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Czech Chamber Music Society • Jiří Vodička


Czech Philharmonic concertmaster Jiří Vodička and a chamber orchestra of his colleagues offer an original programme introduced by a work by another Vodička, the concertmaster of the Munich ensemble of the elector in late 18th century. Next are two Baroque works, a brief spiritual opus by Arvo Pärt, and Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony.

Subscription series II | Duration of the programme 1 hour 20 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society

Programme

Wenceslaus Wodiczka
Sonata F major, Op. 1, No. 6 (10'-13')

Arcangelo Corelli
Concerto grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 4 (10')

Pietro Antonio Locatelli
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 3, No. 12 (20')

Arvo Pärt
Silouan’s Song (6')

Dmitri Shostakovich
Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a (25'-30')

Performers

Jiří Vodička violin

Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Jiří Vodička

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Reservation of seats for current subscribers:
until 3 June 2024, 20.00
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from 10 June 2024, 10.00
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from 11 September 2024, 10.00

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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.

Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra  

“It is the fulfilment of a dream we shared with Jiří Bělohlávek: after two years of preparations, we are ushering in concerts of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. This name does not stand for one particular ensemble; instead it represents a project in which the orchestra members will be performing in various chamber groups,” said David Mareček, Chief Executive Officer of the Czech Philharmonic, in the spring of 2018. Jiří Bělohlávek was convinced that it was healthy for the Czech Philharmonic to play in a smaller ensemble with a repertoire spanning the Baroque to the present, where the musicians can hone their intonation, phrasing, and collaboration as individuals within a whole group. The Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, consisting exclusively of the members of the Czech Philharmonic assembled for a specific occasion, was officially established in the Czech Philharmonic’s 123rd season. Since then, the ensemble has already prepared fifteen projects presented both during the orchestra’s regular season at the Rudolfinum and at festival appearances.

Compositions

Wenceslaus Wodiczka
Sonata in F major, Op. 1, No. 6

Wenceslaus Wodiczka (Vodička), Archangelo Corelli, and Pietro Antonio Locatelli were among the leading violinist-composers of their day. Or were they really composer-violinists? It’s hard to say. In any case, their works very clearly exhibit their knowledge of the violin’s technical and expressive possibilities. And how else should we begin the lighter half of the programme than with humour: Czech Philharmonic concertmaster Jiří Vodička will play a sonata by his namesake!

Wenceslaus Wodiczka (ca. 1715–1774) still remains somewhat underappreciated, but he was an interesting composer from the end of the Baroque and the dawn of Classicism. He was probably born in Bohemia, but by 1732 he had become a violinist in the Munich court ensemble of Karl Albrecht, Prince-Elector of Bavaria. He spent time in Paris and possibly in London as well, and from 1745 he was back in Munich, where he ultimately became the concertmaster of the court ensemble and earned the title of court councillor. While performing those offices, he also taught violin at the Seminarium Gregorianum, a Jesuit institution, and he is assumed to have written a treatise on violin playing published in ca. 1757 in Amsterdam, making him the first Czech author to deal with violin pedagogy at an advanced level. Wodiczka’s family had artistic inclinations (his wife was the singer Marie Johanna Brentani) and was in contact with the family of Leopold Mozart. His Six Sonatas, Op. 1, for violin and harpsichord are dedicated to Elector Karl Albrecht and were first published in Paris in 1739 as Sei sonate a violino solo e basso, i.e. with figured bass. The final Sonata No. 6 in F major is undeniably at once the work of a young composer full of creative energy and of a first-rate soloist.

Arcangelo Corelli
Concerto grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 4

Archangelo Corelli (1653–1713) was at least two generations older, and he is mainly associated with the development of the Baroque concerto grosso and of violin technique. He came from Fusignano in the present-day Italian province of Ravenna. He became famous in Paris and travelled the world, finally settling down in Rome under the protection of important patrons of the nobility and ecclesiastical hierarchy. Despite humble origins, he died a respected and wealthy man. His supporters included the former Queen of Sweden Kristina (yes, the Kristina who order the looting of cultural artefacts from Bohemia at the end of the Thirty Years’ War) and Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, whose palace was the site of famed concerts largely organised and planned by Corelli. The Concerti grossi, Op. 6, which Corelli composed around the 1680s and prepared for publication near the end of his life, are associated with his employment by Ottoboni. The form is typical of the Baroque concerto, with the orchestra divided into a concertino (a group of soloists) and a ripieno (tutti), and these groups communicate with each other. Opus 6 contains 12 concertos, the most famous of which is the eighth, called the Christmas Concerto, but the Concerto grosso No. 4 in D major is also played rather often. The entire collection was published posthumously in 1714 in Amsterdam.

Pietro Antonio Locatelli
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 3, No. 12

One of Corelli’s successors was Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695–1764), who is called the Paganini of the 18th century. He was born in Bergamo, northern Italy, and his exceptional musical talent soon brought him to the concert stage. He is sometimes said to have studied under Corelli, but this is not certain; stylistically, he is closer to Vivaldi. While working in Rome, Locatelli also served various patrons including Cardinal Ottoboni. In the 1720s he gave concert tours in Italy and Germany, then in 1729 he moved to Amsterdam, known for the printing of books and music, and he remained there until his death. He proved to be a practical businessman and enjoyed success as composer, violin virtuoso, and teacher, besides being a book expert and intellectual. L’arte del violino, Op. 3 (1733), a collection of twelve violin concertos, is one of his best-known works. Like the other 11 concertos, the concluding Violin Concerto in D major is in three movements (Allegro – Largo – Allegro). In it Locatelli exploits in particular the violin’s high range, and in the “capricci” he lets the soloist shine. According to Locatelli’s contemporaries, these highly virtuosic, technically difficult passages in the outer movements, rather like cadenzas, were among the most difficult violin music yet written. The composer himself wrote a fitting inscription with the first capriccio of the 12th concerto: Il Laberinto armonico, facilus aditus, difficilis exitus (Harmonic labyrinth, easy to enter, but difficult to exit).

Arvo Pärt
Silouan’s Song

The second part of the programme seems to offer a deliberate contrast with the Baroque compositions: in place of Locatelli’s brilliance, we hear the minimalism of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (*1935), who does nothing for show and does not allow the notes to intoxicate him. Instead, he is interested in existential questions and the spiritual dimension of human life. Both this orientation and also his experimentation with the compositional techniques of the 20th century meant that Pärt’s music did not fit in with the official demands for Socialist Realism. Under pressure from the government, he left the Soviet Union in 1980. He passed through Vienna on the way to Germany, where he worked for more than a quarter century. He did not return to his homeland until 2008. Silouan’s Song (1991) for string orchestra is a typical example of Pärt’s distinctive technique of tintinnabuli, which is characterised by very sparing means of expression, inspiration from the music of the Middle Ages and Orthodox Church, and immersion in silence. Yet from this ascetic sound, in which one can sense the fear of the Lord, there grows an emotionally powerful prayer based on a text by the monk Silouan of Athos, in which he speaks of desire for God: “My soul yearns after the Lord and I seek Him in tears. How could I do other than seek Thee, for Thou first didst seek and find me, and gavest me to delight in Thy Holy Spirit, and my soul fell to loving Thee. …” Besides the orchestral version, the composer also arranged Silouan’s Song for eight cellos (2012).

Dmitri Shostakovich
Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906–1975) had experiences of his own with accusations of formalism in Soviet Russia. The composer, pianist, and teacher was a native of Saint Petersburg. Interpretations of his works tend to be coloured by the period when he lived, which was marked by frequent historical and political upheavals; the Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”) is not the only work that comes to mind. The roots of the Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a are found in Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet (1960). The composer wrote it in just three days in Dresden, where he was working on music for the film Fünf Tage – Fünf Nächte, and during his free time he took in the atmosphere of the city, which had been destroyed during the war. However, the Eighth String Quartet is regarded as something of a summation of the composer’s life, and quotes from his own compositions (such as the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and his symphonies and concertos) and from music by other composers (including Tchaikovsky and R. Strauss) are scattered throughout the work. The cryptogram DSCH (using the German spelling Dmitri Schostakowitsch and German note names: S = E flat, H = B natural) opens the quartet and permeates the whole work, the melancholy character of which is underscored by the key of C minor and by the tempo structure (Largo – Allegro molto – Allegretto – Largo – Largo. Largo appears three times!). The violist and conductor Rudolf Barshai, founder of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, made this arrangement of the Eighth String Quartet as the Chamber Symphony.

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