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Czech Philharmonic • Josef Špaček


Principal guest conductor Tomáš Netopil has prepared one of the season’s purely Czech programmes with the suite from Leoš Janáček’s opera The Makropulos Affair arranged by Tomáš Ille. The rest of the programme is original as well, with Josef Špaček appearing, unusually, as a viola soloist in Bohuslav Martinů’s Rhapsody-Concerto.

Subscription series B | Duration of the programme 1 hour 30 minutes

Programme

Leoš Janáček | arr. Tomáš Ille
The Makropulos Affair, suite from the opera (20')

Bohuslav Martinů
Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra, H 337 (24')

— Intermission —

Vítězslav Novák
Slovak Suite for small orchestra, Op. 32 (28')

Performers

Josef Špaček viola

Tomáš Netopil conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Josef Špaček

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Price from 290 to 1400 CZK Tickets and contact information

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Josef Špaček plays the master instrument of Johannes Theodor Cuypers from 1767. Special thanks to Josef Schebal and the Fidulaza Foundation for the loan of the rare viola.

Concerning the suite, the conductor Tomáš Netopil says “I hope that by performing it, we will be expanding Janáček’s rich, highly original musical legacy. I’m also pleased about collaborating in a new way with Josef Špaček as a viola soloist, and I fully understand his desire to play this extraordinary concertante work by Bohuslav Martinů, which was also once recorded by the legendary Czech violinist Josef Suk. Supplementing the evening of Czech music will be Vítězslav Novák’s delightful Slovak Suite, a work I have loved since my days as a student.”

Performers

Josef Špaček  violin, guest artist

Josef Špaček

Although it has already been three years since his membership in the orchestra ended, Josef Špaček is still inseparably associated with the Czech Philharmonic (now as its artist-in-residence). While his nine years as the orchestra’s concertmaster are covered by the new Czech Television documentary “Devět sezón” (“Nine Seasons”, premiered in September 2023), Špaček is now focusing on his solo career and is enchanting audiences worldwide. Although he appears with the top European orchestras and can be heard in Asia and the USA, and his is a regular guest in chamber music in the world’s most prestigious concert halls, he retains his modesty. We can hear him playing not only at Carnegie Hall, but also in out-of-the-way Czech villages.

This season, he will be appearing for the first time with the symphony orchestras in Chicago and Atlanta, and his year will be enriched by a residency with the Residentie Orkest based in The Hague. In this country, besides appearing with top orchestras, he will also perform at the Lípa Musica Festival, the Saint Wenceslas Music Festival, and Smetana’s Litomyšl. As in previous years, an important chamber music partner will be the cellist Tomáš Jamník, with whom Špaček has made a successful recording of the best Czech duets. In addition, Josef Špaček has added to the world’s discography of concertos by Dvořák and Janáček, which he recorded with the Czech Philharmonic and Jiří Bělohlávek, and there is a recording of music by Czech and other composers with Miroslav Sekera. He also collaborated with Sekera and the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Petr Popelka on his newest album of works by Martinů, released in September 2023 on the Supraphon label. 

Josef Špaček was born in 1986 in Třebíč, and he already exhibited extraordinary musical talent at an early age. Thanks to his father (now a cellist with the Czech Philharmonic for over 30 years) and musically gifted siblings, music was a natural part of his childhood, about which his mother has written a series of very entertaining books. Going to the Prague Conservatoire was therefore a natural step. After graduating from the studio of Jaroslav Foltýn at that school, he fulfilled his dream of studying in America, beginning at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (under Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo) and continuing at New York’s famed Julliard School (under Itzak Perlman). 

Immediately after graduating, he returned to this country, where became the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Czech Philharmonic. At the same time, he also began to make a reputation here and abroad as a soloist and chamber music player, but it was thanks to winning the title of laureate at the world-famous Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Brussels that he began to receive the most attractive offers. Finally, between the many outstanding offers of solo appearances he was receiving and his family circumstances with the birth of his daughter followed shortly by the arrival of twins, he finally decided to resign as concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic and to devote himself exclusively to a solo career. Thanks to enormous talent and great effort, he has fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a famous violinist.

Tomáš Netopil  principal guest conductor

Tomáš Netopil

Since the 2018/2019 season, Tomáš Netopil has been the Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, with which he regularly prepares concert programmes at the Rudolfinum and on tours. The 2022/2023 season was his tenth and final as General Music Director of the Aalto Theater and Philharmonic in Essen, Germany. From the 2025/2026 season, he will take up the post of chief conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. 

In 2018, Tomáš Netopil created the International Summer Music Academy in Kroměříž, offering students exceptional artistic instruction and the chance to meet and work with major international musicians. In the summer of 2021, in association with the Dvořákova Praha Festival, the Academy established the Dvořák Prague Youth Philharmonic with musicians from conservatories and music academies, coached by principal players of the Czech Philharmonic.

As evidenced by his engagement in Essen, Tomáš Netopil is a sought-after opera conductor. From 2008 to 2012, he was the music director of the Opera of the National Theatre in Prague. Operatic highlights beyond Essen include the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden (La clemenza di Tito, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, La Juive, The Bartered Bride, and Busoni’s Doktor Faust), the Vienna Staatsoper (his most recent successes include Idomeneo, Der Freischütz, and a new production of Leonore), and the Netherlands Opera (Jenůfa). His concert highlights of recent seasons have included the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich as well as engagements with the Orchestre de Paris, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai, the Orchestre National de Montpellier, and Concentus Musicus Wien.

Tomáš Netopil’s discography for Supraphon includes Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (the first-ever recording of the original 1927 version), Dvořák’s complete cello works, Martinů’s Ariane and Double Concerto, and Smetana’s Má vlast with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. During his tenure in Essen, he has recorded Suk’s Asrael and Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 6 and 9.

He studied violin and conducting in his native Czech Republic and at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm under the guidance of Professor Jorma Panula. In 2002 he won the inaugural Sir Georg Solti Conductors Competition at the Alte Oper Frankfurt. In his spare time, he likes to fly small planes.

Compositions

Leoš Janáček
The Makropulos Affair, suite from the opera

Leoš Janáček’s operas made him world famous, and the genre was always one of the cornerstones of his oeuvre. He finished writing The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos), the penultimate of his nine stage works, in 1925 at 71 years of age, but the music does not at all resemble the work of a tired, old man. To the contrary, Janáček was bursting with energy during the last period of his life. In 1917 while staying at the spa in Luhačovice, he met Kamila Stösslová, a woman nearly 40 years younger than him, and she became his source of inspiration and muse. Their relationship, which lasted until the end of the composer’s life, was full of tender emotion, but those feelings were much more intense on Janáček’s part. Kamila was flattered by the attentions of the famous composer, but she had no special admiration for his music and seemed to be unaware of the profound influence she was having on Janáček. Nonetheless, their friendship was in the background of one of the most fruitful periods of Janáček’s career, and Kamila became the model for several operatic heroines including Elina Makropulos. 

Čapek’s play about an immortal singer utterly captivated Janáček, who had already dealt with the theme of life’s eternal cycle in his previous opera The Cunning Little Vixen (Příhody lišky Bystroušky). After initial hesitation, Karel Čapek finally gave Janáček permission to adapt the play into an opera, and he even gave the composer a free hand to make cuts and other changes to the action. Janáček turned what had originally been a comic play based on dialogues into a drama about immortality, the desire for love, and the search for the meaning of life, at the end of which the chief heroine dies.

Orchestral suites from operas and ballets were an especially popular genre during the 19th century. The suites could serve as promotion for the works from which they were drawn while bringing popular music to the concert stage in a more condensed form. In his operas, Janáček strove to create compact music dramas with inseparable textual and musical elements. Věc Makropulos is his supreme achievement in this respect. The six-minute prelude to Act I is the only purely instrumental passage, and unlike The Cunning Little Vixen or Káťa Kabanová, the opera lacks orchestral interludes entirely. For this reason, putting together a suite from Věc Makropulos requires significant compositional input. Rather than compiling self-contained instrumental numbers, one must artfully combine shorter passages and motifs, merging them into a whole that is musically meaningful despite the loss of the vocal component. The Czech composer Tomáš Ille created the most recent arrangement at the suggestion of the conductor Tomáš Netopil and finished it not long before its premiere in November 2022. 

Bohuslav Martinů
Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra, H 337

Bohuslavu Martinů was not fated to spend much time living in his homeland although he loved his country deeply all his life, and visions of a return home are woven into many of his works. He left his native country for Paris in 1923 seeking artistic development in what was one of the world’s great musical centres at the time. Martinů had always been impressed with the arts in France, and while living there he absorbed the influences from Impressionism, Neoclassicism, the composers of the Parisian group Les six, and Igor Stravinsky. The Nazi occupation of France in 1941 drove Martinů even farther from his native land. He and his wife Charlotte emigrated to the USA. At this time, he was writing not only major works like Sixth Symphony or The Frescos of Piero della Francesca, but also many smaller pieces, often lyrical in character, which Martinů conceived as a kind of greeting to his homeland mainly by using motifs from Czech folk music. 

One such work is the Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra (1952), commissioned by the conductor George Szell and the Ukrainian violinist and violist Jascha Veissi. In his final style period, unlike the composers of the post-war avant-garde, Martinů subjected his musical language to an overall simplification. This transformation is clearly apparent in the Rhapsody-Concerto with its accessible harmonies, striking melodic writing, and masterful instrumentation. The work contains symphonic passage of sonic richness, but at the same time the composer sensitively lets the coloristic nuances of the individual instrumental sections come through, and of course above all the sentimental, sweet tone of the viola. Bohuslav Martinů had an extraordinarily well-developed sense of musical form, and in the last years of his life, this led him to turn with increasing frequency to the genres of fantasias and rhapsodies. Those allowed him much greater room for meditative, lyrical-sounding compositions reflecting his momentary emotional state. Although the internal structure of the Rhapsody-Concerto exhibits traits of the classical three-movement concerto, Martinů deliberately did not title his two-movement composition for solo viola a viola concerto. The tempo indications are somewhat symbolic; slow, lyrical and fast, virtuosic passages recur in both movements. An alternation of dramatic episodes also emerges both in the solo part and in the orchestra, but each of the two movements is framed by calm passages, and the whole work concludes with the sustaining of a quiet, conciliatory F major chord, dominated to the very end by the viola’s seductive tone.

Vítězslav Novák
Slovak Suite for small orchestra, Op. 32

Inspiration from folk music is also characteristic of the works of Vítězslav Novák, who spent part of his youth in Jindřichův Hradec, to which he and his family moved from his birthplace Kamenice nad Lipou, and where he also completed his grammar school studies. This was also the time of Novák’s first attempts at composing, consisting mostly of songs and little piano pieces. As a beginner, he became thoroughly familiar with the music of all of the great Romantic-era composers including Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, and Berlioz, but the greatest influence on him was the music of Johannes Brahms and especially of Antonín Dvořák, under whose tutelage Novák graduated from the Prague Conservatoire in 1893. 

Vítězslav Novák composed in a wide range of genres including many songs and piano pieces, but he also wrote nearly 30 choruses that often react to current social themes. In the field of orchestral music, he devoted himself mainly to smaller forms, symphonic poems, suites, and overtures, but he also wrote two large-scale symphonies combining vocal and instrumental forces. Novák’s compositional style underwent development comparable to that of his contemporary Richard Strauss. He was influenced by Impression, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau, and he also experimented with extended tonality, but he never left tonality entirely behind. Overall, Novák’s music retained the character of Late Romanticism.

Like Strauss, Vítězslav Novák found inspiration in nature. Slovakia’s Tatra Mountains enchanted him, and at the age of 26 he made his first visit to Velké Karlovice in Moravian Wallachia. He quickly fell in love with the distinctive region, which awakened his interest in folklore motifs. This is also reflected in his Moravian-Slovak Suite (1903). Novák conceived the work as a series of scenes illustrating a day of festive celebration in the Moravian countryside. The five-movement cycle is inspired by folk singing. The first movement, In the Church, quotes a Protestant hymn, and in the movement The Country Musicians, the composer takes inspiration from the verbuňk, a “recruiting dance” from Horňácko (a region of Upper Moravian Slovakia). In his Moravian-Slovak Suite, Novák employs a small orchestra including harp and organ. Those two instruments combine with the lyrical sound of the strings and the tenderness of the woodwinds to create the extraordinarily poetic, picturesque atmosphere of what is one of Novák’s most popular compositions.

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