange only a few words with him), Mendelssohn had a number of powerful experiences in his travels around Scotland. According to a letter from the composer to his family, the initial impulse was his visit to the ruin of the Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, the seat of Queen Maria Stuart of Scotland in the sixteenth century. It was there that he wrote down the opening motif of the symphony’s first movement. After that sudden flash of inspiration, however, it took a long thirteen years before the symphony was finished. Although it is called his third, in reality, it is the fifth of his symphonies.

When performing and publishing his symphony, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy did not draw any attention to “Scottish” content in his symphony, nor did he provide any concrete musical programme. Nonetheless, dramatic development can be heard in the music, and listeners can project Scotland’s stirring history onto it. The first, second, and fourth movements contain passages that suggest scenes of a battle or marching, while the third movement is stylized as a funeral march. The second movement contains melodic elements that are reminiscent of Scottish folk music, although there are no specific quotes. The symphony ends with a coda, in which the composer quotes his own musical setting of the prayer Ave Maria, and this can be understood as a hidden reference to Maria Stuart. Innovative for its day is the composer’s requirement that the individual movements of the symphony follow each other without a pause, allowing the music to flow more seamlessly. The symphony was premiered in Leipzig in 1842, and Mendelssohn dedicated it to Queen Victoria.

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