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Czech Philharmonic • Daniel Harding

Schumann’s oratorio Paradise and the Peri stands apart from the usual oratorio repertoire because of its secular subject matter that was so typical of the German composer. Its beautiful melodies and loftiness of expression are definitely worthy of attention, and especially when performed by wonderful soloists and an excellent choir.

Subscription series C | Duration of the programme 1 hour 40 minutes


Robert Schumann
Das Paradies und die Peri, oratorio for soloists, choir, and orchestra, Op. 50 (100')


Christiane Karg soprano
Johanna Wallroth soprano
Patrizia Nolz mezzosoprano, alto
Avery Amereau mezzo-soprano, alto
Andrew Staples tenor
Ashley Riches baritone, bass

Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster

Daniel Harding conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Daniel Harding

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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The oratorio Paradise and the Peri was Schumann’s ticket to a place in the company of the greatest composers. Its success was so enormous that it catapulted him overnight from the status of a provincial composer to that of an international star. More than just a critical success, the work was so loved by the public that it got more than 50 performances in the first years after its premiere. About it, Schumann said he had wanted to write an oratorio “not for the choir, but for happy people.” And upon hearing it, Richard Wagner respectfully complemented Schumann: “Not only do I know this beautiful poem; it has even passed through my musical thoughts. But I never found the form that would let me transform it into the language of music. I am therefore sincerely glad that you have found that form.”


Christiane Karg  soprano

Born to a family of confectioners in Bavaria, Christiane Karg studied singing at the Salzburg Mozarteum and at the International Opera Studio in Hamburg before joining the ensemble of the Frankfurt Opera. An outstanding recitalist and concert artist, in 2018 she was awarded the prestigious ‘Brahms Prize’.

She has received tremendous accolades for her interpretations of Mélisande, Blanche, Pamina, Susanna, Fiordiligi, Countess, Sophie, Zdenka and Micaëla, amongst others and has worked with conductors such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Daniel Harding, Yannick Nézet-Séguin or Mariss Jansons.

A renowned recitalist, she has appeared at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Edinburgh International Festival, and is a regular guest at the Schwarzenberg Schubertiade, Salzburg Mozarteum, Vienna Musikverein, and London’s Wigmore Hall.

Christiane Karg has garnered numerous awards for her recordings and received the Diapason d’Or, Choc de Classica, Gramophone Editor’s Choice and BBC Music Choice for her solo recital disc, featuring Lieder by Gustav Mahler in 2020.

Johanna Wallroth  soprano

Swedish soprano Johanna Wallroth was thrust into the limelight when she took First Prize at the prestigious Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition in 2019. She subsequently joined the Opernstudio of Wiener Staatsoper for two seasons and was the recipient of the coveted Birgit Nilsson Scholarship in 2021.

Initially training as a dancer at the Royal Swedish Ballet School, Wallroth focused her principal study on voice and went on to graduate from Vienna’s Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst (MDW). After her operatic debut as Barbarina (Le Nozze di Figaro), she performed in various roles of a wide repertoire in Stockholm, Moscow or Vienna.

Already with an enviable experience on the concert platform, she has collaborated with renowned orchestras, such as Stockholm Philharmonic or Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and was named the Classical Artist in Residence for the 2022/2023 season by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Avery Amereau  mezzo-soprano, alto

A native of Jupiter, Florida, Avery Amereau made her professional debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 2016 as the Madrigal Singer in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, praised for the unusually rich, saturated timbre of her voice. Recent operatic engagements have included Olga (Eugene Onegin) for Santa Fe Opera as well as Page (Salome) for the Salzburg Festival. In the 2022/2023 season Avery makes a house debut at the Royal Opera House, and returns to the Bayerische Staatsoper.

On the concert platform, Avery plans the Mozart Requiem with the Cleveland Orchestra (Franz Welser-Möst) or the Messiah for the Handel & Haydn Society in Boston (Václav Luks) as well as a recording of Sorceress (Dido & Aeneas) with La Nuova Musica for the Pentatone.

Avery studied at Mannes College of Music and The Juilliard School where she performed with the schoolʼs historical performance department. In 2020 she released her debut solo album of Handel arias with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to huge critical acclaim. 

Andrew Staples  tenor

Andrew Staples is considered one of the most versatile tenors of his generation, appearing regularly with Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, with the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Swedish Radio Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, London Symphony Orchestra.

He made his debut at the Royal Opera House with Fidelio (Jacquino), returning with Katya Kabanova (Tichon) and Salome (Narraboth). His recent and future performances include, Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (Chamber Orchestra of Europe), Britten: Peter Grimes (Teatro La Fenice), Turn of the Screw (Budapest Festival Orchestra), Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius (Royal Scottish National Orchestra), Haydn: The Creation (Scottish Chamber Orchestra), Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France), Handel: Jephtha (Komische Oper Berlin), Mozart: Idomeneo (Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin).

His creative output includes concert and opera singing, directing opera, filmmaking and photography.

Ashley Riches  baritone, bass

British bass-baritone Ashley Riches read English at the University of Cambridge where he was a member of the King’s College Choir under Stephen Cleobury and later studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. A former Jette Parker Young Artist, he has performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, later at the English National Opera, Potsdamer Winteroper or in Tokyo, appearing at the Glyndebourne and Grange festivals too.

Highlights on the concert platform include performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Simon Rattle, and also with Sir John Eliot Gardiner in Carnegie Hall.

An accomplished recitalist, and former BBC New Generation Artist 2016–2018, Ashley has collaborated with pianists including Graham Johnson, Iain Burnside, Julius Drake, Joseph Middleton or Anna Tilbrook. His debut solo recital disc, A Musical Zoo, was released in 2021.

Prague Philharmonic Choir  

The Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC), founded in 1935 by the choirmaster Jan Kühn, is the oldest professional mixed choir in the Czech Republic. Their current choirmaster and artistic director is Lukáš Vasilek, and the second choirmaster is Lukáš Kozubík.

The choir has earned the highest acclaim in the oratorio and cantata repertoire, performing with the world’s most famous orchestras. In this country, they collaborate regularly with the Czech Philharmonic and the Prague Philharmonia. They also perform opera as the choir-in-residence of the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.

This season, they will appear at four choral concerts of their own, with programmes focusing mainly on difficult, lesser-known works of the choral repertoire. Again this year they will be devoting themselves to educational projects: for voice students, they are organising the Academy of Choral Singing, and for young children there is a cycle of educational concerts.

The choir has been honoured with the 2018 Classic Prague Award and the 2022 Antonín Dvořák Prize.

Lukáš Vasilek  choirmaster

Lukáš Vasilek

Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting and musicology. Since 2007, he has been the chief choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC). Most of his artistic work with the choir consists of rehearsing and performing the a cappella repertoire and preparing the choir to perform in large-scale cantatas, oratorios, and operatic projects, during which he collaborates with world-famous conductors and orchestras (such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic).

Besides leading the PPC, he also engages in other artistic activities, especially in collaboration with the vocal ensemble Martinů Voices, which he founded in 2010. As a conductor or choirmaster, his name appears on a large number of recordings that the PPC have made for important international labels (Decca Classics, Supraphon); in recent years, he has been devoting himself systematically to the recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s choral music. His recordings have received extraordinary acclaim abroad and have earned honours including awards from the prestigious journals Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, and Diapason.

Daniel Harding  conductor

Daniel Harding is the Music and Artistic Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He was Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris from 2016–2019 and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 2007–2017. He is honoured with the lifetime title of Conductor Laureate of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, with whom he has worked for over 20 years. In 2020, he was named Conductor in Residence of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande for the 2021–2022 and 2022–2023 seasons. In 2024 he will take up the position of Music Director of the Youth Music Culture The Greater Bay Area (YMCG, China) for a five-year term. He is a regular visitor of the most prestigious opera houses, such as La Scala, Royal Opera House/Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper or Wiener Staatsoper.

His Mahler and Orff recordings for Deutsche Grammophon with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks both received widespread critical acclaim. For Virgin/EMI he has recorded Mahler’s and Brahms’ symphonies; Billy Budd with London Symphony Orchestra (a winner of a Grammy Award for best opera recording); Don Giovanni and The Turn of the Screw with Mahler Chamber Orchestra (Choc de lʼAnnée 2002, the Grand Prix de lʼAcadémie Charles Cros and a Gramophone award); works by Lutosławski and Britten (Choc de LʼAnnée 1998). A regular collaborator with Harmonia Mundi, his latest recordings with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra include “The Wagner Project” with Matthias Goerne; Mahler Symphonies no. 5 & 9, Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem and a newly released Britten disc.

The 2022/2023 season sees Daniel embark on major tours with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; he also appears with the Berliner Philharmoniker in Berlin and Baden-Baden. He makes debuts with the Cleveland Orchestra and Czech Philharmonic Orchestra as well as returning to the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Filarmonica della Scala, Dresden Staatskapelle and to the Wiener Staatsoper for Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci.

In 2002 Daniel was awarded the title Chevalier de lʼOrdre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government. In 2012, he was elected a member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Music. In 2021, he was awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours. He is a qualified airline pilot.


Robert Schumann
Das Paradies und die Peri, oratorio for soloists, choir, and orchestra, Op. 50

The early 1840s were one of the happiest periods of Robert Schumann’s life. He was especially satisfied on a personal level—in 1840 he married the love of his life, the piano virtuoso Clara Wieck. Their marriage followed months of conflict with her father Friedrich Wieck, under whom Schumann had been studying piano. He disapproved of their marriage so strongly that the matter finally had to be settled by the lawcourts. In Wieck’s defence, however, it should be mentioned that his daughter was nine years younger than the composer, 17 at the time of her engagement, and her career was off to an exceptionally promising start. Friedrich Wieck also questioned Schumann’s mental health. By the time they had been married for two years, Schumann’s relations with his father-in-law had quieted down, and Wieck soon even resumed actively supporting Schumann’s creative work, resulting in a relatively harmonious period. Even Schumann’s mental illness, diagnosed as “psychotic melancholia” (today, some speculate that he suffered from schizophrenia, while others point to bipolar disorder), was latent during this period. More severe manifestations returned after the couple moved to Dresden in 1844, then his illness struck with full force in the first half of the 1850s in Düsseldorf, where se Schumann attempted suicide by leaping into the Rhine. Thereafter, he was moved to a sanatorium. 

For the first four years of their marriage, the Schumanns stayed in Leipzig, Clara’s birthplace, and the period from 1840 to 1844 turned out to be very productive for Robert. Just in 1840 he composed over 150 songs (including the cycle Myrthen, which he dedicated to Clara as a wedding gift), then in 1842 he focused heavily on chamber music. In 1841 he wrote his Symphony No. 1 in B flat major and soon also began work on a Symphony in D minor, which was later numbered as his last symphony after revisions in the 1850s. By the end of his Leipzig period, Schumann had a clearly defined style of his own based on the traditions of German music (Mozart, Beethoven) and sharing the aesthetics of the early Romantics (Schubert, Mendelssohn) whilst applying the unique elements of his personal language, his own poetics, a freer handling of form, and memorable melodies. Schumann exalted the ideals of Romanticism not only in his music, but also in his literary activities. As a skilled musical author and the founder of the journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which still exists, he took a stand against outmoded ideas, making him in practice the spokesman for a newly developing style. 

Schumann was especially famous for his piano music, songs, and (although to a lesser degree than Beethoven or Brahms) symphonies. Although he was very active in composing works for voices and orchestra, he produced only a few lengthy works in the genre, including his only opera Genoveva (1850) and a vast work for orchestra, choir, and soloists Das Paradies und die Peri (Paradise and the Peri, 1843), which is usually described as a secular oratorio. According to textbooks on musical forms, the oratorio in its rough outlines is merely a slightly less ambitious opera: it contains arias, choruses, and ensembles. The major difference, however, is that the oratorio is a sacred genre (reflected in the choice of subject matter), and it is performed in the concert hall rather than being staged. In that form, the oratorio attained its greatest popularity in the Baroque period in the works of Handel and Bach. Later on, it came to be defined a bit more loosely; oratorios began to appear with librettos not based on strictly religious subject matter—Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons is one such example. Das Paradies und die Peri is referred to as an oratorio in this sense.

Concerning the work’s typology, Schumann himself called it an almost new musical genre for the concert stage. In the first published edition, the composition was designated a “Dichtung”, i.e. a “poem”. At the same time, in a letter the composer admitted it was the largest-scale work he had so far produced—his First Symphony having been his only experience to date in larger musical forms. Clara Schumann called the oratorio the grandest thing her husband had yet written; later on, Richard Wagner even admitted his envy of Schumann’s work. The oratorio was received enthusiastically and was given many more performances. Over the years it made its way to the far-flung corners of Europe (including Prague) and even across the Atlantic. Despite its undisputed quality and its former enormous popularity, for today’s musical public, Das Paradies und die Peri is just an item that one mentions when listing Schumann’s works rather than a living part of the traditional repertoire. Several factors may have influenced the work’s reception, ranging from declining interest in the genre to the public’s indifference to the subtleties of a text based on Persian mythology, but experts agree that this tremendously important work is one of Schumann’s greatest creations. Sir Simon Rattle, for example, calls it one of the few true masterpieces that most of the public has never heard.

Schumann chose to set a text from the book Lalla Rookh (1817) by the Irish author Thomas Moore. The book took inspiration from the Orient and from Persia in particular. In this respect, Moore and Schumann shared in the then-current widespread fascination with cultures beyond Europe. Lalla Rookh contains four stories, one of which is the tale of a Peri—a figure from Persian mythology who assumes the appearance of a beautiful girl and is the offspring of a fallen angel and a human. Because of her sinful parents, the Peri is banned from entering paradise; the gates will be opened to her only once she brings a sufficiently rare gift back to heaven. Symbolically, the Peri goes in search of a gift three times. The first time she brings back the last drop of blood of an Indian freedom fighter, and the second time she finds herself in Egypt, where she captures the last breath of a girl who dies after refusing to leave her beloved who is infected with the plague. Only her third gift is seen as worthy by the heavens: the Peri gathers a tear from the eye of a an old Syrian sinner who has been moved by the sight of a young boy praying, reminding him of his own youthful innocence.

The three journeys define the composition’s formal framework and, naturally, the character of the music, so each of the three parts is expressively different. While in Part I we find numbers using grand gestures of the orchestra and chorus to suggest the courage of a warrior and the horrors of combat, Part II is the most lyrical and ends pianissimo with tender, moving music. Part III, initially almost pastoral, is filled with hope that the Peri will find what she seeks. The work ends triumphantly with an orchestral tutti, during which the prominent part of the Peri climaxes on a sustained high C. The oratorio is further divided into 27 numbers (arias, choruses, recitatives), but these do not always have clearly perceptible boundaries and are often linked to each other organically. The soloists take on a variety of roles, the only constant protagonists being the Peri and an Angel. Schumann writes very sensitively for the orchestra, often providing the numbers where the solo parts predominate with a less dense, more intimate accompaniment. The orchestra usually appears at full strength only at structurally important points. Despite the work’s monumentality, the composer does not resort to excessive brilliance or opulence, instead directing the listener’s attention to more intimate nuances. Playing an especially important role in the lyrical numbers are the strings and woodwinds, not infrequently doubling the soloists’ lines. Schumann’s harmony is in keeping with early Romanticism, but we hear hints of an older style in certain contrapuntal choral passages. Schumann also strengthens the work’s overall unity by the repeated use of motifs. For example, a wistful descending motif, heard at the very beginning in the first violins, returns several times in the course of the work. The music’s greatest assets are its imaginative melodies and its enormous sensitivity to the text, demonstrating Schumann’s other great talent as a man of letters. 

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