Czech Chamber Music Society • Afflatus Quintet

Returning to the stage of Dvořák Hall is arguably the most famous Czech wind ensemble, the Afflatus Quintet, with top players from leading Czech orchestras who are also sought-after soloists. Joining them in a highly varied programme are the pianist Miroslav Sekera and the clarinettist Petr Valášek.

Subscription series I | Duration of the programme 1 hour 40 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society


Franz Danzi
Wind Quintet in B flat major, Op. 56, No. 1 (16')

Leoš Janáček
Youth, suite for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and bass clarinet (18')

— Intermission —

Henri Tomasi
Printemps, sextet for wind quintet and alto saxophone (13')

Francis Poulenc
Sextet for piano and wind quintet (20')


Afflatus Quintet
Roman Novotný flute
Jana Brožková oboe
Vojtěch Nýdl clarinet
Ondřej Roskovec bassoon
Radek Baborák French horn

Miroslav Sekera piano
Petr Valášek bass clarinet, alto saxophone

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Afflatus Quintet

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Afflatus Quintet  

Afflatus Quintet

In 1995, a group of five remarkable Czech musicians got together to form the Afflatus Quintet. Just one year later in October 1996, the quintet established itself internationally on the chamber music series of the Leipzig Gewandhaus (other guests of this exclusive series have been the quintets of players from the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic). The quintet soon attained the pinnacle of artistic success with victory at the prestigious ARD International Music Competition in Munich (1997).

Next came a series of successful concerts in this country and abroad (Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Hamburg, Brussels, Paris, international festivals in Finland, Switzerland, and the German regions Schleswig-Holstein and Rheingau and cities Bad Hersfeld and Augsburg). They have made especially noteworthy festival appearances at Prague Spring (Czech Television recorded their 2015 concert live), Smetana’s Litomyšl, Strings of Autumn, Janáček May in Ostrava, Concentus Moravia, Janáček’s Hukvaldy, and Moravian Autumn in Brno.

There have been memorable concerts in the Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Hall with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and the pianist Gerhard Opitz along with concerts organised by the Czech Chamber Music Society, which honoured Afflatus Quintet in 1998 with an award for exceptional interpretations mostly of music of the 20th century. The quintet won the award again five years later (for Dvořák’s “American Quartet”, Op. 96, arranged for wind quintet), making it the first ensemble in history to receive the prize twice. For the 2011/2012 season, the Afflatus Quintet was the ensemble-in-residence of the Czech Chamber Music Society.

The year 2000 saw their Japanese debut followed by intensive collaboration with the Japanese recording label Octavia Records. At some of the concerts, the quintet’s players also appeared as soloists (Mozart concertos accompanied by the Prague Chamber Orchestra and the Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra). During tours of Japan, the Afflatus Quintet appeared at venues including Tokyo’s prestigious Suntory Hall, giving performances of such works as Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante as part of Mozart celebrations. The tour also included masterclasses at Tokyo’s prestigious Toho Gakuen School of Music. In September 2012, the quintet introduced itself to Australia at the famed Sydney Opera House.

So far, the Afflatus Quintet’s discography consists of eight albums with music by Czech, French, and German composers. Their Mozart CD on the Supraphon label was among the finalists nominated for the 2003 Golden Harmony Prize.

The quintet members are flautist Roman Novotný (Czech Philharmonic, Prague Conservatoire), oboist Jana Brožková (Czech Philharmonic and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague), clarinettist Vojtěch Nýdl (Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Prague Philharmonia, Pilsen Conservatoire), bassoonist Ondřej Roskovec (Czech Philharmonic, Prague Conservatoire), and former principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Radek Baborák. All of them also have busy teaching schedules, and they share the opinion that quintet playing is one of the most difficult kinds of performing: “Our sound is the point of intersection of five different instruments and colours, five different ways of playing attacks, and five individual performing personalities.”

Miroslav Sekera   piano

Miroslav Sekera

Miroslav Sekera, winner of the 2002 Johannes Brahms International Competition in Portschach, Austria, had already won prizes at many important competitions in this country and abroad (F. Chopin International Competition in Mariánské Lázně, YAMAHA Scholarship Competition, International Piano Competition in Gaillard, France). In 2016 he won a prize from the “Salon de Virtuosi” music society in New York.

He has two solo CDs to his credit, which have won awards on the website; for Joseph Summer, a contemporary composer from Boston, he has recorded seven more CDs in the USA. He collaborates with Czech Radio and with leading Czech orchestras and festivals, including a solo recital at the Rudolf Firkušný Piano Festival at the Rudolfinum. He makes guest appearances abroad, especially in Japan and the USA. 

He performs regularly with violinist Josef Špaček, mezzo-soprano Dagmar Pecková, and French horn player Radek Baborák.

He began playing piano at age three and graduated from the Prague Conservatoire (Eva Boguniová and Martin Ballý) and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (Miroslav Langer).

Petr Valášek  bass clarinet, alto saxophone

Petr Pepino Valášek is a leading Czech bass clarinettist and multi-instrumentalist. He studied clarinet at the Pardubice Conservatoire and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He is an acclaimed interpreter of contemporary music and a sought-after studio musician.

He is a member of the Clarinet Factory and the Baborák Ensemble, and he has been playing in the Karel Vlach Orchestra since 1995. At present, he appears regularly as a guest with the Afflatus Quintet, and he works in close collaboration with the PKF–Prague Philharmonia.

As a bass guitarist, he has been accompanying Marie Rottrová for over 20 years. He has also collaborated with such foreign solo artists as jazz guitarist Dean Brown, trumpet player Bobby Shew, and singer Bobby McFerrin.

For the last 15 years, he has also been teaching saxophone at the Pilsen Conservatoire.


Franz Danzi
Wind Quintet in B flat major, Op. 56, No. 1

German cellist, composer and conductor Franz Danzi was born in Schwetzingen and grew up in Mannheim, where his father was principal cellist of the famous orchestra of Charles Theodore, Elector of the Palatinate. He taught his gifted son to play the cello, and when his son reached the age of 15, put him in the court orchestra of Mannheim by his side. When Elector Charles Theodore became King of Bavaria in 1778, the court of Mannheim moved to Munich and with it most of the orchestra members; by joining forces with local musicians, they made up a first-class court orchestra in the Bavarian capital. After his father’s death, Franz Danzi took the post of concertmaster and, from 1798, of conductor. In 1785, he composed for his colleagues Concertante Symphony in E flat major for four wind instruments with orchestra, the first of his many works for wind instruments.

Danzi very much wanted to become Kapellmeister of the court orchestra of Munich, but he never succeeded. Disappointed, he went to the court of the Kingdom of Württemberg in Stuttgart, where he got this post. Danzi was a member of the generation of composers who developed early Romanticism in music. Although he admired Mozart, he had mixed feelings about Beethoven. During the five years he spent in Stuttgart (1807–1812), he befriended Carl Maria Weber, whose work he tirelessly promoted. At the end of his artistic career he became Director of the Royal Conservatory in Karlsruhe, where he worked hard to elevate the musical life there. During this time he composed nine wind quintets, arranged in trios under Op. Nos. 56, 67 and 68. The first of these are Wind Quintets No. 1 in B flat major, No. 2 in G minor and No. 3 in F major. They were published in print in 1821 and are dedicated to Anton Reicha.

Although Danzi’s quintets were written not long after Reicha’s quintets, they cannot stand comparison with them. For Reicha, the wind quintet was a means of carrying out and verifying compositional experiments, while Danzi composed mostly Classical music on the traditional basis. The virtuosic nature of the parts of Wind Quintet in B flat major shows that Danzi had at his disposal players as excellent as those who performed for Reicha in Paris. In this quintet, our attention is captured especially by the second movement in the minor key as well as the minuet, which has no longer anything in common with a classical minuet, and the final movement in simple rondo form.

Leoš Janáček
Youth, suite for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and bass clarinet

Leoš Janáček’s 70th birthday in 1924 was an occasion for many official celebrations in his honor and commemorative performances, taking place from 9 October to 6 December in Prague and Brno. Prague hosted the premiere of Janáček’s First String Quartet given by the Bohemian Quartet, while the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra performed Taras Bulba. In Brno, there was the premiere of The Cunning Little Vixen, new productions of Jenůfa and Katya Kabanova, and a retrospective of Janáček’s chamber music at the Moravian Composers’ Club, of which he was chairman. The wind sextet Youth was Janáček’s birthday gift to himself. He actually interrupted work on his opera about the unnatural youth of Elina Makropulos in order to celebrate youth in its true form. Janáček was inspired by the Parisian ensemble Société moderne dʼinstruments à vent, which he heard at concerts in Salzburg and Brno. At the same time, he was collecting material for a biographical study by Max Brod, which brought back many memories of his youthful years spent in the boys’ choir as a scholarship student of the Old Brno monastery. A month before the sextet, March of the Blue Boys came into being as an autonomous composition, a jaunty piece which became the basis of the third movement of Youth. It is dedicated to flautist Václav Sedláček, Janáček’s clairvoyant copyist, who managed to transform Janáček’s hectically scribbled, illegible handwriting into regular musical notation.

The cheerfulness and exuberance of Youth is a reflection of the happy state of mind of the soon-to-be seventy-year-old composer. Janáček added a bass clarinet to the score in order to express a distinct sonic idea, featuring this instrument in important parts of the piece. The main motif of the first movement is said to have been derived from the wistful sigh, “Youth, my golden youth, it’s long gone!” The second movement has a rather serious sound, but the composer disrupts its 4/4 scheme by inserting 17/16 descending runs in which he seems to mock the solemnity of the glorious atmosphere. The third movement re-employs the theme from March of the Blue Boys with piccolo passages, twice interrupted by an amorous oboe solo. The fourth movement changes modes, culminating in a triumphant victory of youth.

The well-known incident from the premiere of Youth on 21 October 1924 at the Beseda House in Brno is an example of Janáček’s typical choleric behavior. Apparently due to the temperature difference between the overheated hall and the unheated performers’ dressing room, the clarinet of Stanislav Krtička, a prominent member of the Brno Opera and a teacher at the Brno Conservatory, got somehow damaged. Krtička in desperation played his part the best he could, but the clarinet was not functioning properly. Zdenka Janáčková recalled how Janáček began to fidget in his seat, scratching his head and tut-tutting: “Jesus Maria! What’s that fellow there doing to me?” No sooner had the sweaty musicians finished playing than Janáček scolded unfortunate Krtička backstage, without paying any attention to his explanation. Before long he was back again, ran up the steps to the stage and, bursting with indignation, proclaimed: “Dear audience, that wasn’t my composition. Mr. Krtička made out as if he were playing and he wasn’t!”

Henri Tomasi
Printemps, sextet for wind quintet and alto saxophone

Henri Tomasi was born in Marseille to a family originally from Corsica. He began studying music at the age of five and entered the Marseille Conservatoire at the age of seven. Since he was a child prodigy, his father forced him to play for upper-class families, which made him feel rather humiliated. The First World War prevented him from further studies; he had to make a living playing piano in movie houses, hotels, cafés and brothels. It was not until 1921 that he entered the Paris Conservatoire. He completed his studies being awarded the Prix de Rome for both composition and conducting.

Tomasi’s conducting career began with the Radio Colonial Orchestra in French Indochina; in the years 1930–1935 he conducted the Paris Radio Orchestra; during the Second World War he headed the Orchestre National de France; and in the years 1946–1950 he was principal conductor of the Opera of Monte Carlo. In 1957 he had to give up conducting due to his partial deafness (he lost hearing in his right ear). He died in his apartment in Montmartre; according to his will he was buried in Avignon; in 2001 his ashes were moved to the land of his ancestors, Corsica.

As a composer, Tomasi built on the Neo-Classical foundations, taking inspiration from Gregorian chant, the music of Corsica and Provence, and exotic influences from Cambodia, Laos, the Sahara and Tahiti. He later developed his own version of the twelve-tone compositional technique. He enriched the literature for wind instruments with a series of instrumental concertos. His chamber music for winds is represented by Concert champêtre (Rural Concerto) for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, followed by Divertimento Corsica for the same instruments with string orchestra. In 1963 Tomasi composed a woodwind sextet with the poetic title Printemps (Spring), scored for a classical wind quintet expanded by an alto saxophone. This composition, dedicated to the ensemble Sextuor à vent de Dijon, is a great “tribute to birds”. The introductory Awakening of the Birds is sharply evocative of Olivier Messiaen, but Tomasi did not attempt to quote birdsong, nor did he hunt for bird sounds in the bushes with a tape recorder. The birds’ chirping, in its various forms, runs through the whole composition as a timbre basis and, in fact, holds it all together. The motivic work is replaced by clusters of “bird” tonal figurations and melodies, which occasionally stand out from the forest birdsong, but are not developed further.

Francis Poulenc
Sextet for piano and wind quintet

Francis Poulenc found his compositional style early, easily and without much searching. He never had any existential problems, as his father and uncles owned chemical plants, known later as the Rhône-Poulenc chemical and pharmaceutical company. He lived alternately in Paris and in a château on the banks of the Loire, where he had an ideal environment for compositional work. As a concert pianist, he performed almost exclusively his own compositions.

Poulenc began to compose chamber music for wind instruments in 1918 under the influence of the expressionist ideas of the Les Six of Paris (Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon, Sonata for Two Clarinets, and Rapsodie nègre). In the mid-1920s he was already composing in a Neo-Classical spirit (Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano). Sextet for Piano, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon was composed between 1931 and 1932. It was premiered in 1933 together with Poulenc by flautist Marcel Moyse, oboist Roland Lamorlette, clarinetist Louis Cahuzac, bassoonist Gustave Dhérin and horn player R. Blot. Poulenc’s compositions often provoked his contemporaries, and the new sextet was no exception. Composer Florent Schmitt of Le Temps criticized it as “wandering and vulgar”. On the other hand, André George of Les Nouvelles littéraires wrote that “with Poulenc, all of France comes out of the windows he opens.” But even Poulenc himself was not entirely satisfied with his new composition, and in 1939 he substantially revised it. He admitted it to the renowned music teacher Nadia Boulanger: “There were some good ideas, but the whole thing was badly put together. With the proportions altered, better balanced, it comes over very clearly.” Poulenc played his Sextet both at home and overseas; members of the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet recalled that when he came to the rehearsal, he always took off his shoes, put on his leather slippers, and then sat down at the piano.

This three-movement piece makes perfect use of the character and virtuosity of all the instruments involved. Pastoral moods alternate with merriment and hilarious jokes. The Offenbachian rondo in place of the third movement contains interesting hints at jazzy ragtime. Perhaps this is a reminiscence of the time when the young Poulenc, along with members of Les Six, went to music halls, circuses and cabarets for inspiration. However, in conclusion the Sextet brings sunny, majestic and festive atmosphere.