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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.

Programme

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')

Performers

Jiří Vodička violin

Petr Altrichter conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Spring Concert

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Price from 300 to 1000 Kč Tickets and contact information

Reservation of seats for current subscribers:
until 3 June 2024, 20.00
Sale of individual tickets for subscription concerts:
from 10 June 2024, 10.00
Ticket sales for all public dress rehearsals:
from 11 September 2024, 10.00

Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic

Tel.: +420 227 059 227
E-mail: info@czechphilharmonic.cz

Customer service is available on weekdays from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.

 

Performers

Jiří Vodička  violin

Jiří Vodička

Jiří Vodička, a concertmaster, soloist, and chamber player, is one of the most important and sought-after Czech violinists, but it would not have taken much for him to have devoted himself to Latin-American dance instead of the violin. At age 12 he finally decided to devote himself fully to playing the highest-pitched string instrument. About his dancing, he comments coyly: “I got something from doing that, possibly in the area of feel for rhythm.” At the unusually early age of 14, he was admitted to the Institute for Artistic Studies at the University of Ostrava, where he studied under the renowned pedagogue Zdeněk Gola. He graduated in 2007 with a master’s degree. Even earlier, he had attracted attention by winning many competitions including the Kocian International Violin Competition and Prague Junior Note. In 2002 he also won the prize for the best participant at violin classes led by Václav Hudeček, with whom he later gave dozens of concerts all around the Czech Republic. His success continued as an adult, for example winning first and second prizes at the world-famous competition Young Concert Artists (2008) held in Leipzig and New York.

A father of five, he is the owner of the Wassermann Media production company, which he founded during the Coronavirus pandemic. In the 2023/2024 season, he has entered his ninth season as the concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic. He has made solo appearances not only with Czech orchestras like the Prague Philharmonia or the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, but also with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Philharmonic Orchestra of Westphalia, and the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra.

His professional activities are of greater breadth, however. In 2014, he recorded his debut solo album “Violino Solo” on the Supraphon label, and crossover fans can hear him on his worldwide Vivaldianno tour. He recently appeared at Prague Castle with Tomáš Kačo on the occasion of the state award presentation ceremony, he was formerly a member of the Smetana Trio (two more Supraphon CDs). He has performed chamber music with the outstanding Czech pianists Martin Kasík, Ivo Kahánek, Ivan Klánský, David Mareček, and Miroslav Sekera. Many of the concerts of the “Czech Paganini”, as Vodička is sometimes called because of his extraordinary technical skill, have been recorded by Czech Television, Czech Radio, or the German broadcasting company ARD. Besides all of that he teaches at the University of Ostrava.

The instrument he plays, a 1767 Italian violin made by Joseph Gagliano, came into his possession by what he calls “good old-fashioned patronage”. He received the violin for long-term use from the Czech Philharmonic’s former chief conductor Jiří Bělohlávek.

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.

Compositions

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”

Dvořák’s prestigious invitation to New York did not come out of nowhere. For years, his music had already been familiar in the United States, and American newspapers had been writing about his successes in Europe as a composer and conductor. Above all, however, for America Dvořák was iconic as a national composer. “Americans expect great things from me, and above all, supposedly, that I will show them the way to the promised land and to the realm of new, independent art, in short, how to create the music of a nation!! […] Certainly, this is an equally great and beautiful task for me, and I hope I shall have the good fortune to succeed with God’s help. There is more than enough material here,” wrote the composer to his friend Josef Hlávek after arriving in America. Dvořák did, in fact, delve into America’s musical material with great interest, as is revealed in an interview for the New York Herald: “Since I have been in this country I have been deeply interested in the national music of the negroes and the Indians. […] I intend to do all in my power to call attention to this splendid treasure of melody which you have.” Dvořák did not borrow the melodies, however. He created his own melodies using many of the characteristic features of folk songs that he combined with the essence of American folklore. In addition, the motifs from the new Symphony in E minor, Op. 95, “From the New World”, did not come into the world instantly in the form in which we now know them. This is documented by the composer’s sketches, in which the now famous themes appear still with many deviations from the final version. It is clear that during the compositional process, Dvořák was giving ever deeper expression to the “American spirit” that he wanted the music to embody, adding syncopations including a special rhythm known as the “Scotch snap”, highlighting the pentatonic scale etc. However, his new symphony was by no means an attempt to do everything differently from his previous symphonies. As he was finishing the score, he brought this up in a letter to his friend Göbl: “I’m just now finishing my Symphony in E minor, which will be strikingly different from my earlier ones, mostly in terms of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic figures—just my orchestration has not changed, something in which I probably will not advance any further, nor do I wish to, and I have my reasons.”

The composer also mentioned the work’s tempestuous reception at the premiere at New York’s Carnegie Hall in December 1893 (Anton Seidl conducted the New York Philharmonic) in a letter to his publisher Fritz Simrock in Berlin: “The symphony’s success on December 15th and 16th was magnificent; the newspapers say that no composer has ever before achieved such a triumph. I was seated in a box, the hall was occupied by New York’s most elite public, and the people applauded so much that I had to wave from my box like a king to show my gratitude! Like Mascagni in Vienna (don’t laugh!). You know that I prefer to try to avoid such ovations, but I had to do this and show myself.” The composer did not inscribe the title “From the New World” on the score’s title page until a few months after finishing the work; it was on the very day that he handed the score over to the conductor for rehearsals. The title of the first work he had written in America gave rise to a great deal of comment in newspaper articles. Having read them, the composer supposedly remarked with a smile: “Well, it seems I have confused their minds a bit.”

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