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


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')


Josef Špaček viola

Tomáš Netopil conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Josef Špaček

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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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.”


Josef Špaček  viola, violin, guest artist

Josef Špaček

Praised for his remarkable range of colours, his confident and concentrated stage presence, his virtuosity and technical poise as well as the beauty of his tone Josef Špaček has gradually emerged as one of the leading violinists of his generation. He appears with prestigious orchestras and collaborating with eminent conductors. He equally enjoys giving recitals and playing chamber music and is a regular guest at festivals and in concert halls throughout Europe, Asia and the USA. Josef Špaček studied with Itzhak Perlman at The Juilliard School in New York, Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and with Jaroslav Foltýn at the Prague Conservatory. He was laureate of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. By the end of the 2019/2020 season he served as concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the youngest in its history. Josef Špaček performs on the ca. 1732 “LeBrun; Bouthillard” Guarneri del Gesù violin, generously on loan from Ingles & Hayday.

Tomáš Netopil  principal guest conductor

Tomáš Netopil

An inspirational force in Czech music, Tomáš Netopil holds the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. In early Spring 2018 he led the orchestra on an extensive UK tour, and conducted Má vlast in the opening concert of the 2018 Prague Spring Festival, which was televised live. In the 2020/2021 season, his engagements with them included conducting at the Smetana's Litomyšl Festival in June 2021.

Tomáš Netopil celebrates his tenth and final season as General Music Director of the Aalto Musiktheater and Philharmonie Essen in 2022/23. This season features Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Kampe’s Dogville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This season will also see him lead a production of Janáček Káťa Kabanová at Grand Théâtre de Genève.

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

Operatic highlights beyond Essen include Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden (La clemenza di Tito, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, La Juive, The Bartered Bride, and Busoni’s Doktor Faust), Vienna Staatsoper (his most recent successes include Idomeneo, Der Freischütz, and a new production of Leonore) and for Netherlands Opera (Jenůfa). His concert highlights of recent seasons have included Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich as well as engagements with Orchestre de Paris, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai and Aspen Music Festival.  

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 Asrael and Mahler Symphonies No.6 and 9.

From 2008–2012 Tomáš Netopil held the position of Music Director of the Prague National Theatre. He studied violin and conducting in his native Czech Republic, as well as at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm under the guidance of Professor Jorma Panula. In 2002 he won the 1st Sir Georg Solti Conductors Competition at the Alte Oper Frankfurt.


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.