Czech Philharmonic • Karen Gomyo

On 4 February 2021, when the Labèque sisters performed Bryce Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos on camera at the Rudolfinum, Dessner had already been commissioned a new symphonic work titled Mari. It will be performed alongside Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 played by Karen Gomyo and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances conducted by Semyon Bychkov.

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Bryce Dessner
Mari (Czech première) (22')

Dmitri Shostakovich
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77 (39')
Nocturne: Moderato
Scherzo: Allegro
Passacaglia: Andante
Burlesca: Allegro con brio

— Intermission —

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (35')
Non allegro
Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)
Lento assai – Allegro vivace


Karen Gomyo violin

Semyon Bychkov

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Karen Gomyo

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

Dress rehearsal
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Karen Gomyo  violin

Born in Tokyo and beginning her musical career in Montréal and New York, violinist Karen Gomyo has recently made Berlin her home. A musician of the highest calibre, the Chicago Tribune praised her as: "…a first-rate artist of real musical command, vitality, brilliance and intensity".

Karen’s 2019/20 season features European debuts with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Cristian Macelaru, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande with Jonathan Nott, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern with Pietari Inkinen, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Gergely Madaras and Dresdner Philharmoniker with Roderick Cox.

Other recent European appearances include Philharmonia Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Radio France, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Danish National Symphony, and in March 2019 Karen opened the Dubai Proms with the BBC Symphony and Ben Gernon. At present Karen makes her debut at the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra with Semyon Bychkov.

Already well established in North America Karen has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Detroit, San Francisco, Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. Further afield her popularity in Australasia continued over the last few seasons as she toured with New Zealand Symphony and also appeared with West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Perth, Tasmanian Symphony and in recital at the Sydney Opera House. In Asia she maked her debut with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

Strongly committed to contemporary works, Karen gave the North American premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s Concerto No. 2 Mar’eh with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington under the baton of the composer, as well as Pēteris Vasks’ Vox Amoris with the Lapland Chamber Orchestra conducted by John Storgårds. In May 2018 Karen performed the world premiere of Samuel Adams’ new Chamber Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen to great critical acclaim. The work was written specifically for Karen and commissioned by the CSO’s ‘Music Now’ series for their 20th anniversary.

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).


Bryce Dessner

American composer and guitarist Bryce Dessner has been moving across musical genres all his life. Together with his twin brother Aaron, he plays in the rock band The National and he is also a member of the instrumental group Clogs. At the same time, he is a composer of chamber, symphonic and film music commissioned by some of the world’s most important ensembles and film studios. His work is inspired by jazz, rock, Baroque music and above all minimalism. In 2006, he founded the MusicNOW Festival in Cincinnati, which annually presents the best of contemporary music. As regards his film soundtracks, he is best known for the 2015 Oscar-winning film The Revenant and the 2019 chamber conversational drama The Two Popes. Earlier this year, the Czech Philharmonic performed Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, which, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was held at the Rudolfinum without an audience and was live-streamed. The orchestra was conducted by Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov and the sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque, for whom the concerto was composed in 2017, sat at the pianos.

Bryce Dessner dedicated his one-movement orchestral composition Mari to Semyon Bychkov. He composed it last year, when both musicians coincidentally stayed on the Basque coast of France at the time when cultural events could not take place due to the pandemic. This pastoral composition is named after the Basque goddess of the forests, and Dessner found inspiration for it during his walks through the forests and mountains of the French Basque Country. It quotes melodies from the first movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony and the fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Dessner himself describes the music of these composers as “timeless but also distinctly modern”. Chief Conductor Bychkov gave the world premiere of this work with the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich this June. Mari will now have its Czech premiere, and its performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London is scheduled for early next year.

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.

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.