Czech Chamber Music Society • Pavel Haas Quartet

Cellist Peter Jarůšek appears for a second concert as curator in his own Pavel Haas Quartet with two guests, their former member the violist Pavel Nikl and the percussionist Martin Opršál.

Subscription series II | Duration of the programme 1 hour 50 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society


Béla Bartók
String Quartet No. 4, Sz 91 (20')

Pavel Haas
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 7, “From the Monkey Mountains” (30')

— Intermission —

Antonín Dvořák
String Quintet in E flat major, Op. 97 (40')


Pavel Haas Quartet
Veronika Jarůšková violin I
Marek Zwiebel violin II
Dana Zemtsov viola
Peter Jarůšek cello

Pavel Nikl viola
Martin Opršál percussion

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Pavel Haas Quartet

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Pavel Haas Quartet  

The Pavel Haas Quartet was founded in 2002 by the violinist Veronika Jarůšková and the violist Pavel Nikl, who was a member of the ensemble until 2016, when he left due to family reasons. Yet their collaboration has continued – Pavel Nikl has been the ensemble’s permanent guest for string quintet performances. Between 2004 and 2012, the second violin was played by Kateřina Gemrotová Penková, Marie Fuxová and Eva Karová Krestová. In 2016 and 2017, the viola was played by Radim Sedmidubský.

Following their victory in the Prague Spring Festival Competition and Premio Paolo Borciani in Reggio Emilia, Italy in 2005, the Pavel Haas Quartet soon established themselves as one of the world’s most exciting contemporary chamber ensembles. Performing at the most renowned concert venues around the globe, the PHQ have to date recorded six critically acclaimed CDs, which have received numerous prestigious awards. The ensemble members studied with Milan Škampa, the legendary violist of the Smetana Quartet.

In the 2019/20 season the Quartet will return to major venues including Tonhalle Zürich, Wigmore Hall London, Philharmonie Luxembourg, Stockholm Konserthuset, Società del Quartetto di Milano and festivals such as the Schubertiade. They will return to Amsterdam Muziekgebouw to perform three concerts at the String Quartet Biennale in January 2020 and will embark on their first tour to Israel with performances in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Further tours will be to the US and Canada as well as to Asia, where they will return to NCPA Beijing and give their debuts in Hong Kong and Singapore.

In 2007, the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) named the Pavel Haas Quartet one of its Rising Stars, following which they were afforded the opportunity to give numerous high-profile concert appearances all over the world. Between 2007 and 2009, the Pavel Haas Quartet held the title of BBC New Generation Artist. In 2010, the ensemble was granted a classical music fellowship from the Borletti–Buitoni Trust.

The Pavel Haas Quartet have exclusively recorded for Supraphon. Their very first album (2006), featuring Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters”, and Pavel Haas’s String Quartet No. 2, “From the Monkey Mountains”, earned the ensemble their first Gramophone Award. The Daily Telegraph named it CD of the Year. The second album, completing the mapping of Leoš Janáček’s and Pavel Haas’s quartet works, garnered enormous acclaim too. Gramophone wrote about it: To describe a CD as musically important is to court a certain level of controversy ... but I'll stick my neck out and claim extreme importance for this release.” Their third album, featuring both Sergey Prokofiev quartets and the Sonata for Two Violins, won France’s Diapason d’Or de l’Année 2010. The fourth album, featuring Antonín Dvořák’s quartets in F major, the “American”, Op. 96, and in G major, Op. 106, received the 2011 Gramophone Award in the Chamber category, as well as the most coveted prize of all – Recording of the Year. The Sunday Times gave the album the highest possible rating: “Their account of the American Quartet belongs alongside the greatest performances on disc. In this repertoire, they are simply matchless today.” In 2014, the Pavel Haas Quartet received yet another Gramophone Award, for the album of Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor, “Death and the Maiden”, and String Quintet, recorded with the German cellist Danjulo Ishizaka. Their following album, featuring Smetana’s String Quartets Nos 1 and 2 (2015), earned the ensemble their fifth Gramophone Award and second BBC Music Magazine Award. Gramophone emphasised that: Their sound is, as ever, immediately recognisable – partly due to the sheer richness of timbre but also the sense of four personalities at play… At times it is hard to believe you are in the presence of only four players, so intense is the sound”. For their latest disc of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 and String Quintet No. 3 (2017) with Boris Giltburg and their former member Pavel Nikl they were awarded their sixth Gramophone Award. Gramophone wrote about that: “Another Pavel Haas Quartet disc, another triumph. They seem always immersed in all they play, both in terms of their rapport but their instinctive understanding of the score too.” Their next recording of Shostakovich’s String Quartets Nos. 2, 7 and 8 will be released in October 2019.

The quartet bears the name of the Czech composer Pavel Haas (1899–1944), the most talented pupil of Leoš Janáček, who in 1941 was imprisoned by the Nazis in the Terezín ghetto and three years later died in Auschwitz. Pavel Haas’s oeuvre includes three splendid string quartets.

Pavel Haas Quartet: Veronika Jarůšková (1st violin), Marek Zwiebel (2nd violin), Jiří Kabát (viola), Peter Jarůšek (violoncello)

Pavel Nikl  viola

Pavel Nikl studied viola under Zdeněk Novák at the P. J. Vejvanovský Conservatoire in Kroměříž and then at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague under Jan Pěruška and Milan Škampa. As a student, he took part in several masterclasses (Semmering – prize for the best performances of works by B. Bartók and B. Martinů) and won top prizes at international competitions (Czech Conservatoires Competition, Beethoven’s Hradec, J. Brahms International Competition in Pörtschach).

He has appeared as a soloist with the Prague Philharmonia, the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic in Zlín, the Moravian Philharmonic in Olomouc, the North Bohemia Philharmonic in Teplice, the South Bohemia Philharmonic in České Budějovice, and other orchestras. In 2002 the focal point of his activity shifted to chamber music. He was one of the founding members of the Pavel Haas Quartet, which has won great international acclaim over the years for its concerts and recordings.

Pavel Nikl also teaches, and within the framework of the quartet’s activities, he has led masterclasses at universities in Europe, the USA, and Australia. Since 2016, after stepping down as violist of the Pavel Haas Quartet, he has been a professor of viola and chamber music at the P. J. Vejvanovský Conservatoire in Kroměříž. However, he continues to work in very close collaboration with the quartet. Besides the recordings of Dvořák’s quintets, which won a 2018 Gramophone Award, he appears with the quartet regularly in concert. As an experienced chamber player, he gets invitations to collaborate with other top musicians (Gil Shaham, Gerhard Oppitz, Kian Soltani, Josef Špaček, Michaela Fukačová, Fedor Rudin et al.). He also sits on Czech and international competition juries.

Martin Opršál  percussion

After his studies at the conservatoire, during which he became a member of the Brno Philharmonic, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, and the European Union Youth Orchestra (working with the conductor Claudio Abbado), he continued his studies at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts, where he is now a professor of tuned percussion and is the head of the percussion department). He also teaches chamber music performing. He was one of the founding members of the DAMA DAMA Central European Percussion Ensemble, and with them he won an international competition of percussion orchestras in the Netherlands.

His musical priority is playing the marimba (his CD Reverberations features solo works and chamber music for marimba) and other tuned percussion instruments. At his concerts, he systematically presents compositions written for him, giving their Czech or world premieres. He also teaches masterclasses on the interpretation of contemporary music for marimba, and he is invited to sit on juries for music competitions in this country and abroad.

He is a sought-after chamber musician. He has performed with the BERG Orchestra in Prague, the Ensemble Opera Diversa in Brno, and the Ostrava Centre for New Music. He cofounded the OK Percussion Duo, which creates and interprets contemporary percussion music. He devotes himself to improvisation projects in the ensemble Dust in the Groove. He also took part in two CDs with Iva Bittová, and with the jazz legend Joe Zawinul he created the album Stories of the Danube.

Martin Opršál has performed as a soloist and in ensembles in concerts and at music festivals in the countries of central and western Europe, Japan, Korea, and the USA. He has made solo appearances with the Prague Philharmonia and the philharmonic orchestras in Ostrava, Brno, Hradec Králové, Zlín, Olomouc, and Karlovy Vary.


Pavel Haas
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 7, “From the Monkey Mountains”

Pavel Haas was born in Brno. Together with his younger brother Hugo, he enrolled at the newly founded Brno Conservatory in 1919. Hugo studied voice, but did not complete his education because he was much more drawn to drama. Pavel studied composition with Jan Kunc and Vilém Petrželka and during his fourth year he transferred to Leoš Janáček’s master school. He wrote incidental music for theatre, film scores, radio music, chamber pieces and lieder. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, his career culminated in the premiere of his opera The Charlatan at the Provincial Theater in Brno on 2 April 1938. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia and the proclamation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in 1939, artists of Jewish origin became victims of racial persecution. Pavel Haas did not finish the symphony he had been working on (it was reconstructed in 1994 by Zdeněk Zouhar). His brother Hugo, by then a well-known theater and film actor, managed to emigrate, while Pavel Haas was deported to the concentration camp in Terezín [Theresienstadt] in December 1941. There he participated in the musical life, which represented a manifestation of the spirit of resilience of the prisoners.

Pavel Haas composed three string quartets. The first one was written in 1920 while he was still studying with Janáček; the third, in 1936. The programmatic String Quartet No. 2 dates from 1925 and is subtitled “From the Monkey Mountains”, which was a nickname of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. For its first performance, Haas formulated the sources of inspirations that led to its composition. He identified the main element of music as motion and rhythm, be it the ripples perceived when looking at the open landscape, the irregular creaking of a coach driving along a bumpy dirt road, the seeming stillness of a moonlit night in which the human heart beats, or the happily wasted night. In the original version, Haas added a percussion part to the string quartet to accentuate the rhythmic elements taken from jazz dance music; in the revised version, however, the percussion was removed. The composition was premiered by the Moravian Quartet on 16 March 1925.

Antonín Dvořák
String Quintet in E flat major, Op. 97

String Quintet in E flat major, Op. 97 came into being between 26 June and 1 August 1893 as Dvořák’s third composition written in the United States. For him, it represented a kind of relaxation after the completion of Symphony in E minor “From the New World, which was immediately preceded by String Quartet in F major, Op. 96. Dvořák spent the summer of 1893 in the township of Spillville (Iowa), inhabited by a large group of Czech compatriots who reminded him of his homeland. At that time, the township hosted a group of the Iroquois, and the echo of their drumming and dancing can be heard especially in the rhythmic accompaniment of the second movement of the quintet. The composition was premiered at a Dvořák Evening in New York on 12 January 1894 by the Kneisel Quartet, which included members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “I have heard them several times and I can say that they can compete with the best quartets in Europe,” Dvořák wrote to his friend Antonín Rus in Písek in December 1893. All the members of the ensemble were from Europe: the first violinist Franz Kneisel was born in Bucharest; the violist Louis Svećenski in Osijek, Croatia; the second violinist Otto Roth was from Austria; and the cellist Alwin Schroeder from Germany; the second viola part was played by Max Zach, originally from Galicia. The Czech premiere of String Quintet in E flat major took place the same year, on 10 October 1894 in Prague, performed by the Bohemian Quartet with Ferdinand Lachner.

The impressiveness of the work lies primarily in its rhythmic component, but Dvořák also embellishes the harmony with new combinations, and in contrast to his earlier period he often presents the melody in a simple form as a separate voice. In the first movement, in sonata form, he works with three themes; in the Scherzo, with its contrasting middle section, our attention is caught by the above-mentioned “drum rhythm”. The theme of the third variation movement was originally intended as a basis for the new American anthem, but it never came to fruition. The exuberant final rondo with its effective coda fully balances the dreamy sections of the preceding movements.

Béla Bartók
String Quartet No. 4, Sz 91

Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 is to some degree also connected with America. Bartók visited the United States for the first time at the turn of 1927/1928, performing as a pianist in Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other cities in recitals and with orchestra. While on tour, he received a message that the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia had awarded a prize to his third quartet, composed in 1927, which surely gave Bartók a significant creative impulse (in addition to the financial support).

Bartók’s musical vocabulary, as a combination of modern influences and folk music which surrounded him while growing up and to which he later devoted himself scientifically, is evident in the harmonic component and in the frequent changes of metrical patterns. The Fourth Quartet is one of Bartók’s most radical works. Its structure is a synthesis of the sonata movement form and the sonata cycle based on the principle of symmetry – the so-called arch form. The first and fifth movements are thematically related in exposition and recapitulation; the second and fourth movements have a similar relationship to each other. The third movement stands alone in the center, treating all the material as sonata development. This formal model became an important starting point for Bartók’s compositions of the 1930s. The harmonic aspect of the work also forms a synthesis: “In my more recent works I apply more counterpoint than before. I avoid 19th-century forms that were built mainly on homophony,” the composer said, referring to Mozart, who brilliantly combined contrapuntal and homophonic ideas. The premiere of String Quartet No. 4 took place on 29 March 1929 in Budapest, performed by the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet, consisting of composer’s friends.