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Czech Philharmonic on the Vltava • Concert for Europe


The Czech Philharmonic will perform on a unique floating stage on the Vltava River on the occasion of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In addition to Smetana's Vltava and Dvořák's Carnival, Janáček's monumental Glagolitic Mass, one of the most powerful sacred compositions ever, will be performed.

Programme

Antonín Dvořák
Carnival Overture, Op. 92

Bedřich Smetana
The Moldau, a symphonic poem from the cycle Má vlast (My Country)

Leoš Janáček
Glagolitic Mass, cantata for soloists, mixed choir, orchestra, and organ

Performers

Evelina Dobračeva soprano
Lucie Hilscherová alto
Aleš Briscein tenor
Jan Martiník bass
Daniela Valtová Kosinová organ

Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic on the Vltava • Concert for Europe

Slavic Island — Floating scene on the Vltava

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The concert for Europe is presented by Prague Sounds. It marks the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union, with the support of the City of Prague and the Czech Ministry of Culture.

Performers

Evelina Dobračeva  soprano

Evelina Dobračeva

Dramatic soprano Evelina Dobračeva began her musical career studying accordion, conducting and teaching in her hometown Syzran, Russia. She graduated with a diploma before relocating to Germany, where she began singing under the tuition of Norma Sharp, Snezana Nena Brzakovic and Julia Varady at the Hanns Eisler Music College Berlin. She claimed the highest level of scholarship from the German Republic and was a prize winner at the Würzburg Mozart Competition in 2006.

She performed at the Bayerische Staatsoper (Khovanshina), Cincinnati Opera (Tosca), Bolshoi Theatre (Pique Dame) and Theater St Gallen (Onegin and Fidelio). In concert she has recently sung Erwartung with the Capella Cracoviensis, the War Requiem with the LPO conducted by Vladimir Jurovsky, at Musikverein Vienna; Carnegie Hall and with the Spanish Radio, Verdi Requiem with the Scottish Orchestra, Mozarteum Salzburg, The Bells with Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Shostakovich 14 with Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

Lucie Hilscherová  alto

Lucie Hilscherová

The Czech mezzo-soprano Lucie Hilscherová makes guest appearances at the National Theatre in Prague, the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava, the J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen, the Silesian Theatre in Opava, the State Theatre in Košice, and the Mannheim National Theatre. She has also appeared as Háta in The Bartered Bride in Tokyo (2010, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Suntory Hall, conductor Leoš Svárovský) and London (2011, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Barbican Hall, conductor Jiří Bělohlávek).

She is in demand for concert performances of the lieder and oratorio repertoire, and she also enjoys interpreting the works of contemporary composers. She has collaborated with important orchestras and conductors, appearing at such festivals as Musikfest Stuttgart, Beethovenfest Bonn, Grafenegg Musik-Sommer, Prague Spring, the Easter Festival of Sacred Music in Brno, Smetana’s Litomyšl, the St. Wenceslas Music Festival, and the Peter Dvorský International Music Festival in Jaroměřice.

Aleš Briscein  tenor

Aleš Briscein

Aleš Briscein studied clarinet, saxophone and opera singing at the Prague Conservatory. He has participated in prestigious festivals (Edinburgh International Festival or Prague Spring) and collaborated with outstanding orchestras and conductors, including Christoph von Dohnányi, Valery Gergiev, Sir John Eliot Gardiner or Tomáš Netopil.

Recent highlights include Der fliegende Holländer in Prague, War and Peace in Geneva, Makropulos Affair at Salzburg Festival, Dalibor and Die Königskinder in Frankfurt, Die tote Stadt in Berlin and Dresden, From the House of the Dead in Munich, Wozzeck in Vienna, Jenůfa in Bologna, Così fan tutte and Mazeppa in Berlin, Lohengrin in Erl and Two Widows in Angers and Nantes. His concert repertoire includes, among others, Mahler’s 8th symphony, Beethoven's 9th symphony and Missa solemnis, Dvořák’s Stabat mater, as well as Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, or Stravinsky’s Les Noces.

Jan Martiník  bass

Jan Martiník

Young czech Bass Jan Martiník was born in 1983 in Ostrava where he studied on Janáček Conservatory and on the University of Ostrava with Eliška Pappová. 2003 he won the International Singing Competition Antonín Dvořák in Karlovy Vary in the category Junior and was also rewarded with the second prize in the category "Lied". Jan Martiník is laureate of the International Competition Jelena Obraztsova, where he won the special prize for the best Tchajkovsky romance. 2007 he was finalist in Placido Domingo´s Competition "Operalia" and in 2009 in Cardiff Singer of the World, where he won the category "Song".

While studying at the university he appeared in roles at the NDM Ostrava, including Pistola (Falstaff), Leporello (Don Giovanni) and Truffaldino (Ariadne auf Naxos). At the National Theatre Prague he sung roles including Masetto (Don Giovanni), Larkens and José Castro (La fanciulla del West), Leporello (Don Giovanni) in the new production in Estates theatre.

From 2008 to 2011 Jan Martiník was a member of Komische Oper Berlin, where he sung roles including Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Colline (La bohème), Surin (Pique Dame) and Nachtwächter (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg). In Volksoper Vienna he sung Betto (Gianni Schicchi), 1.Nazarener (Salome) as well as Zuniga in Carmen. Since 2012/13 Jan Martiník is a member of Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, where he performes roles including Colline (La Bohéme), Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Eremit (Der Freischütz), as well as Father Trulove (The Rake´s Progress).

In concerts the young Bass was working with well known orchestras such as Czech Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Brimingham Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as well as the King´s Consort and the Collegium 1704. Amongst other pieces of the concert repertoire he has performed Jesus in St. Matthews Passion, as well as the Aria Part, the Bass Parts in Mozart, Dvořák and Verdiʼs Requiem, Dvořák Te Deum, Beethovens 9. Symphony and Haydns Schöpfung. Jan Martiník is already known for his sincere interpretations of Schubertʼs Winterreise and Dvořák Biblical Songs

The beauty of his voice matches with a splendid technique and a comical talent, which makes him one of the leading singers of the young generation.

Daniela Valtová Kosinová  organ

Daniela Valtová Kosinová

Daniela Valtová Kosinová is a graduate of the Pardubice Conservatoire and of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. She won third prize and the title of laureate at the International Organ Competition in Brno in 2002. She is the principal organist of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. She gives concerts all around Europe. In the Czech Republic she is a guest at leading music festivals (Prague Spring, Smetana’s Litomyšl, Janáček May Festival etc.), and she collaborates with important soloists and ensembles.

She has performed the organ solos in Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass many times with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, in 2015 with the Czech Philharmonic and Jiří Bělohlávek at Vienna’s Musikverein, in 2018 with the Flemish Symphony Orchestra on a tour of Belgium, and this year with the Czech Philharmonic in Prague and on a European tour (Vienna, Hamburg, London). With the mezzo-soprano Jarmila Kosinová and the actor Jan Potměšil she created the concert programme Music Between the Words, which has been presented successfully all over the Czech Republic.

She also composes, and her works have been played at many concerts in this country and abroad. In 2010 she issued the jazz album Meeting Point featuring her own music.

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 Bohuslava 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.

Semyon Bychkov  conductor

Semyon Bychkov

In recognition of the 2024 Year of Czech Music – a major celebration of Czech music celebrated across the Czech Republic every 10 years since 1924 – Chief Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov has put the music of Antonín Dvořák at the centre of his programmes with the Czech Philharmonic throughout the 2023–2024 season. In addition to conducting three programmes devoted to Dvořák in Prague, Bychkov and the Orchestra will tour the Dvořák programmes to South Korea, Japan, Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium and the United States, as well as recording the last three symphonies for Pentatone. 

Semyon Bychkovʼs tenure at the Czech Philharmonic began in 2018 with concerts in Prague, London, New York, and Washington commemorating the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence. Following the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project, Bychkov and the Orchestra began their focus on Mahler. The first discs in a new Mahler cycle were released by Pentatone in 2022, with Symphony No. 5 chosen by The Sunday Times as its Best Classical Album.

Bychkovʼs repertoire spans four centuries. His highly anticipated performances are a unique combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy. In addition to guest engagements with the world’s major orchestras and opera houses, Bychkov holds honorary titles with the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – and the Royal Academy of Music, who recently awarded him an Honorary Doctorate. Bychkov was named “Conductor of the Year” by the International Opera Awards in 2015 and, by Musical America in 2022.

Bychkov began recording in 1986 and released discs with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra and London Philharmonic for Philips. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne featured Brahms, Mahler, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Strauss, Verdi, Glanert and Höller. Bychkov’s 1993 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with the Orchestre de Paris continues to win awards, most recently the Gramophone Collection 2021; Wagner’s Lohengrin was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year (2010); and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month (2018).

In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and the other in the West. Born in St Petersburg in 1952, he studied at the Leningrad Conservatory with the legendary Ilya Musin. Denied his prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and, has lived in Europe since the mid-1980’s. In 1989, the same year he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris, Bychkov returned to the former Soviet Union as the St Petersburg Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor. He was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra (1997) and Chief Conductor of Dresden Semperoper (1998).

Compositions

Antonín Dvořák
Carnival Overture, Op. 92

“Whatever we have in Czech history that is truly great has grown from the bottom up!” This sentence by the famous Czech author Jan Neruda tells us a great deal about the history of the Czech nation and its great figures. It certainly applies unreservedly to Antonín Dvořák, whose growing artistry took him from a little village to the world’s greatest metropolises.

When Neruda wrote these words in 1884, he was 50 years old. And what was Antonín Dvořák doing in 1891 at age 50? He was a famous, sought-after composer, an artist whose popularity had long since crossed the borders of Austria-Hungary and spread all over Europe. It was in the year of his 50th birthday that he was offered the directorship of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He considered the matter very carefully, consulting with many of the people who were close to him. For example, he wrote to his friend Alois Göbl in June 1891: “I’m supposed to go to America for two years! […] Should I accept the offer? Or not? Send me word.” Dvořák had never been very fond of celebrations, so it is no surprise that in early September he refused to take part in celebrations in Prague for his 50th birthday because he was spending time with his family at his beloved summer home in Vysoká, where he went to rest and to compose. Four days after his birthday (12 September 1891), he finished orchestrating Carnival Overture, Op. 92, the second work in a cycle of three concert overtures that are programmatic in character. We do not have a concrete programme from the composer, but he clearly realised something here that no one would have expected from him in the realm of symphonic music. Two years earlier, he had already gone down this path in chamber music with his Poetic Tone Pictures, Op. 85, thirteen pieces for solo piano, about which he jokingly commented: “I’m not just an absolute musician, but also a poet.” Dvořák had originally conceived his triptych of concert overtures depicting three aspects of human life as a single whole with the title “Nature, Life, and Love”. All three overtures are also carefully motivically interconnected. Ultimately, however, the composer told his publisher Simrock that his overtures “each can also be played separately”, and he gave them the opus numbers and titles In Nature’s Realm, Op. 91, Carnival Overture, Op. 92, and Othello, Op. 93. The first performance of all three overtures took place on 28 April 1892 at the Rudolfinum in Prague at the composer’s farewell concert before his departure for America, with Dvořák himself conducting the orchestra of the National Theatre. Dvořák also conducted their second performance, this time across the ocean on 21 October 1892 at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Leoš Janáček
Glagolitic Mass, a cantata for soloists, choir, orchestra and organ

Among great creative figures, Leoš Janáček is remarkable in that the older he got, the more “youthful”, original, and modern the music that he wrote became. This was perhaps because he had lost everything. Released by the cruelty of fate from his ties and concerns for his parents and his children, he was truly able to find himself. He cast aside conventions and tried to get to the heart of things.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass is one of the most powerful sacred compositions in music history. The 72-year-old composer wrote the music to the text in Old Church Slavonic in 1926 at his favourite spa, Luhačovice. “The rain in Luhačovice is pouring, just pouring. I look out of the window at the gloomy mountain Komoň. The clouds come rolling in, and the wind tears and scatters them. […] The darkness becomes denser and denser. Now I look out into the black of night; lightning slashes into the darkness.” That is how Janáček described the atmosphere that August, when he began writing his Glagolitic Mass. The decision was made quickly. Although he had taken an interest in the Old Church Slavonic text of the Mass a few years beforehand and had made a few sketches, the music that he ultimately began writing in Luhačovice had nothing in common with those sketches. For Janáček, starting the new work was quite emotional. His ideas had to mature, but once creative fervour had taken hold, he composed quickly. He sketched out the entire Mass in just three weeks! By October 1926, he had finished it. He made more quite substantial changes after the premiere, which took place on 5 December 1927 in Brno. Janáček was able to make cuts. He is never verbose; he is precise.

For example, in the movement “Věruju” (Credo) he shortened the orchestral interlude that contained a very powerful passage inducing the atmosphere before the choir begins singing about Christ’s crucifixion. Janáček originally scored this harsh passage for three (!) sets of tympani, and he combined them with expressive music for brass and organ. In a letter to Kamila Stösslová he wrote: “…so I’m doing a bit of a depiction of the legend that when Christ was stretched out on the cross, the heavens were torn. So I wrote rumbling and lightning…” His wife Zdena supposedly told him: “Leoš, that’s impossible; you’re cursing at the Lord God there.” And a while later Janáček said: “So I’ve gotten rid of the tympani there…”

Although the Glagolitic Mass is a musical setting of a liturgical text, the work is not confessional in character. To Ludvík Kundera’s review, in which he called the composer an “old man” and a “firm believer”, Janáček’s reply was “No old man, no believer, you youngster”. This is often quoted, but we must take it with a grain of salt. Janáček was unquestionably a spiritual person. He was raised in the environment of the church at the Benedictine Monastery in Old Brno. However, he was not a practicing Catholic. We know only that he brought his children up in faith and prayer. He apparently felt distanced from the Catholic Church, so he was attracted to the idea of writing a Mass, but to the Old Church Slavonic text.

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