Czech Philharmonic • Jakub Hrůša

Jakub Hrůša has chosen an original programme. The first half is built upon the artistry of the baritone Christian Gerhaher in moving songs by Gustav Mahler and Ondřej Kukal’s rather similar Mad Soldier’s Songs, a setting of verses by Rilke. For Hrůša, finally performing Symphonie liturgique with the Czech Philharmonic is a wish come true.

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


Ondřej Kukal
The Mad Soldier’s Song for baritone and orchestra, Op. 19 (26')

Gustav Mahler
Blumine (8')

Gustav Mahler
Des Knaben Wunderhorn (selections):
Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen (6')
Revelge (6')
Der Tamboursg’sell (5')

— Intermission —

Arthur Honegger
Symphony No. 3 “Symphonie Liturgique” (30')


Christian Gerhaher baritone

Jakub Hrůša conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Jakub Hrůša

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Christian Gerhaher  baritone

Christian Gerhaher

During his studies under Paul Kuen and Raimund Grumbach, German baritone Christian Gerhaher attended the Opera School of the Academy of Music in Munich where he studied lied interpretation with Friedemann Berger. While completing his medical studies Christian Gerhaher perfected his vocal training in master-classes given by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Inge Borkh.  At present Christian Gerhaher, together with Gerold Huber, holds a class in lied interpretation at the Munich Academy of Music and Theatre, and occasionally also teaches at the Royal Academy of Music in London. 

Together with his regular piano accompanist Gerold Huber, Christian Gerhaher has devoted himself to lied interpretation for well over 30 years now, in concerts and recordings, and over the years they have been awarded several major prizes. The lied duo can be heard regularly on the stages of major international recital centres, for instance in the concert halls of New York, the Muziek- and Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the Cologne; they are particularly frequent guests in the Wigmore Hall in London. The Liedwoche Elmau, devised by Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber, takes place for the third time in September 2023.

Christian Gerhaher has worked together with renowned conductors and for 30 years has given concerts in the world’s major concert halls. Orchestras which regularly invite Christian Gerhaher to perform include the London Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, and in particular the Berlin Philharmonic, where he was the first ever singer to be artist in residence. 

Besides giving concerts and recitals, Christian Gerhaher is also a highly sought-after performer on the opera stage and has received several prizes such as the Laurence Olivier Award and the theatre prize Der Faust. A milestone in Christian Gerhaher’s opera career was his portrayal of Wozzeck in September 2015 at Zurich Opera House in the celebrated staging by Andreas Homoki. The key role of Wolfram in Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser continues to be a constant role in his calendar in the opera houses in Berlin, Vienna, London and Munich and recently at the Salzburg Easter Festival with Andris Nelsons conducting the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester. At the end of 2023 Christian Gerhaher makes his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York singing this role.  

Christian Gerhaher’s CDs are issued by Sony Music, with which he has an exclusive partnership. Accompanied by Gerold Huber, the Schubert, Schumann and Mahler cycles have been released on this label. A unique project that preoccupied Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber for years – the complete recording of all Robert Schumann’s songs in a box set – was released by his exclusive label Sony Classical in autumn 2021.  

Christian Gerhaher and his wife live with their three children in Munich.

Jakub Hrůša  principal guest conductor

Jakub Hrůša

Born in the Czech Republic, Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Music Director Designate of The Royal Opera, Covent Garden (Music Director from 2025), Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. He is the 2023 Opus Klassik Conductor of the Year.

He is a frequent guest with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna, Berlin, Munich and New York Philharmonics; Bavarian Radio, NHK, Chicago and Boston Symphonies; Leipzig Gewandhaus, Lucerne Festival, Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Chamber and The Cleveland Orchestras; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has led opera productions for the Salzburg Festival (Káťa Kabanová with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2022), Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, and Opéra National de Paris. He has also been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival and served as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years. In the 2023/2024 season, he conducts Janacek’s Jenůfa for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. 

His relationships with leading vocal and instrumental soloists have included collaborations in recent seasons with Daniil Trifonov, Mitsuko Uchida, Hélène Grimaud, Behzod Abduraimov, Anne Sofie Mutter, Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Rudolf Buchbinder, Gautier Capuçon, Julia Fischer, Sol Gabetta, Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen, Karita Mattila, Leonidas Kavakos, Lang Lang, Josef Špaček, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yuja Wang, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Alisa Weilerstein and others.

As a recording artist, Jakub Hrusa has received numerous awards and nominations for his discography. Most recently with Bamberg Symphony, he received the ICMA Prize for Symphonic Music in both 2023 and 2022, for his recordings of Rott’s Symphony No. 1 and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4. He was awarded the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik for his recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, and in 2021 his recording of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Frank Peter Zimmermann was nominated for BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone awards, and his disc of the Dvořák Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Augustin Hadelich was nominated for a Grammy® Award. His recordings of Dvořák and Martinů Piano Concertos with Ivo Kahánek and the Bamberg Symphony (Supraphon), and Vanessa from Glyndebourne (Opus Arte) both won BBC Music Magazine Awards in 2020. 

Jakub Hrůša studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is currently President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society, and an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music in London. He was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize, and in 2020 was awarded both the Antonín Dvořák Prize by the Czech Republic’s Academy of Classical Music, and – together with Bamberg Symphony – the Bavarian State Prize for Music.


Ondřej Kukal
The Mad Soldier’s Song for baritone and orchestra, Op. 19

Jakub Deml (1878–1961) was a priest who caused problems for the church, which in turn made his life difficult. Through his poetry, he opposed the demons within him and in the surrounding world. His poem Das Lied eines wahnsinnig gewordenen Soldaten (The Mad Soldier’s Song) appeared in print in 1935 at a time when he was writing mostly in German (a Czech translation by Ladislav Dvořák was published in 1991). In the introduction to the published edition, Deml said the poem’s inspiration had been a dream that he was dying, and critics characterised it as a surrealistic experience bordering on mysticism. “And yet there is something in it that corresponds to our present times, something that, for all the dreaminess of its poetry, makes it relevant even now in a certain sense.” Just as relevant, for example, as the songs by Gustav Mahler to folk texts from the collection The Youth’s Magic Horn or as the message of Arthur Honegger’s Symphonie Liturgique. 

In a 2006 interview for the music journal Hudební rozhledy, the composer Ondřej Kukal said that Deml’s agonizing doubts had been the main thing about his poem The Mad Soldier’s Song that had captivated him. Kukal set the poem to music using the original German text while recovering from a severe illness that he suffered in 2003; at the time, it was composing that brought him back to life and work. A constantly recurring characteristic motif supported by percussion runs through the composition as a kind of insistent idée fixe that the ailing soul tries to overcome, like the agonising feeling of a confined space from which there is no escape, and unanswered questions are harassingly posed by rhythmic blows, running strings, and shrieking brass. The world premiere took place on 14 September 2005 with Roman Janál as the soloist and the South Bohemian Chamber Philharmonic conducted by the composer, then the Prague premiere was on 19 March 2006 with the Prague Philharmonia under the baton of Michel Swierczewski as part of a cycle titled “Prague Premieres.” The soloist was again Roman Janál. Three years later, Ondřej Kukal conducted a performance of his work with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Gustav Mahler
Blumine & Des Knaben Wunderhorn (selections)

Ondřej Kukal’s work resonates very well with texts on related themes from the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Between 1805 and 1808, Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim, leading poets of the “Heidelberg Romanticism” movement, published three volumes of folk poetry under the title Alte deutsche Lieder (Old German Songs). The collection contains songs of lovers, soldiers, vagabonds, and children and spans from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. It was an expression of Romanticism’s enthusiasm for folk lore in general as part of the search for the nation’s roots in a past that was untouched by civilisation. There were complaints that the publishers had excessively adapted and poetically stylised the material, and there were even accusations of forgeries. While the poems’ authenticity can be called into question, their huge influence on German poetry and music is beyond any doubt.

Gustav Mahler had already turned his attention to the collection while working as the Kapellmeister in Kassel (1883–1885), but he may have become familiar with some of the verses even earlier. Many of the songs compiled in a separate cycle titled The Youth’s Magic Horn date from Mahler’s period in Hamburg between 1891 and 1897; the last song, “Tamboursg’sell” (The Drummer Boy), is from 1901. In setting the poetry to music, Mahler was guided mainly by the verses’ rhythm, but the simplicity of expression that his approach guarantees is deceptive; Mahler’s melodic and harmonic language is entirely original, as is the colourfulness of his orchestration. He made no attempt at evoking an impression of antiquity, nor did he imitate folk melodies, let alone quote them; the texts themselves were consistently his departure point. In the songs of soldiers, we consistently hear Mahler’s typical march rhythms that bear the composer’s impressions from his childhood years in Jihlava, where he enjoyed listening to the wind band of the local garrison.

In the spring of 1888, Mahler completed his First Symphony. By then, he had already been the second Kapellmeister at the local Municipal Theatre for two years. He wrote home to Jihlava with satisfaction over his new composition: “Dear Parents! As of today, my new work is finished, and thank God I can say that it has turned out well. I hope that this means I have once again taken a great step forwards. I shall not have difficulties getting a performance, of course, because I am now a ‘famous’ man.” However, it would be five years before the symphony made its way to the concert stage at one of the other places where he served as Kapellmeister. On 20 November 1889 he gave the work its first performance in Budapest, but the premiere’s failure served the purposes of those who disliked seeing Mahler at the helm of the Hungarian Royal Opera. The symphony still faced an arduous journey leading to its final form performed on 3 June 1894 in Berlin.

At the premiere, the work was called a symphonic poem in two parts. For another performance in October 1893 in Hamburg, Mahler lengthened the work’s title to “Titan, a Tone Poem in Symphonic Form”, adding explanatory subtitles to the individual movements. Mahler borrowed the title “Titan” from a novel by Jean Paul, but the book’s plot has nothing in common with the composition. Instead, what Mahler had in mind was the vicissitudes of human life with all of its thrills and hardships, triumphs and defeats. Part I bore the title “From the Days of Youth: Fruit, Flowers, and Thorns” and consisted of three movements. The second movement was given the title “Blumine”, a word meaning “collection” or “herbarium” that was used by Jean Paul for a collection of his essays written for magazines. Part II of the symphony, “Commedia umana“ (Human Comedy), consisted of two movements, also with programmatic titles. Mahler added extensive notes explaining the work’s contents, but that turned out to be an obstacle rather than an aid to listeners’ comprehension. The composer ultimately withdrew the programme, discarded the symphony’s title “Titan”, and later rejected any invented “stories” for his symphonies. In the work’s final version, he omitted the “Blumine” second movement, resulting in a symphony in the usual four-movement structure, and the Blumine movement became a composition that was performed independently.

Arthur Honegger
Symphony No. 3 “Symphonie Liturgique”

The year 1918 saw the formation in Paris of a loose association of musicians known as Les Six (The Six). The members did not share a unified aesthetic programme, but their motto was the ostentatious rejection of the heritage of Neo-Romanticism and Impressionism. Their enchantment with music-hall, cabaret, variety-show, and circus music was short-lived; all of the composers soon went different ways. Arthur Honegger was the first to set out on his own. The 1924 premiere of Pacific 231, a work that uses musical rhythms to evoke a ride in a locomotive, created a scandal. The conductor was Serge Koussevitzky, who commissioned Honegger’s First Symphony (1931), and four more symphonies were written between 1940 and 1950. The Symphony No. 3 “Liturgique” is a reflection of the Second World War. The composer began writing it as the war was ending, and Charles Munch conducted the premiere on 17 August 1946 in Zurich. The Prague premiere took place shortly afterwards on 24 April 1947 with Paul Sacher leading the Czech Philharmonic.

Arthur Honegger compared the symphony to a drama for three characters: “misery, happiness, and man.” The drama is also expressed in the liturgical titles of the three movements – movement I “Dies irae” (Day of Wrath) takes its title from the Requiem Mass, the title of movement II “De profundis clamavi ad te Domine” (Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord) is the incipit of Psalm 130, and the title of movement III “Dona nobis pacem” (Grant us peace) comes from the Agnus Dei of the Ordinary of the Mass. In the first movement, there are two levels of thematic content representing the reality of evil and the idea of the power of human life struggling towards the light. The second movement speaks hopefully, then in the final movement (all of Honegger’s symphonies are in three movements), an energetic march definitively defeats evil, and a new, harmonious world arises from the ruins.