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The appearance by the English conductor John Eliot Gardiner is one of the highpoints of the season. He will lead the Czech Philharmonic in an all-Czech programme featuring Dvořák’s Fifth Symphony, and for Suk’s Fantasy he has invited the superb violinist Jan Mráček.
Symphony No. 5 in G minor (22')
Fantasy in G minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 24 (23')
— Intermission —
Symphony No. 5 in F major, Op. 76 (36')
Jan Mráček violin
John Eliot Gardiner conductor
“I have loved Antonín Dvořák all my life, and I am grateful to have he opportunity this time of playing his landmark Fifth Symphony, by which he assumed his place in the main current of symphonic composition of his day. Dvořák wrote it in just under six weeks, and in it he seems to have combined the enthusiasm of his early symphonies with the mastery of his maturity. We hear Dvořák as an enthusiastic youth full of life, full of desire for discovery of music, but we also find here a polished master in his approach to composition and to the handling of musical material. From a purely musical perspective and in the context of Dvořák’s life, I find the Fifth Symphony to be entirely unique, and I hope that together with the philharmonic, we will convey my special understanding of this music to you as well”, wrote Gardiner.
The Czech violinist Jan Mráček was born in 1991 in Pilsen and began studying violin at the age of five with Magdaléna Micková. From 2003 he studied with Jiří Fišer, graduating with honors from the Prague Conservatory in 2013, and until recently at the University of Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna under the guidance of the Vienna Symphony concertmaster Jan Pospíchal.
As a teenager he enjoyed his first major successes, winning numerous competitions, participating in the master classes of Maestro Václav Hudeček – the beginning of a long and fruitful association. He won the Czech National Conservatory Competition in 2008, the Hradec International Competition with the Dvořák concerto and the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009, was the youngest Laureate of the Prague Spring International Festival competition in 2010, and in 2011 he became the youngest soloist in the history of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 2014 he was awarded first prize at Fritz Kreisler International Violin Competition at the Vienna Konzerthaus. When the victory of Jan Mráček was confirmed, there was thunderous applause from the audience and the jury. The jury president announced, “Jan is a worthy winner. He has fascinated us from the first round. Not only with his technical skills, but also with his charisma on stage.”
Jan Mráček has performed as a soloist with world’s orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Symphony of Florida, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, Kuopio Symphony Orchestra, Romanian Radio Symphony, Lappeenranta City Orchestra (Finland) as well as the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK), Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra and almost all Czech regional orchestras.
Jan Mráček had the honor of being invited by Maestro Jiří Bělohlávek to guest lead the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in their three concert residency at Vienna’s Musikverein, and the European Youth Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda and Xian Zhang on their 2015 summer tour. He has been a concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic since 2018.
In 2008 he joined the Lobkowicz Piano Trio, which was awarded first prize and the audience prize at the International Johannes Brahms Competition in Pörtschach, Austria in 2014.
His recording of the Dvořák violin concerto and other works by this Czech composer under James Judd with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra was recently released on the Onyx label and has received excellent reviews.
Jan Mráček plays on a Carlo Fernando Landolfi violin, Milan 1758, generously loaned to him by Mr Peter Biddulph.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, an Artistic Director of his Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, has been marked out as a central figure in the early music revival and a pioneer of historically informed performance. As a regular guest of the worldʼs leading symphony orchestras, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, Gardiner conducts repertoire from the 17th to the 20th century.
The extent of Gardinerʼs repertoire is illustrated in the extensive catalogue of award winning recordings with his own ensembles and leading orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic or LSO on major labels, as wide-ranging as Mozart, Schumann, Berlioz, Elgar and Kurt Weill, in addition to works by Renaissance and Baroque composers. His many recording accolades include two GRAMMY awards, Diapason dʼor and he has received more Gramophone Awards than any other living artist.
Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras perform regularly at the worldʼs major venues and festivals, including Salzburg, Berlin and Lucerne festivals, the Lincoln Center, and the Royal Albert Hall; in 2021, Gardiner made his 60th appearance at the BBC Proms conducting works by Handel and Bach. In 2017, they celebrated the 450th anniversary of the birth of Monteverdi, for which they were awarded the RPS Music Award and Gardiner named Conductor of the Year at the Opernwelt Awards.
Gardiner has conducted opera productions at the Wiener Staatsoper, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Opéra national de Paris, Royal Opera House or Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. From 1983 to 1988 he was artistic director of Opéra de Lyon, where he founded its new orchestra.
Gardinerʼs book, Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach led to the Prix des Muses award (Singer-Polignac). From 2014 to 2017 he was the first ever President of the BachArchiv Leipzig.
Among numerous awards in recognition of his work, Sir John Eliot Gardiner holds honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Music, New England Conservatory of Music, the universities of Lyon, Cremona, St Andrews and King’s College, Cambridge where he himself studied and is now an Honorary Fellow; he is also an Honorary Fellow of Kingʼs College, London and the British Academy, and an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, who awarded him their prestigious Bach Prize in 2008. Gardiner was made Chevalier de la Légion dʼhonneur in 2011 and was given the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2005. In the UK, he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1990 and awarded a knighthood for his services to music in the 1998 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Leopold Koželuh, who was baptised as Jan Antonín, studied music first with the cantors in Velvary, then in Prague with his cousin Jan Antonín Koželuh (1738–1814) and with František Xaver Dušek (Franz Dussek, 1731–1799). The fact that he shared the same name with a well-known relative who was already established in Prague’s musical life may have been one reason why he adopted the name Leopold in the early 1770s. By then, the young composer’s works had already been given their first public performances; his ballets and pantomimes were especially popular with audiences. In 1778 he left for Vienna in order to advance his career. He found great success as a piano teacher, and through his male and female pupils, he gained access to high society including the imperial court. By the early 1780s, Leopold Koželuh was a respected figure in the Viennese music world and was an acquaintance of Joseph Haydn, Dittersdorf, Salieri, Clementi, Czech musicians who had immigrated to Vienna, and of course Mozart. Over the decades that followed, he had success as a prolific composer, publishing not only in Austria, but also in Germany, London, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. In 1784, he founded his own publishing company in Vienna, and not long afterwards (1792) he rose to the supreme rank of court composer and Kapellmeister. The period after 1800 was less successful for the aging and ailing composer as he became less active and was confronted, for example, with Beethoven and the rise of Romanticism, although Koželuh had helped pave the way for Romanticism especially in his piano music and chamber works.
He wrote most of his symphonies in the spirit of Viennese Classicism in the 1780s. According to Milan Poštolka, the author of a thematic catalogue of Koželuh’s works, the Symphony No. 5 in G minor (I:5) dates from before 28 March 1787 on the basis of the composer’s correspondence and of publishers’ catalogues. Printed editions from 1787 (Vienna, Paris) and 1790 (London) and period copies show the work’s quickly growing popularity. It is the only one of Koželuh’s symphonies that is written in a minor key. The pathos-laden work is laid out three movements, lacking the usual dance movement (menuet). The outer movements (Allegro and Presto) are in sonata form, while the middle movement (Adagio) is in ternary form. The work’s carefully conceived handling of motifs and themes results in a compact composition of expressive power. The symphony is sometimes compared with Mozart’s later Symphony No. 40 in G minor (KV 550) from the year 1788.
Stylistically, Josef Suk’s Fantasy in G minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 24, belongs to a completely different era. Suk wrote it before he reached the age of 30 in 1902–1903, at the threshold of the 20th century. After his juvenilia influenced by Dvořák’s music and the period of Radúz and Mahulena, he was now advancing into new territory with his Fantasy without having entirely rejected his earlier sources of inspiration. Once time had passed, in a fit of needless self-criticism, in a letter to Otakar Šourek the music journalist, he characterised the Fantasy as “ingenious nothingness” and “playing around with notes”, when “being well armed with technical experience and a surprisingly firm hand” he had managed “this material full of contradictions”. In terms of its length and especially its technical demands, the composition resembles a violin concerto, but it is written as just a single movement with sonata elements, the intermingling of various forms, monothematic and polythematic features, subjective lyricism, and a range of other emotions (such as restlessness and inner conflict). The music is sometimes said to reflect Suk’s premonitions of ill fortune (his wife Otilie became ill after the birth of her son Josef in 1901 and died four years later), but this is unfounded. The composer explained the tense, ballade-like expressive atmosphere of the Fantasy as arising from the essence of the music. In Suk’s maturing as a man and an artist, the enterprising Bohemian Quartet certainly played an important role. He played second violin in the quartet, with which he appeared all over Europe, and in 1902 he was celebrating the ensemble’s tenth anniversary.
The Bohemian Quartet also had a connection with the premiere of Suk’s Fantasy at the Rudolfinum on 9 January 1904: the quartet’s first violinist Karel Hoffmann, Suk’s close friend since their student days at the conservatoire, played the solo part with the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of the quartet’s violist Oskar Nedbal, who was showing promise a conductor. Together, they performed the composition, which has been called a very difficult work to interpret by many leading violinists including the composer’s grandson, the violin virtuoso Josef Suk. In this context, Suk’s dedication of the autograph to his friend the painter Hugo Boettinger is a bit amusing. Although the finger exercise inscribed on the first page are a reminder that as a boy, Boettinger had briefly taken violin lessons from Suk, he had never excelled as a violinist. The Berlin publisher Simrock issued the printed edition of the Fantasy in 1905.
Speaking of Fritz Simrock, he was the publisher who assigned excessively high opus number 76 to Dvořák’s Symphony No. 5 in F major when the composition was issued in print in 1888. What we would now call a marketing ploy was intended to create the impression of the symphony being a newer work than it really was, having actually been written in 1875. In addition, he called the Symphony in F major the Third, following the Symphony in D major, Op. 60 (now the Sixth) and the Symphony in D minor, Op. 70 (now the Seventh), but in fact it preceded both of them chronologically. Antonín Dvořák wrote it in just six weeks at a time when he was experiencing the joys of fatherhood, and although his financial situation was far from ideal, he was by then able to rely on a stipend from the state. The composition fills the form of the classical symphony with new content, and it stands at the transition between Dvořák’s early symphonies and his mature symphonic works. The pastoral character usually attributed to the key of F major permeates the first movement (Allegro ma non troppo) thanks in part to the prominence of the woodwinds. A lyrical second movement (Andante con moto) is followed immediately by a scherzo in a mood comparable to that of the Slavonic Dances. The dramatic last movement (Finale. Allegro molto), full of “grand inspiration” and “masterful form” (according to a review in the English press after a performance of the symphony at the Crystal Palace in 1888), shows us Dvořák’s “Slavonic period” in the best light.
Adolf Čech conducted the premiere of the Symphony in F major in Prague on 25 March 1879 at what was aptly called a “Slavonic Concert”. Much had changed in Dvořák’s life during the four years between the composing and the performing of the symphony: his first three children had died, and Otilie, the future wife of Josef Suk, was born. Again, a rather long time passed before the work, having been revised by the composer, received its foreign premieres. August Manns led a performance in London in 1888. Dvořák was not present then, but he conducted performances of what is now called his Fifth Symphony at several concerts at home and abroad, for example on programmes of his works in Dresden (1889) and Moscow (1890). The revised version of the symphony is dedicated to Hans von Bülow, a great conductor and a promoter of Dvořák’s music.