Czech Chamber Music Society • Calidore Quartet

The young Calidore Quartet (USA) is coming to Prague for the first time, joined by the superb Czech pianist Ivo Kahánek in a work by C. Franck, who has a major anniversary this year. Fans of the Czech quartet literature will certainly enjoy their interpretation of Smetana’s quartet “From My Life”.

Subscription series I | Duration of the programme 1 hour 45 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society


Wynton Marsalis
At the Octoroon Balls (15')

Bedřich Smetana
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, “From My Life” (30')

— Intermission —

César Franck
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 14 (39')


Calidore Quartet
Jeffrey Myers violin I
Ryan Meehan violin II
Jeremy Berry viola
Estelle Choi cello

Ivo Kahánek piano

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Calidore Quartet

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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The sale of individual tickets for subscription concerts (orchestral, chamber, educational) will begin on Wednesday 7 June 2023 at 10.00 a.m. Tickets for the public dress rehearsals will go on sale on 13 September 2023 at 10.00 a.m.

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Calidore Quartet  

The Calidore String Quartet are renowned for their “deep reserves of virtuosity and irrepressible dramatic instinct” (New York Times). For more than a decade, the Calidore has enjoyed performances and residencies in world’s major venues and festivals, released multiple critically acclaimed recordings and won numerous awards. The Calidore is recognized as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of a vast repertory; from the cycles of quartets by Beethoven and Mendelssohn to works of celebrated contemporary voices like György Kurtag, Jörg Widmann and Caroline Shaw.

The 2022–2023 season includes debuts in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid and Vancouver and returns to Wigmore Hall, Kennedy Center, Florence or Los Angeles. In September 2022, the Calidore performs at Carnegie Hall with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, in a memorial concert honoring the late composer André Previn. They also enjoy collaborations this season with the Emerson String Quartet, clarinetist Anthony McGill, bassist Xavier Foley, violist Matthew Lipman and harpist Bridget Kibbey. In their most ambitious recording project to date, the Calidore are preparing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s String Quartets for Signum Records. 

Recipient of a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant and a 2017 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, the Calidore String Quartet first made international headlines as winner of the $100,000 Grand Prize of the 2016 M-Prize International Chamber Music Competition. The quartet was the first and only North American ensemble to win the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, was a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and is currently in residence with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

Dedicated teachers and passionate supporter of music education, the Calidore String Quartet is committed to mentoring and educating young musicians, students, and audiences. In 2021 the Calidore joined the faculty of the University of Delaware School of Music and serve as artistic directors of the newly established Graduate String Quartet Fellowship Residency and the University of Delaware Chamber Music Series. 

The Calidore String Quartet was founded at the Colburn School in Los Angeles in 2010. Within two years, the quartet won grand prizes in virtually all the major US chamber music competitions, including the Fischoff, Coleman, Chesapeake, and Yellow Springs competitions. The Calidore was mentored by some of the most revered personalities and performers of the international chamber music scene including the Emerson Quartet, Quatuor Ébène, Andre Roy, Arnold Steinhardt or David Finckel. An amalgamation of “California” and “doré” (French for “golden”), the ensemble’s name represents its reverence for the diversity of culture and the strong support it received from its original home: Los Angeles, California, the “golden state.”

Ivo Kahánek  piano

Ivo Kahánek

A musician of tremendous emotional power, depth, and expressiveness, Ivo Kahánek has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting artists of his generation. He is universally recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of Romantic piano music and is a particular specialist in Czech repertoire (awarded e.g. by Dispaison d’Or). He possesses a rare gift of creating an immediate and compelling emotional connection with his audiences. Kahánek came to public attention after winning the Prague Spring International Music Competition in 2004 and performing at the 2007 Proms Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek. He has collaborated with the most prestigious orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic (Sir Simon Rattle), the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic, and many others. He is a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.


Wynton Marsalis
At the Octoroon Balls

Wynton Marsalis, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a very versatile musician. His father was a jazz pianist and three of his five brothers are also jazz musicians. He is known to the music community as an accomplished jazz trumpeter and performer of classical works. Among other things, his versatile talent is evidenced by the fact that he is the only musician so far to have won a Grammy Award in both the jazz and classical categories in the same year (he has received nine in total so far). His classical recordings include concert, chamber and solo works for trumpet from the Baroque to the 20th century. He is also a prolific composer of smaller jazz pieces as well as major works such as the oratorio Blood on the Fields and the monumental jazz symphony All Rise. This symphonic opus for a big band, a gospel choir and a symphony orchestra, drawing from jazz and blues to classical and world music, was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, which also gave its first performance under the direction of Kurt Masur. Marsalis’s Blues Symphony, which uses elements of blues and ragtime, was premiered by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2009. A year later, the Berlin Philharmonic premiered Marsalis’s Swing Symphony. One of his most successful recent works is the four-movement Violin Concerto in D major, recorded by the violinist Nicola Benedetti with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Decca.

Marsalis’s first string quartet, At the Octoroon Balls, was commissioned by Lincoln Center in New York in 1995. It is inspired by the life of the Creole minority in New Orleans with its culture and social customs. The word “Creole” was formerly used in New Orleans to refer to the descendants of settlers of French and Spanish descent, and later to people of mixed European and black descent whose ancestors included Africans or Native Americans. The word “octoroon” then referred to a person who was one-eighth black by descent from a great-grandparent. Marsalis was surrounded by traditional Creole music during his childhood and teen years in New Orleans. The quartet consists of seven movements that evoke places and events associated with this city and its Creole inhabitants. “A ball is a ritual and a dance,” Marsalis says about his inspiration. “Everybody was in their finest clothing. At the Octoroon Balls there was an interesting cross-section of life. People from different stratums of society came together in pursuit of pleasure and fulfillment. The music brought people together.”

Bedřich Smetana
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor “From My Life”

Bedřich Smetana lost his hearing in the autumn of 1874 and had to resign his conducting post at the Provisional Theatre. After failed attempts to cure his affliction, he had come to terms sufficiently with his fate that he was able to create works of key importance over the next ten years of his life. In 1876, Smetana composed his String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, subtitled “From My Life”. That June, he had moved to Jabkenice to live with the family of his daughter Žofie, and in July he finished the opera The Kiss, which was premiered successfully at the Provisional Theatre on 7 November. The quartet’s completion is dated 29 December. At first, the composition did not meet with comprehension because of its supposedly excessively “orchestral” character. In a letter dated 1878 to his friend Josef Srb-Debrnov, Smetana wrote that he would leave the judgement of the composition’s style up to others; he had no intention of writing “a quartet in accordance with the formula and practice of usual forms” because (as is the case with his other compositions) “the work itself creates the form”. Smetana’s conception for the handling of four string instruments further advanced the development of the chamber music genre.

Initially, the Society for the Cultivation of Chamber Music turned the quartet down, so Smetana had to wait three years for the work’s first public performance on 29 March 1879 at a concert of the Artists’ Society in the hall of the Prague historical building Konvikt. The performers were Ferdinand Lachner and members of the orchestra of the Provisional Theatre Jan Pelikán, Josef Krehan, and Alois Neruda. “Like in all of the genres in which Smetana has so far created, in the field of chamber music he is again a completely new, original, and Czech composer, taking the modern stance of creating music on the basis of a poetic idea,” wrote the journal Dalibor. The work’s autobiographical aspect in the background is clear, the composer himself having informed us about it. The first movement expresses a natural inclination toward the arts, a romantic mood with longing, and a premonition of future misfortune. The second movement, a polka, is a remembrance youth, and the middle part is a “reminiscence of the aristocratic circles in which I was living for many years,” wrote Smetana. The third movement recalls Smetana’s love for Kateřina Kolářová, who later became his wife. The final movement describes “discovering the nature of the national element in music”. The music reaches a breaking point, the catastrophe of deafness, announced persistently by a high “E” two octaves above the treble-clef staff. The Bohemian Quartet promoted the work abroad, followed by other ensembles. 

The version of the work for wind quintet is not the quartet’s only arrangement. Its musical material and character also inspired the conductor and occasional composer George Szell (1897–1970), who spent several years in Prague conducting at the New German Theatre. In American emigration, he created a fine, sensitive orchestral arrangement of the quartet “From My Life” as a personal reminiscence of Europe, and he performed it on 8 March 1941 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York.

César Franck
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 14

8 November marks exactly 200 years since the birth of the Belgian-French composer, pianist and organist César Franck. He was born in Liège and from an early age showed extraordinary musical talent. He made his first concert tour when he was just 12 years old. A year later he came to Paris, where he studied privately with Anton Reicha. In 1837 he was officially admitted to the Paris Conservatoire. Later he taught at this school himself, and his class produced a number of outstanding graduates, including Ernest Chausson, Vincent dʼIndy and Louis Vierne. In 1858 he was appointed organist at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, a position he held until his death. As organist, he also worked closely with the legendary organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, whose instruments he commissioned for special concerts throughout France. Cavaillé-Coll’s instruments also influenced Franck’s compositional thought – he became known as a composer of “symphonic works” for organ. His series Six pièces pour Grand Orgue, for example, has made history in organ music. In the last 15 years or so of his life he used his creative abilities to greater effect. In chamber music, Franck is best known for his three late works – Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, Piano Quintet in F minor and String Quartet in D major.

Franck composed Piano Quintet in F minor in 1879 and dedicated it to his friend Saint-Saëns, who played the piano part at the premiere (although he reportedly did not personally appreciate the piece because of its excessive pathos). The quintet is an example of the cyclical form often used by Franck, where the thematic material from the first movement appears in the following movements and all together they form an organic whole. A dramatic introduction by the strings is followed by a subtle response from the piano. The dialogue continues for a while, followed by the main part of the movement (Allegro), whose first theme draws on the opening violin motif. Franck based the second theme on the material of the preceding solo piano passages. The whole movement is characterized by considerable dynamic contrasts which underline its passion. The melancholic middle movement introduces a certain calm, but the unstable harmonies and alternation of minor and major keys seem almost surreal at times, as if to further emphasize the unfulfilled longing. The stormy final movement impresses with the main theme played with increasing dynamics in unison by all the strings over the piano accompaniment. Shortly before the end reappears the theme from the first movement, which is also the main idea of the whole piece (it is also briefly heard in the middle of the second movement).