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Czech Philharmonic • Season Opening Concert


The opening of the season is a gala event and deserves something special. The combination of works by Beethoven and Strauss with extra-musical associations meets this requirement, and with wonderful interpretations by the marvellous violinist Lisa Batiashvili and the Czech Philharmonic with Semyon Bychkov, these will be a truly special evenings.

Duration of the programme 1 hour 50 minutes

Programme

Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Concerto D major, Op. 61 (42')

— Intermission —

Richard Strauss
An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64 (47')

Performers

Lisa Batiashvili violin

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Season Opening Concert

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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“There is an interesting connection between Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. The concerto is musically very closely tied to nature, and of course even just the title of the Alpine Symphony clearly suggests a work about nature. But that is actually a mistake because Strauss only uses nature as a metaphor for the life’s journey of a person from birth to death and for what happens to him along the way. So the Alpine Symphony is not about going through the forest or what you hear in the mountains. Everything in it operates as a story of the experiencing of human life. It is an absolutely existential work”, explains Maestro Semyon Bychkov.

The cameras in the auditorium record the first opening concert for a live broadcast on the Czech TV art channel and the second opening concert for a live broadcast on TV Mezzo Live HD.

Performers

Lisa Batiashvili  violin

Lisa Batiashvili

“Batiashvili’s fearless playing is so tonally rich and technically immaculate.” (The Guardian)

Lisa Batiashvili, the Georgian-born German violinist, is praised by audiences and fellow musicians for her virtuosity. An award winning artist, she has developed long-standing relationships with the world’s leading orchestras, conductors and musicians.

Batiashvili is also the Artistic Director of Audi Sommerkonzerte, Ingolstadt. For the 2019 festival – ‘Fantastique’ – Batiashvili curated a diverse programme featuring artists such as Daniel Harding with Bayerische Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Gautier Capuçon, Les Vents Francais and Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. For the 2020 festival, Batiashvili will design a programme to celebrate Audi’s anniversary year.

In the 2019/2020 season Batiashvili performs with, among others, the Philadelphia Orchestra / Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Berlin Staatskapelle / Daniel Barenboim, London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle, Orchestre de Paris / Lahav Shani, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig / Andris Nelsons, and Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich / Paavo Järvi.

Recording exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon, Lisa’s latest album – ‘Visions of Prokofiev’ (Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Yannick Nézet-Séguin) – won an Opus Klassik Award and was shortlisted for the 2018 Gramophone Awards. Earlier recordings include the concertos of Tchaikovsky and Sibelius (Staatskapelle Berlin / Daniel Barenboim), Brahms (Staatskapelle Dresden / Christian Thielemann), and Shostakovich No. 1 (Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks / Esa-Pekka Salonen).  

Bastiashvili has had DVD releases of live performances with the Berliner Philharmoniker / Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Bartók Violin Concerto No.1) and with Gautier Capuçon, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann (Brahm’s Concerto for Violin and Cello). 

She has won several awards: the MIDEM Classical Award, the Choc de lʼannée, the Accademia Musicale Chigiana International Prize, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festivalʼs Leonard Bernstein Award and the Beethoven-Ring. Batiashvili was named Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 2015, was nominated as Gramophone’s Artist of the Year in 2017, and in 2018 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Sibelius Academy (University of Arts, Helsinki).

Lisa lives in Munich and plays a Joseph Guarneri “del Gesù” from 1739, generously loaned by a private collector.

For further information please visit the homepage http://lisabatiashvili.com/.

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.

Compositions

Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61

The beginning of the new century was a major turning point in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven. While war was raging Europe because of the French Revolution, the composer was undergoing a deep personal crisis. Since about 1798 his hearing had been worsening gradually, and despite the efforts of physicians, this ultimately led to total deafness. This was an especially crushing blow for Beethoven, who had been earning a living mainly as a piano virtuoso since moving from his birthplace Bonn to Vienna. Consumed by his own problems, in April 1802 he moved to a quiet settlement on the outskirts of Vienna in the hope that his health would improve. Unfortunately, that did not occur. Beethoven was convinced that his worsening deafness portended the approaching end of his life. That autumn he wrote what we know as the Heiligenstadt Testament. In this moving letter that he wrote to his brothers but never sent, at just 32 years of age, Beethoven confesses that his worsening health has brought him suffering, and also admits that he had contemplated suicide. Ultimately, however, the composer rejected such thoughts, reconciled himself to his fate, and with growing determination fully devoted himself to a higher calling. In the years that followed, Beethoven gave himself over entirely to composing and began a new chapter of his artistic career, which his biographers have called his “heroic period”.

This is when he wrote his great Fifth Symphony as well as the Eroica and the Pastoral, the piano sonata known as the Apassionata, the first version of the opera Fidelio, and the Violin Concerto in D major. The composer wrote his only concerto for that instrument on commission for Franz Clement, the talented violinist, composer, and conductor at the Theater an der Wien. The premiere took place on 23 December 1806, and Beethoven had supposedly only finished the score a few days beforehand. It appears that the artistic quality of the premiere suffered because of insufficient rehearsal time. Although the audience gave the new work a cordial reception, the music critics were more reserved, and apart from a handful of performances the concerto was largely forgotten for another 38 years. The man behind its rediscovery in 1844 was the violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, at the time just 14 years old, who performed it with great success at his London debut. Since then, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto has won a place in the standard repertoire as one of the pillars of the violin literature alongside the concertos of Brahms, Bruch, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky.

 The Violin Concerto in D major makes demands of the highest order on the performer. The three-movement work in the classical concerto mould is imbued with a lyrical mood that is unusual in comparison with Beethoven’s other works. Here, the heroism we noted above, as found for example in the Eroica or the piano concertos, yields to the composer’s admiration for pastoral motifs. In this regard, the middle movement (Larghetto) is especially remarkable. Beethoven used this very slow tempo indication only twice in his orchestral works. The first time was in his Second Symphony, which he completed while staying in Heiligenstadt. The solo violin part lies mostly in the very high register, and the melodic material is built from simple scales and arpeggios, while the orchestra serves mostly as a harmonic anchor, and the music’s pulse nearly comes to a halt in places. The overall effect is one of an intimate confession, but in the final bars of the movement, the mood is interrupted by a playfully virtuosic motif announcing the following Rondo.

The protagonist of this evening’s concert, Lisa Batiashvili, first played Beethoven’s concerto at age 18, and she still regards it as an exceptional work: “It is heavenly music that carries us away to another world. Beethoven wrote a work that is incredibly virtuosic, but one must still play it as lightly as possible. Especially in the last movement, you have to show what you are capable of, but at the same time you have the feeling that it is you who must serve the music, and not the other way around.”

Richard Strauss
An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64

“There is an interesting connection between Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. The concerto is musically very closely tied to nature, and of course even just the title of the Alpine Symphony clearly suggests a work about nature,” said chief conductor Semyon Bychkov when introducing the Czech Philharmonic’s new season.

The music of Richard Strauss is firmly entrenched in the symphonic repertoire although its importance in the development of German symphonic music is sometimes overshadowed by some of his contemporaries, such as the giant of late Romanticism Gustav Mahler or the conqueror of tonality Arnold Schoenberg. In his early works, Strauss followed in the footsteps of the father of the symphonic poem Franz Liszt, and he produced some of the supreme achievements of that musical genre. The works that brought him success as a composer drew their thematic inspiration mainly from literature and philosophy. At the end of the 19th century, he wrote symphonic poems like Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, and Don Quixote. In reaction to Nietzsche’s philosophical novel Also sprach Zarathustra, he wrote a composition with the same title in 1896. With the arrival of the new century, Strauss was increasingly drawn to writing operas and works in other forms for voices and orchestra, and he devoted himself primarily such works in the years that followed.

After 1900, Richard Strauss wrote only two more symphonic poems, first the Symphonia Domestica (1903), then 12 years later the monumental Alpine Symphony. For his final work in the genre, Strauss took inspiration from his love of nature and from an adventure of his youth, when he and a group of friends set out to climb Heimgarten, a mountain peak in Bavaria. The Alps remained dear to Strauss’s heart all his life. In 1908, he had a house built in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps, where he lived with a few brief interruptions until the end of his life. According to available sources, by 1899 Strauss had already started work on a musical treatment of the theme of an Alpine expedition with the title Tragedy of an Artist, but he later set the work aside, not returning to it until 1911, apparently in connection with the premature death of his close friend Gustav Mahler.

Strauss is often regarded as a master of orchestration, and in An Alpine Symphony he elevated the art of instrumentation to absolute perfection. The score calls for about 125 players, and apart from the usual instruments of the orchestra, there are parts for some less frequently employed instruments like organ, celesta, and Wagner tuba. Also unique is the use of a whole array of percussion including tam-tams, cowbells, and instruments that imitate the sound of the wind and thunder. There is also an off-stage band with 12 French horns, two trumpets, and two trombones. Despite its title, An Alpine Symphony is a single-movement symphonic poem divided into 22 short parts. The composition is framed by two sections titled Night, and between them it follows the progress of a mountaineering expedition in the Alps. Each episode symbolises a specific part of the journey or a time of day.

However, Semyon Bychkov says about the symphony’s programme: “An Alpine Symphony is not about a walk through the forest and what you hear while in the mountains. In it, Strauss is just using nature as a metaphor for life’s journey from birth to death and all the things that happen along the way. Everything in it works like a story about the experience of human life. It is an absolutely existential work.”

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