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Czech Philharmonic • Daniil Trifonov


The concert prepared by Jakub Hrůša and the world-famous pianist Daniil Trifonov will truly bring Series B to a magnificent conclusion with Scriabin’s brilliant Piano Concerto. On the second half of the concert is Josef Suk’s iconic Asrael Symphony, which Jakub Hrůša and the orchestra are also recording.

Subscription series B | Duration of the programme 1 hour 45 minutes

Programme

Alexander Scriabin
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op. 20 (28')

— Intermission —

Josef Suk
Asrael – a funereal symphony for large orchestra in C minor, Op. 27 (58')

Performers

Daniil Trifonov piano

Jakub Hrůša conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Daniil Trifonov

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Price from 290 to 1400 CZK Tickets and contact information

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“In the case of the Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, I am above all looking forward to musical collaboration with the pianist Daniil Trifonov. There are soloists who cannot be categorised with others or be typecast in any way. They are fascinating for their absolute uniqueness. To mention another one from the past—Sviatoslav Richter was such an artist, at least for me. Today I am similarly carried away by Daniil Trifonov. In the context of my life as a musician, one might say that Suk’s Asrael is one of my ‘cult’ compositions. Since my youth, when I was still at secondary school in my native city Brno, I have been captivated by its power and beauty, and that captivation is no less strong today—quite the contrary, it grows constantly stronger. It is perhaps above all through this work that my admiration for Suk is deepening”, says Jakub Hrůša.

The concert is streamed live in partnership with Mezzo TV.

Performers

Daniil Trifonov  piano

Named as “Artist of the Year 2019” by the magazine Musical America, Daniil Trifonov is known worldwide as a soloist, chamber player, and composer. Combining perfect technique with extraordinary sensitivity and depth of interpretation, he can enchant both audiences and music critics. “What he does with his hands is technically incredible… and then there is his touch – so gifted with tenderness and, at the same time, he has the demonic element. I have never heard anything like this before,” said Martha Argerich in amazement. His Liszt album Transcendental on the Deutsche Grammophon label, for which he records exclusively, won a Grammy as the best new solo album of 2018. In 2021, the French government made Trifonov a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. According to The Times of London, Trifonov is “without question the most astounding pianist of our age.”

A native of Nizhny Novgorod, he began playing the piano aged five. He studied under Tatiana Zelikman at Moscow’s Gnessin Academy of Music and then under Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He came to international attention during the 2010/2011 season, when he was among the top finishers at three prestigious competitions: third prize at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, first prize at the Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv, and first prize (and the Grand Prix) at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. In 2013, leading Italian critics awarded him the prestigious Franco Abbiati Prize for the best instrumental soloist.

Over his career, Daniil Trifonov has released a number of outstanding recordings on various labels with recital and concerto repertoire. As a Deutsche Grammophon artist, he last presented himself in October 2021 on a recording titled Bach: The Art of Life with contents inspired by the programme of his tour of the USA and Europe. 

In the 2023/2024 season, Trifonov toured successfully on three continents, appearing with the best orchestras (Los Angeles Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Chicago Symphony, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia). He toured Europe with the cellist Gautier Capuçon and made solo appearances in Vienna, Munich, Madrid, Boston, Dallas, and New York’s Carnegie Hall. 

Trifonov also studied composition, he has written piano concertos and music for solo piano or chamber ensembles, premiering the works himself. As part of his residency with the New York Philharmonic for the 2019/2020 season, he was the curator of the “Perspectives” concert series at Carnegie Hall, and the season before that he was the Artist-in-Residence of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Jakub Hrůša  principal guest conductor

Jakub Hrůša

Born in the Czech Republic, Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Music Director Designate of The Royal Opera, Covent Garden (Music Director from 2025), Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. 

He is a frequent guest with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna, Berlin, Munich and New York Philharmonics; Bavarian Radio, NHK, Chicago and Boston Symphonies; Leipzig Gewandhaus, Lucerne Festival, Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Chamber and The Cleveland Orchestras; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has led opera productions for the Salzburg Festival (Káťa Kabanová with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2022), Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, and Opéra National de Paris. He has also been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival and served as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years.

His relationships with leading vocal and instrumental soloists have included collaborations in recent seasons with Daniil Trifonov, Mitsuko Uchida, Hélène Grimaud, Behzod Abduraimov, Anne Sofie Mutter, Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Rudolf Buchbinder, Gautier Capuçon, Julia Fischer, Sol Gabetta, Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen, Karita Mattila, Leonidas Kavakos, Lang Lang, Josef Špaček, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yuja Wang, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Alisa Weilerstein and others. 

As a recording artist, Jakub Hrůša has received numerous awards and nominations for his discography. Most recently, he received the Opus Klassik Conductor of the Year 2023 prize and the ICMA prize for Symphonic Music for his recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, and the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik for his recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, both with Bamberg Symphony. In 2021, his disc of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Bamberg Symphony and Frank Peter Zimmermann was nominated for BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone awards, and his recording of the Dvořák Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Augustin Hadelich was nominated for a Grammy Award. 

Jakub Hrůša studied at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society. He was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize, and in 2020 was awarded both the Antonín Dvořák Prize by the Czech Republic’s Academy of Classical Music, and – together with Bamberg Symphony – the Bavarian State Prize for Music. 

Compositions

Alexander Skrjabin
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op. 20

“In Russia over the last five years, he came to the forefront, he had more numerous and more fanatical followers than Rachmaninoff ever had, and year by year as Tchaikovsky’s circle of admirers has become thinner, the enthusiasm for Scriabin has been growing”, read an obituary summarising the importance of the composer Alexander Scriabin in the history of Russian music. In a broader context, he is regarded as a link between the musical ideas of Claude Debussy and Arnold Schoenberg; he arrived at the frontiers of tonality, but before crossing over, he created his own system that seemed eccentric to many of his contemporaries. In the piano compositions that predominate in Scriabin’s oeuvre, he took as his departure point the legacy of Chopin and Liszt, like Richard Wagner he strove to synthesise total works of art, the influences of Russian Symbolism are undeniable, and he had much in common with the world of Gustav Mahler. However, the line of development also leads back to the beginnings of Romanticism and to the structural principle of art as the conflict between good and evil in life.

Alexander Scriabin apparently inherited his musical talent from his mother, a piano pupil of Theodor Leschetizky and Anton Rubinstein, but she died when Scriabin was just two years old. He graduated from a school for cadets and took piano lessons privately. He was admitted to the Moscow Conservatoire in 1888, but a crisis came when excess strain led to partial paralysis of his right hand, threatening his career as a pianist. Marina Scriabine (1911–1998), the composer’s daughter from his second marriage, was a musicologist living in Paris. She saw this crisis as the cause of the change to her father’s attitude towards spirituality. “There was nothing mystical in the family, but already as a child he had perceived music as something religious. The doctors regarded his affliction as incurable, and they forbade him to play the piano. That was when he realised the duality of his personality.” For Scriabin, the opposition of physical and spiritual represented an impulse. He overcame his illness and began to take an interest in the mysterious, the esoteric, the occult, and the teachings of Theosophy as a path towards learning about man’s place in the world: “I am subject to the laws of time and space. And meanwhile, time and space are mere creations of my ‘I’”, he wrote in his notes published posthumously under the title Promethean Fantasies. “The true centre of the universe is comprehensive consciousness, wherein everything from the past and future resides.” However, according to the composer’s daughter, Scriabin had no regard for so-called artistic spontaneity: “he was distrustful of anything in the arts that was not thought through and worked out.” For him, creative freedom meant a struggle with material, not as its destruction, but rather as the ability to penetrate to its essence and transform it, as the alchemists had attempted to do in former times. 

Scriabin wrote his Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op. 20, in 1896–1897, and it is his only concerto for solo instrument and orchestra. A descending motif for French horn opens the work and recurs throughout in various forms, lending internal unity to the three movements. After a short introduction to the first movement in sonata form, the piano enters with a theme that is meant to give the impression of an improvisation. The intimate second movement is a set of variations, and the third movement (sonata rondo) points the way to the handling of themes and the sonic character of Scriabin’s later works; the coda brings a reminiscence of the main theme of the first movement. The premiere took place on 11 October 1897 in Odessa with Vasily Safonov conducting and Scriabin as the soloist. Václav Talich led the Czech Philharmonic in the Czech premiere on 7 December 1924 with the soloist Emil Mikelka. The work was heard on a peculiar programme that combined the concerto with Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachmusik, the world premiere of Bohuslav Martinů’s Half-Time, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major. Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in F sharp minor has remained undeservedly overshadowed by the composer’s later revolutionary works with their air of the mystical, and its neglect has been caused in part by the solo part’s extraordinary difficulty.

Josef Suk
Asrael. A funeral symphony for large orchestra in C minor, Op. 27

“Highly esteemed, dear friend! I am constantly thinking about you and remembering you with gratitude”, wrote Josef Suk to the conductor Karel Kovařovic in January 1907. “It is truly brilliant how you bring everything to life; everything is filled with spirit, and none of the other conductors [...] have so much feeling for the beauty of sound and shading.” The letter was sent from Berlin, where the Bohemian Quartet was on tour. Meanwhile in Prague, the orchestra of the National Theatre was preparing for the premiere of Suk’s Asrael Symphony under Kovařovic’s baton. Suk also asked that the announcements in the press report that the symphony was dedicated to the memory of Antonín Dvořák, who had died on 1 May 1904, and of Dvořák’s daughter Otilie, who had become Suk’s wife and died soon after her father on 6 July 1905. The dedication “to the exalted memory of Dvořák and Otilie” was printed in the first edition of the score. 

The composer named the symphony after the angel of death Azrael, a figure who appears in Eastern religions. A few years earlier, Suk had composed incidental music to Julius Zeyer’s fairy tale Radúz and Mahulena (1898) and music for the same poet’s dramatic legend Under the Apple Tree (1901). The subjects of both works and Suk’s musical treatment of them can be seen to foreshadow Asrael. A recollection may have led to associations with the angel of death and the choice of the title. Between 1890 and 1900, the National Theatre was giving performances of the operatic legend Asrael by the Italian composer Alberto Franchetti (1860–1942), who was for a time a competitor of Giacomo Puccini. The action takes place between heaven, earth, and hell, and it is the story of the love of two angels, Nefta and Asrael. Their love is ruined by the fallen angel Lucifer, whom Asrael must serve. Nefta descends to earth, and in the form of a nun she overcomes evil and fights for Asrael’s return to heaven. The public was fascinated with Orientalism and poetic symbolism in those days, and that helped the production get 60 performances in Prague, an unusually high number. Although we have nothing to document that Suk ever saw it, he could hardly have failed to notice the frequent discussions of the work and its descriptions in the press and in public forums.

Suk’s five-movement composition is divided into two parts. The first three movements are a remembrance of Dvořák, and the main idea is a fate motif that is heard initially in the first movement and that permeates the symphony. The second theme is derived from it, and another idea is a remembrance of happy times. Death announces itself in the next movement, then it carries off its victim in the third movement, which draws melodic material directly from Dvořák’s Requiem, among other things. The second part of the symphony belongs to Otilie, and in it a fervent song of love is disturbed by another tragic loss. Like Gustav Mahler’s symphonies, this is a programmatic symphony with content that is not formulated in words—everything is said by the dedication to two beloved persons. The premiere of the Asrael Symphony took place on 3 February 1907 at an afternoon concert of the orchestra of the National Theatre led by Karel Kovařovic. The other work on the programme was Dvořák’s Te Deum (the concert was repeated on 24 February). In describing the effect the symphony had on him, the music critic Emanuel Chvála concluded: “As a confession from life, this intimate work is of great value overall as an artistic statement. [...] It is our country’s most modern composition, and let us hope that it will become one of our most enduring works”. The symphony was performed again on 7 January 1912 with Vilém Zemánek leading the Czech Philharmonic augmented by players from the orchestra of the National Theatre. This was the first concert of the Czech Philharmonic in the newly built Municipal House. Then on 17 October 1919 the Asrael Symphony was heard with the same orchestra for the first time under the baton of Václav Talich, in whom the work found a congenial interpreter. Over the years, Talich gave the symphony more than 20 performances including one in 1922 while guest conducting in Vienna and another while working in Stockholm. He recorded the symphony with the Czech Philharmonic in 1952.

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