Czech Philharmonic • Spring Concert

Tchaikovsky and Dvořák were contemporaries, and although separated by great distance, also good friends. Tchaikovsky’s only Violin Concerto alongside Dvořák’s last and most famous symphony promise a scintillating programme, highlighted by the spontaneous, exciting interpretations of concertmaster Jiří Vodička and conductor Petr Altrichter.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (35')

— Intermission —

Antonín Dvořák
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 (“From the New World”) (40')


Jiří Vodička violin

Petr Altrichter conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic Spring Concert

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

Studentské vstupné

Dress rehearsal

Dress rehearsal

Dress rehearsal

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Jiří Vodička  violin
Jiří Vodička

Jiří Vodička is one of the most illustrious Czech violin soloists. Thanks to his extraordinary talent, he won prestigious competitions at an early age (Kocian International Violin Competition in Ústí nad Orlicí, Louis Spohr International Violin Competition in Weimar, Germany, Beethoven’s Hradec, and the Slovak competition Čírenie talentov). He also won the first and second prizes at the world-famous international competition Young Concert Artists, held in Leipzig and New York. At age 14 he was given a special exception allowing him study at a university. Under the guidance of the renowned teacher Zdeněk Gola, he earned his Master’s Degree at the Institute for Artistic Studies in Ostrava in 2007.

He regularly appears as a soloist with the top orchestras at home and abroad, he is invited to the most famous classical music festivals, and his concerts are broadcast regularly on Czech Television and Czech Radio. In 2014 on the Supraphon label he recorded his debut solo album “Violino Solo” with some of the most difficult compositions for violin solo. The CD got great reviews in this country and abroad. Besides solo playing, he also performs chamber music. In 2020 he founded the Czech Philharmonic Piano Trio with two other soloists (Martin Kasík – piano, Václav Petr – cello). In 2021 they won the Vienna International Music Competition. Their video recordings are regularly seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers on social media.

Since 2015 he has also held the post of concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic. In 2019 he was honoured by the prestigious Prague Classic Awards. He also teaches at the Prague Conservatoire and the University of Ostrava.

Petr Altrichter  conductor
Petr Altrichter

Petr Altrichter is one of the most distinguished Czech conductors, and he has earned an illustrious reputation for the dynamism and depth of his interpretations of symphonic music. He was raised in a musical family and played musical instruments from a young age. Having graduated from the Conservatory in Ostrava as a French horn player and conductor, he continued his studies at the Janáček Academy of the Performing Arts in Brno in orchestral conducting under Otakar Trhlík and František Jílek and choral conducting with Josef Veselka and Lubomír Mátl. After completing his studies in Brno, he worked as a choirmaster and conductor with the Brno Academic Choir, and contributed to the winning of many prizes at foreign choral competitions and festivals (Middlesbrough, Debrecen…).

Altrichter attracted international attention in 1976, when he won second prize and a special prize of the jury at the renowned International Conducting Competition in Besançon, France. Based on this achievement he began to work with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra as an assistant of Václav Neumann, which started his artistic career. Not long after that, he began to receive invitations to conduct orchestras abroad. After working with the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, in 1988 he became the principal guest conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra and in 1991 he was appointed its chief conductor. With that orchestra, he made frequent foreign tours to Japan, the USA, Switzerland, Germany, France, and other countries. At the same time he also closely collaborated with the Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice, with which he often gave performances abroad introducing many gifted young soloists (such as Isabelle van Keulen and Radek Baborák).

From 1993 to 2004 he also worked as the Music Director of the Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie in Constance, Germany, with which he gave concerts regularly at the Tonhalle in Zurich and at the KKL in Lucerne, and also toured Switzerland and Italy. Having made his U.K. debut with the Prague Symphony Orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival in 1990, Petr Altrichter made his London debut with the English Chamber Orchestra 1993. He then conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 1994 to a great critical acclaim. He was subsequently appointed its Principal Conductor, a post he held from 1997 until 2001. With this orchestra he appeared at the 2000 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and made several highly-praised recordings on the orchestra’s own label, RLPO live.

In 2001 Altrichter was invited to become the Chief Conductor of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, and he remained there for seven years, returning to the orchestra with which he had been associated since his student days and which he continues to guest conduct up to this day. He is also a regular guest of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he has maintained a steady artistic relationship since his beginnings there as an assistant conductor, and of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he recorded an award-winning CD with Antonín Dvořák’s music. Since the 2018/2019 season, he has been a permanent guest conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he has been working for many years.

In 2015 he toured Germany with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and in late 2015 and early 2016, he toured China with the same orchestra. At the beginning of the 2017/2018 season, he conducted the Czech Philharmonic at the Dvořák Prague International Festival and later toured very successfully in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan with the same orchestra. In the spring of 2017 he toured Japan with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. In 2018 he toured the United Kingdom with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. In May 2019 he will be touring with the Czech Philharmonic in China.

Altrichter has appeared as a guest conductor with many leading international orchestras, including Japan’s NHK Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. In the United Kingdom he has collaborated with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestras he has guest conducted also include the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz, the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra, the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Baden-Baden, the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra in Riga, the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra, the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen and the Odense Symphony Orchestra.

He is a frequent guest at festivals such as Prague Spring, Janáček May in Ostrava, Smetana’s Litomyšl, Moravian Autumn in Brno, and the Bratislava Music Festival. He has made guest appearances at major festivals in Salzburg, Edinburgh, Avignon, Athens, Cheltenham, Paris, Madrid, Chicago, Zurich, Lucerne, Seville, Palermo, and elsewhere.

The bulk of Petr Altrichter’s repertoire consists of Czech music (Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, and Bohuslav Martinů), Russian music (especially Dmitri Shostakovich), and the works of Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. Outstanding soloists and performers from around the world (Garrick Ohlsson, John Lill, Tabea Zimmermann and others) value his flexibility in leading orchestral accompaniments, and they seek out collaboration with him.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35

Concertos are always challenging for composers. If they are not themselves virtuosos on the instrument in question, they can seldom do without an instrumental advisor. The famed virtuoso Joseph Joachim was just such a partner for Brahms and Dvořák when they composed their violin concertos, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky also needed a consultant.

Tchaikovsky composed his Violin Concerto in D Major in March 1878 in the Swiss village Clarens, not far from Montereux, with a view of the summit of Mont Blanc hovering in the distance beyond Lake Geneva. Tchaikovsky was staying there thanks to his altruistic patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, who sent him there for convalescence. At the time, the composer was going through one of his most severe mental crises related to his sexual orientation, an absolute social taboo at the time. He had tried to deal with his clandestine homosexuality in June of 1877 by marrying his pupil Antonina Ivanovna Miliukova, but their union did not last long—the couple separated after just two months. Tchaikovsky viewed the debacle of his marriage as a personal failing, and he welcomed the opportunity to escape the harsh judgment of Russian society, finding temporary “asylum” in Switzerland. After a while, his pupil Josif Kotek, with whom the composer shared a bond of special affection, came to visit him there. Kotek was, of course, a violinist first and foremost (he was studying with Joachim in Berlin at the time), and he brought his violin with him to Clarens. Almost immediately, Tchaikovsky regained the peace of mind he had long been lacking, and his creative invention was restored—he finished his Violin Concerto within a month. He sent the work to Nadezhda von Meck, and she wrote to him on 29 May 1878: “The Canzonetta is truly marvellous. There is such poetry and desire in those veiled sounds, in those mysterious tones!“

Although Kotek had participated in the entire creative process and knew the solo part by heart, Tchaikovsky did not entrust the premiere to him because of the societal considerations mentioned above. In the first printed edition, the composer dedicated the work to Leopold Auer, the supreme authority on violin playing in Russia at the time. Auer, however, wanted to revise the solo part himself, and Tchaikovsky did not go along with the idea. Ultimately, the work had to wait three years for its premiere in Vienna, where Adolf Brodsky played it with the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Hans Richter. The Prague native Eduard Hanslick, a famed Viennese critic, panned the concerto, writing that, for example, the third movement had been written under the influence of vodka… This time, however, Hanslick was wrong—Tchaikovsky’s work has become one of the best known and most popular violin concertos in all of music history.

As is typical for a concerto, the work is laid out in a three-movement structure with a fast-slow-fast sequence. The first movement, Allegro moderato, is based on two beautifully melodic themes, and the soloist gets to demonstrate virtuosity in an amazing cadenza. The second movement, Andante, has a simple, lyrical melody full of nostalgia and tenderness. (Originally, the concerto was to have had a different second movement; Tchaikovsky later used that music in his Souvenir d’un lieu cher.) Its idyllic title Canzonetta (little song) cannot conceal that the music is a deeply personal utterance: the wistful theme with which the soloist answers a gentle orchestral introduction is an expression of deep depression. It is, in fact, the Canzonetta that places the concerto alongside the series of great works that mirror the composer’s inner life. The third movement, Allegro vivacissimo, is a supremely virtuosic piece. The music of the concerto is light and refreshing, and the composer employs transparent orchestration with a minimum of special effects. Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major is not ponderously complicated – it just captivates listeners with its lovely, poignant melodies, and that is also probably the reason for its enormous popularity.

Antonín Dvořák
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, “From the New World”

Antonín Dvořák composed his last symphony during the first year of his stay in the USA. He had been invited by the founder of New York’s National Conservatory of Music Jeanette Thurber to become the new school’s director. The contract, originally for two years, was extended to three, from autumn 1892 until 1895. New York welcomed Dvořák with celebrations, and he remained at the centre of attention throughout his stay. In 1893, it was the powerful impressions from his cordial welcome and from his new environment, his favourable financial circumstances, and the ambition to prove his greatness that led Dvořák to create his most popular and best known work around the world. He wrote the famed Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World” in New York between 10 January and 24 May 1893. In a letter Dvořák sent back to his homeland, he wrote: “It seems to me that American soil will have a beneficial effect on my thinking, and I would almost go so far as to say something of this will be audible in the new symphony.” He built his symphony using melodious yet simple themes with an originality of rhythm and temperament that is truly extraordinary. At the same time, he opened himself to new musical influences. He was moved by Negro spirituals, and he found inspiration in poetry based on Indian legends. One of the main sources was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha about an Indian chief. Dvořák read this important work of American literature before his stay in America in a translation by Josef Václav Sládek. The English horn melody in the second movement is said to bring to mind the burial of the chief’s wife Minnehaha. He told the New York Herald: “the Scherzo of my new symphony was suggested by the scene of the feast where the Indians dance.” In the closing theme of the first movement, we clearly hear the melody of the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. Using all of these elements, Dvořák succeeded in evoking the impression in the American listeners that the work was purely American. And yet, after the premiere one critic wrote: “Dvořák can no more divest himself of his nationality than the leopard can change its spots.” With hindsight, one can only agree—there is no denying the symphony’s Czech melodies and Czech character.

The symphony was premiered on 26 December 1893 at New York’s Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic Society under the baton of Anton Seidl. It was not until mid-November, just before he gave the score to the conductor, that Dvořák gave his Symphony in E minor the subtitle “From the New World”. The premiere was very eagerly awaited. The New York press published a number of articles in advance, even revealing musical examples. The public dress rehearsal took place on the afternoon of 15 December, and people waited for tickets in a long queue at Carnegie Hall in spite of heavy rain. The actual premiere was the highpoint of the concert season, as Dvořák documented in a letter to his publisher Simrock: “My dear friend Simrock! The success of the symphony on 15 and 16 December was spectacular; the papers are saying that no composer has ever achieved a triumph such as this. I sat in a box, the auditorium hosted New York’s finest, and people applauded for so long that I had to express my appreciation from my box like a king (don’t laugh!). You know that I prefer to avoid ovations such as this, but I had to do it and make an appearance!

No one doubted that the new work would be heard all around the world, and orchestras were soon playing it in Europe, America, and Australia. The New World Symphony had its European premiere on 21 June 1894 in London, it was first played in Bohemia on 20 July 1894 in Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), and the Prague public finally heard the symphony on 13 October 1894 at the National Theatre with Dvořák himself conducting. And when Neil Armstrong became the first man to stand on the moon on 20 July 1969, he took a recording of Dvořák’s New World Symphony along with him!

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