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Czech Philharmonic • Giovanni Antonini


Giovanni Antonini and the Czech Youth Philharmonic —this combination is already familiar from our 127th season. It turned out so well, including from the Czech Philharmonic’s point of view, that plans were made for another concert. The violinist Josef Špaček has been invited to collaborate.

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

Programme

Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 85 in B flat Major, Hob. I/85 “The Queen” (20')

Antonio Vivaldi
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 7/11, RV 208 “Grosso Mogul” (12')

— Intermission —

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Don Juan, suite from the ballet (22')

Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 103 in E flat major, Hob. I/103 “Drumroll” (27')

Performers

Josef Špaček violin

Giovanni Antonini conductor

Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Giovanni Antonini

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Price from 350 to 1550 CZK Tickets and contact information

Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic

Tel.: +420 227 059 227
E-mail: info@czechphilharmonic.cz

Customer service is available on weekdays from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.

 

The Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will play Haydn´s Symphony No. 85 and the Violin Concerto by Vivaldi. 
The Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is supported by CEZ Group, the general partner of the Czech Philharmonic.

“Baroque music has experienced a great revival in recent years and I am delighted that the Czech Philharmonic has included this programme with Giovanni Antonini, an expert on this period, in its subscription series. It is a tremendous revival not only for me and the orchestra, but also a very beneficial and educational experience for the upcoming generation of young musicians from the Czech Youth Philharmonic who are part of the programme. Vivaldi was a superstar in his lifetime, and his violin concerto Grosso Mogul, which I will be playing, was the rock'n'roll of its time. I look forward to rocking it for you, the dear audience, at the concert!”

— Josef Špaček

The fact that Giovanni Antonini is an expert on the music of the Baroque and Classical eras is no secret to the public at the Rudolfinum. A conductor and a flautist, in past seasons of the philharmonic, he has appeared in both roles, which he has masterfully combined throughout his career. As a player of the recorder, he revealed the seemingly simple instrument’s potential for virtuosity, and as a conductor he has thrilled orchestras and audiences alike with his lively temperament and his musical sensitivity. Last year, he also led the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra for the first time. The players of the youth orchestra can boast of having worked not only with Antonini, but also with Semyon Bychkov and Simon Rattle, and they will be appearing on the first half of today’s programme. Just like last year, also coming to Prague with Giovanni Antonini is the violinist Stefano Barneschi, who will be playing the role of concertmaster. His engagement is no coincidence. For over 20 years, Barneschi has been the concertmaster of the famed ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, of which Giovanni Antonini is the founder. For a ninth season, Antonini and his ensemble are at work on recording the complete symphonic works of Joseph Haydn as part of the project Haydn2032, which is to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of the “father of the symphony”. It is therefore no surprise that works by Haydn constitute the lynchpins of yet another of Antonini’s programmes in Prague.

Performers

Josef Špaček  violin, guest artist

Josef Špaček

Although it has already been three years since his membership in the orchestra ended, Josef Špaček is still inseparably associated with the Czech Philharmonic (now as its artist-in-residence). While his nine years as the orchestra’s concertmaster are covered by the new Czech Television documentary “Devět sezón” (“Nine Seasons”, premiered in September 2023), Špaček is now focusing on his solo career and is enchanting audiences worldwide. Although he appears with the top European orchestras and can be heard in Asia and the USA, and his is a regular guest in chamber music in the world’s most prestigious concert halls, he retains his modesty. We can hear him playing not only at Carnegie Hall, but also in out-of-the-way Czech villages.

This season, he will be appearing for the first time with the symphony orchestras in Chicago and Atlanta, and his year will be enriched by a residency with the Residentie Orkest based in The Hague. In this country, besides appearing with top orchestras, he will also perform at the Lípa Musica Festival, the Saint Wenceslas Music Festival, and Smetana’s Litomyšl. As in previous years, an important chamber music partner will be the cellist Tomáš Jamník, with whom Špaček has made a successful recording of the best Czech duets. In addition, Josef Špaček has added to the world’s discography of concertos by Dvořák and Janáček, which he recorded with the Czech Philharmonic and Jiří Bělohlávek, and there is a recording of music by Czech and other composers with Miroslav Sekera. He also collaborated with Sekera and the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Petr Popelka on his newest album of works by Martinů, released in September 2023 on the Supraphon label. 

Josef Špaček was born in 1986 in Třebíč, and he already exhibited extraordinary musical talent at an early age. Thanks to his father (now a cellist with the Czech Philharmonic for over 30 years) and musically gifted siblings, music was a natural part of his childhood, about which his mother has written a series of very entertaining books. Going to the Prague Conservatoire was therefore a natural step. After graduating from the studio of Jaroslav Foltýn at that school, he fulfilled his dream of studying in America, beginning at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (under Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo) and continuing at New York’s famed Julliard School (under Itzak Perlman). 

Immediately after graduating, he returned to this country, where became the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Czech Philharmonic. At the same time, he also began to make a reputation here and abroad as a soloist and chamber music player, but it was thanks to winning the title of laureate at the world-famous Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Brussels that he began to receive the most attractive offers. Finally, between the many outstanding offers of solo appearances he was receiving and his family circumstances with the birth of his daughter followed shortly by the arrival of twins, he finally decided to resign as concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic and to devote himself exclusively to a solo career. Thanks to enormous talent and great effort, he has fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a famous violinist.

Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra  

In the modern history of the Czech Philharmonic, when the first steps were being taken towards an educational programme, the idea arose in 2006 – while Václav Riedlbauch was still the executive director – of giving symphonic concerts for student audiences, i.e. for a new generation of listeners. The choice fell to the former Prague (later Czech) Youth Orchestra, an ensemble with many years of tradition of a youthful, enthusiastic approach to music. This worked wonderfully because the students in the audience saw their peers on stage. Bound by their love of music, these musicians gave performances from 2006 to 2010 under the leadership of the conductor Marko Ivanović, playing such works as Janáček’s Sinfonietta, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Cello Concerto, and Te Deum, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suite.

When new management took over in 2011, the Czech Philharmonic greatly expanded its educational activities, and that was an opportunity for renewal of the student orchestra’s activities, renamed as the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. The idea is to give the rising generation of musicians – mostly students at music schools, whether grammar schools with a music emphasis, conservatoires, or academies of music – the regular opportunity of rehearsing and performing great symphonic, concertante, and choral works. Over time, the efforts turned towards creating a permanent orchestra that would support its members in the perfecting of their ensemble playing and in the creation of long-term relationships and mutual understanding. The Czech Youth Philharmonic musicians also serve as “bearers of light” in relation to their peers by showing them that young people can love classical music and can present it enthusiastically to others.

Since the 2013/2014 season, the orchestra has been performing regularly at concerts of the Czech Philharmonic’s educational series Four Steps to the New World (under the baton of Marko Ivanović), and at the series Penguins at the Rudolfinum (with Vojtěch Jouza) and Who’s Afraid of the Philharmonic? (with Ondřej Vrabec). In April 2019, the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra appeared with Ida Kelarová and the Čhavorenge children’s choir at Šun Devloro concerts – musical celebrations of International Romani Day. In November 2019, the orchestra played under the baton of Robert Kružík at the Students’ Day Concert with the participation of Joachim Gauck and Petr Pithart.

In June 2020, the conductor Simon Rattle came to Prague insisting that he did not want to conduct just the Czech Philharmonic, but also “some orchestra with young people.” When the choice fell to the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, that was an enormous challenge for its members. Sir Simon enjoyed working with the young musicians, and he was unsparing in his praise: “The Czech Youth Philharmonic reminds me of the orchestra of the Verbier Festival, which is made up of the best music students from all around the world, led by players from the Metropolitan Opera. That’s the level they are on.” In February 2021, the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra first appeared under the baton of chief conductor Semyon Bychkov in the televised concert “A přece se učí” (“But Learning Continues”).

In the 2022/2023 season, the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra gave its debut at Czech Philharmonic subscription concerts with the conductors Semyon Bychkov and Giovanni Antonini. This year, philharmonic subscribers will hear the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra under the baton of Jakuba Hrůša and, once again, Giovanni Antonini. In the series “Steps to the New World”, the young musicians will perform works by Bizet, Grieg, Smetana, Wagner, and other composers under the baton of Marko Ivanović.

Giovanni Antonini  conductor, recorder

Giovanni Antonini

A native of Milan, Giovanni Antonini has long been acclaimed worldwide for his innovative and polished approach to performing the Baroque and Classical repertoire while fully respecting the precepts of historically informed interpretation. However, the path of early music had not been his first choice of study. He had originally applied to the conservatoire as a violinist, and it was only because he did not succeed at his audition that he ultimately began studying the recorder, and he became a master of the instrument. It was thanks to his study of the flute at the Civica Scuola di Musica that Antonini fully discovered the world of Baroque music. In addition, as he himself recalls, it was a great advantage that as a flautist specialising in historical interpretation, he did not have many artistic models to rely on and simply imitate (after all, in the 1980s the field was still in its infancy), so he had to seek out his own interpretive approaches. He found further support in his studies at the Centre de Musique Ancienne in Geneva, but the urge never abandoned him to penetrate truly deeply into the music and to create his own language, which is now so appreciated for its uniqueness.

In 1985 he founded his own Baroque ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, with which he still appears all around the world in the dual role of soloist (whether on the recorder or the Baroque transverse flute) and conductor. Overall, perhaps the most ambitious project he threw himself into a few years back with the Basel Chamber Orchestra was to record the complete symphonies of Haydn, and to finish by the year 2032, the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The project Haydn2032, of which Antonini is the artistic director, is daring not only for its scope (Haydn wrote 108 Symphonies, so it is necessary to release 2 CDs with three or four symphonies every year!), but also because of the interpretive difficulties of Haydn’s music. “Haydn is very difficult to perform well because many of the interpretive paths can sound boring. But Haydn is not boring, it’s just the matter of finding the key to the correct interpretation,” explains Antonini. So far, 14 CDs have appeared (most recently this September), so the Haydn symphonic repertoire he has already recorded, rehearsed, or prepared has also influenced the programming of Antonini’s concerts in recent years.

We will also be hearing Haydn at today’s concert, which is, among other things, a continuation of cooperation from this past February, when he performed the music of Telemann and Mozart with the Czech Philharmonic and the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Of course, Antonini does not overlook other greats masters of the 16th through the 18th centuries, whose works he has recorded with Il Gardino Armonico (including the Vivaldi concerto on today’s programme) or performed in concert with such major orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra and with renowned soloists like Cecilia Bartoli, Giuliano Carmignola, Isabelle Faust, and Katia and Marielle Labèque. He also devotes himself to opera; in recent years, for example, we have been able to see him at Milan’s La Scala (Giulio Cesare), the Zurich Opera House (Idomeneo), and the Theater an der Wien (Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo). He is also the artistic director of the Polish music festival Wratislavia Cantans and the principal guest conductor of the Basel Chamber Orchestra.

Compositions

Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 85 in B flat Major & Symphony No. 103 in E flat major

It might seem at first glance that Joseph Haydn lived a far less interesting life than his two contemporaries belonging to the triumvirate of the First Viennese School. Haydn was neither a child prodigy like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart nor an artist struck by cruel blows of fate, as Ludwig van Beethoven is often portrayed. Thanks to relatives, the native of the little Austrian town Rohrau near the Hungarian border began devoting himself to music at an early age, but his path to becoming a composer was a gradual one. At age eight, he left his family home and moved to Vienna, where he began singing in the choir at St Stephen’s Cathedral and attending a school for young singers. There, Haydn obtained direct experience of musical practice, but he largely taught himself to compose by studying the works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, for example. Before he reached age 17, the young man’s voice changed, and he had to leave the church choir. A stroke of good fortune first brought Haydn into contact with the poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio and later with the Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora. It was working with Porpora that enabled Haydn to perfect his skill at composing and to being taking full advantage of his unquestionable talent.

Haydn’s domain would turn out to be the symphony; he composed a total of 107 between 1759 and 1795. At the Esterházy court, where he was in charge of the theatrical ensemble and orchestra, Joseph Haydn was isolated from external influences to a certain extent, so he had room to refine his own personal style of composing. Building on the fundamentals he had acquired from Porpora and on his knowledge of the French overture and of the music of his German contemporaries, he developed the symphony into its classic four-movement layout: fast, slow, dance, and fast. Like his pupil and close friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Haydn’s mind was also overflowing with melodic ideas, and his symphonies quickly spread and gained admirers all around Europe. Besides working for Esterházy, Haydn also accepted commissions from abroad, as in the case of the six Paris Symphonies written between 1785 and 1786 on commission for the French nobleman Count d’Ogny. Writing works for Europe’s musical capital opened up new sonic experiences for Haydn based on the size of the performing forces. While at Esterháza or Eisenstadt, where the composer’s employer spent most of his time, Haydn had at his disposal an orchestra of approximately 25 players, but the Parisian count commissioning new works promised the same combination of instruments but with nearly three times as many players. The Paris Symphonies are therefore outstanding for their wealth of colour, harmony, and melody, and for the generally more majestic sonic impression they make in comparison with Haydn’s earlier works. 

Haydn originally intended his Symphony No. 85 in B flat major as the second work in the cycle, and it can be seen as a little tribute to the French public. The first movement opens in the spirit of a French overture (which introduced ballets and later operas and oratorios) with an introduction featuring a characteristically ceremonious dotted rhythm. The second movement is a series of variations based on the popular French folk La gentille et jeune Lisette. The Symphony in B flat major was one of the few to get its nickname (“La Reine”, meaning “The Queen”) soon after it was written. According to available sources, Marie Antoinette herself was present at the premiere, and the symphony is said to have been so dear to her that she had a printed copy of the score with her while imprisoned in 1792.

On the other hand, Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 in E flat major got its nickname from a musical characteristic of the introduction to the first movement. The timpani roll and the tenebrous mood of the opening bars serve not only as an introduction, but also as a presentation of thematic material that dominates the whole movement. In the course of the piece, it rises to the surface of the sonic structure, and it is heard in full at the movement’s conclusion. Haydn’s last symphonies including “The Drumroll” were also composed for an important musical centre, in this case London, where the composer visited twice between 1791 and 1795 at the invitation of the impresario Johann Peter Salomon. Haydn’s last symphonies are a culmination not merely because they bring to a close the composer’s remarkable list of symphonic works. Their mood, wealth of harmonic and melodic invention, and sophisticated handling of motifs clearly anticipate the development of the genre, to which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart indisputably also contributed, and at the summit of which stands Haydn’s admirer and successor Ludwig van Beethoven. 

Antonio Vivaldi
Concerto in D major for violin, strings, and basso continuous, Op. 7/11, RV 208 “Grosso Mogul”

Antonio Vivaldi was for the concerto what Haydn would become for the symphony. A native of Venice, he was devoted to music from an early age thanks to his father, an excellent musician and possibly also a composer. The ginger-haired boy Antonio, later nicknamed “The Red Priest”, received the fundamentals of violin playing and musical training from his father. From the beginning, Vivaldi’s musical development was also associated with St Mark’s Basilica, where his father played, and where he probably also got his first lessons in composition from the local choirmaster, the famed Baroque composer Giovanni Legrenzi. Besides intensive musical studies, Vivaldi also devoted himself to learning theology. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1703, but just three years later he gave up that calling because of health problems. In the year of his ordination, he also became a violin teacher at one of Venice’s orphanages, the Ospedale della Pietà, where besides teaching, he also wrote many sacred works, cantatas, and concertos to be played there. Like most of his Venetian musical contemporaries, Vivaldi was a prodigious composer of operas. Two of them were probably premiered in Prague, where his music enjoyed exceptional popularity. However, near the end of his life, Vivaldi became impoverished and faced diminished popularity. The predominant gallant style foretold the arrival of Classicism, and Baroque aesthetics increasingly came to be seen as old fashioned. It is no wonder that after Vivaldi’s death, his music fell into oblivion for nearly two centuries. 

Today, nearly a century after his manuscripts were rediscovered and compiled, Vivaldi has become one of the most famous composers in history, but he is far better known for his violin concertos than for operas or sacred music. Vivaldi tended to compose works in large sets, the most famous being L’estro armonico, La stravaganza, La cetra, and of course Le quattro staggioni (The Four Seasons). Vivaldi established the concerto’s three-part form with a contrasting slow middle movement, and he created compositions that make the highest technical demands on the soloist, while the slow movements are often graced with lovely melodies that require extraordinary expressive feeling form the interpreter. The Violin Concerto in D major “Grosso Mogul” (1716) is literally a display of virtuosic pyrotechnics that revealed sonic possibilities that were novel at the time for instruments as they were constantly being perfected in the workshops of the master luthiers. The work’s extraordinary technical difficulty is augmented by lengthy passages where the solo part is only sporadically supported by chordal entrances of the accompanying ensemble.

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Don Juan, ballet suite

It is quite justified that the music of Christoph Willibald Gluck should appear on the programme of a concert under the baton of an acclaimed expert in the field of early music. Gluck’s importance for the development of European music is in no way lesser than that of Haydn or Vivaldi. He is regarded as an operatic reformer who tossed out the affectations and exhibitionism of bombastic Italian opera of the mid-18th century, returning to simplicity and comprehensibility. Gluck was well versed in the Italian and German musical tradition, travelled around Europe, and even spent some time in Prague. At just under 30 years of age he won an engagement in a Milanese orchestra, and in that city he mostly composed works in the opera seria genre. He also wrote two operas on commission for London’s Covent Garden.

Gluck’s ballet music on the popular subject of Don Juan belongs to his period in Vienna, where he was appointed in 1754 to the prestigious post of Kapellmeister of the Court Opera and court composer of theatrical and chamber music. He finished his pantomime-ballet based on Molière’s comedy in 1761, just a year before the premiere of his pivotal work, the reform opera Orfeo ed Euridice. According to period accounts, just like in Orfeo ed Euridice, here too the composer was able to bring into the world a work that departed from the conventions of the period. Instead of a traditional performance in the gallant style with virtuosic dancing and musically more-or-less interchangeable numbers, he let the dramatic story unfold, filled with the wide range of emotions and personality traits of the individual characters. Several composers took inspiration from Gluck’s Don Juan, including Gluck himself, when he worked the concluding dance of the furies into the French version of Orfeo (Orphée et Eurydice, premiered in 1774). Gluck’s influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can be heard in the final scene of Act III of The Marriage of Figaro, into which Mozart composed one of Gluck’s musical motifs. 

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