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Czech Philharmonic • Alim Beisembayev


Another top conductor entering into cooperation with the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is Jakub Hrůša. The first half of the concert will conventionally feature Janáček’s overture Jealousy and Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto with Alim Beisembayev. With the Czech Philharmonic, Hrůša will perform Ripening, which he calls Josef Suk’s magnum opus.

Subscription series B | Duration of the programme 1 hour 35 minutes

Programme

Leoš Janáček
Jealousy (introduction to the opera Jenůfa), overture for orchestra (JW VI/10) (6')

Sergei Prokofiev
Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16 (32')

— Intermission —

Josef Suk
Ripening. A symphonic poem for large orchestra, Op. 34 (39')

Performers

Lukáš Vondráček piano

Alim Beisembayev piano

Prague Philharmonic Choir women’s choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster

Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

Jakub Hrůša conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Alim Beisembayev

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Price from 350 to 1550 CZK Tickets and contact information

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The Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will play only Janáček’s Jealousy and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto.
The Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is supported by CEZ Group, the general partner of the Czech Philharmonic.

Performers

Alim Beisembayev  piano

Alim Beisembayev

The musical career of the Kazakh pianist Alim Beisembayev, who celebrated his 26th birthday a few days ago, began at a toy store. He went there on his fifth birthday with his father, and he was allowed to choose whatever he wanted. Little Alim was instinctively drawn to a small piano although his parents are not musical. He then began developing his newly discovered talent on a real piano, and at 10 years of age he won a scholarship to study piano in Moscow. Soon, however, he got the chance to study in England. “Earlier, something like that seemed to me to be unattainable,” says Beisembayev, who was suddenly entirely by himself at the age of 12 at the Purcell School, a music boarding school just outside of London—his parents remained in Kazakhstan. There, he was already gathering his first successes at competitions, including first prize at the Junior Cliburn International Competition, where he was taken by his teacher Tessa Nicholson. Under her guidance, he spent not only his challenging years of puberty, but also his further period of studies at the Royal Academy of Music. Last year, he completed his Master’s studies at London’s other famous music school, the Royal College of Music, under the guidance of Vanessa Latarche.

His career breakthrough came in September 2021 when he took first prize at the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition, where excelled with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Manze playing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Additionally, he is a laureate of the medici.tv Audience Prize and of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society Prize; he recorded part of his competition repertoire (Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes) for his debut CD. 

Participation at competitions, which Beisembayev sees “a necessary evil if you want to draw attention to yourself”, has more than paid off, and the young pianist has begun to receive invitations to play with important orchestras (like the BBC Symphony Orchestra) and at famous concert venues (like Wigmore Hall). Also last year, as a BBC New Generation Artist, he made his unexpected debut at Royal Albert Hall; at that BBC Proms concert with the Sinfonia of London and John Wilson, he again excelled playing Rachmaninoff (in this case the Second Piano Concerto), standing in for Benjamin Grosvenor. He received the offer just two days before the concert!

Today he will again be a substitute, in this case for the ailing soloist Lukáš Vondráček, adding the Czech Philharmonic to the list of prestigious orchestras with which he has collaborated. His busy schedule this spring includes a recital at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the world premiere of a new piano concerto by Eleanor Alberga with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic led by Domingo Hindoyan.

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 Bohuslav 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.

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 Youth Philharmonic. 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 Youth Philharmonic 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 Youth Philharmonic, 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 Youth Philharmonic 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 Youth Philharmonic gave its debut at Czech Philharmonic subscription concerts with the conductors Semyon Bychkov and Giovanni Antonini. This year, philharmonic subscribers will hear the Czech Youth Philharmonic 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.

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 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.

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 Hrůša has received numerous awards and nominations for his discography. Most recently, he received the Opus Klassik Conductor of the Year 2023 prize and the ICMA prize for Symphonic Music for his recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, and the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik for his recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, both with Bamberg Symphony. In 2021, his disc of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Bamberg Symphony and Frank Peter Zimmermann was nominated for BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone awards, and his recording of the Dvořák Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Augustin Hadelich was nominated for a Grammy Award. 

Jakub Hrůša studied at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society. 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. 

Compositions

Leoš Janáček
Jealousy (introduction to the opera Jenůfa), overture for orchestra (JW VI/10)

Leoš Janáček’s orchestral composition Žárlivost (Jealousy) is subtitled Introduction to Jenůfa, suggesting a link to that opera. It was originally intended as the opera’s overture, but its music is unrelated to that of Jenůfa, as the composer himself pointed out. He wrote the overture in 1894‒1895 while at work on Act I, intending for it to tie in with the act’s most powerful dramatic moment, when Laca wounds Jenůfa’s cheek out of jealousy. For this purpose, Janáček recalled the folk ballad Žárlivec (The Jealous Man), which he knew from songs collected by František Sušil (third collection, no. 263/124) and arranged as a chorus with the same title in 1888. In it, a wounded brigand asks his beloved at his bedside to hand him his sabre. The girl senses the danger and leaps out of harm’s way. The dying brigand admits that he wanted to kill his beloved so no one else could have her after his death. Motifs from the ballad’s melody were worked into the overture, which Janáček composed in 1894 in a reduction for piano four-hands, and the parts for the orchestral version were already in existence by 1895. The piano version is interesting because Janáček inscribed excerpts from the ballad’s text beside corresponding musical passages, confirming the source of his melodic material.

The overture was given its premiere as an orchestral work on 14 November 1906 in Prague by the Czech Philharmonic with František Neumann guest conducting. Four years later, it was played by the orchestra of the National Theatre in Brno under the baton of Rudolf Pavlata, when the title Žárlivost was first used. Karel Kovařovic also chose the work for the programme of a concert of the orchestra of Prague’s National Theatre on 13 October 1917 in Brno. Certainly, it suited Kovařovic that the overture was still written in the traditional style of Late Romanticism. Here, Janáček hints only timidly at his later tendencies towards experimentation and fragmentation, so the overture lacks the elements and procedures that Kovařovic could not understand in the music of his Moravian colleague. Despite this, Kovařovic convinced Janáček that the overture would be unsuitable as an introduction to the opera Jenůfa because it had been created independently.

Sergei Prokofiev
Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was among the composers who were also pianists who attained the highest level of professionalism and whose music was often written for that instrument. He composed five piano concertos, the first two of which date from the period of his studies at the conservatoire in Saint Petersburg. The one-movement Piano Concerto No. 1 in D flat major, Op. 10 (1912) brought the composer undeniable success and victory in a competition ‒ the “Battle of the Pianos.” He wrote his Second Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 16, in the winter of 1912‒1913, finished it in April, and premiered it at a concert presented by the Russian Music Society on 23 August (5 September according to the Gregorian calendar) 1913 at a park in the Saint Petersburg suburb Pavlovsk. Aleksandr Aslanov conducted the orchestra, and the composer played the solo piano part. He dedicated the work to the memory of Max Schmidthof, a friend and classmate from the conservatoire in Saint Petersburg who had committed suicide. The first and second concertos are separated by just a year, and they document Prokofiev’s rapid artist development, including the unleashing of dissonant harmony even to the point of cacophony. The composer recalled that after the premiere of the Second Piano Concerto: “some hissed and the others applauded”, and the reactions of critics were also mixed. Negative reviews predominated, accusing the composer of musical futurism and cubism, like Russia’s politically engaged men of letters.

The score of the Second Piano Concerto did not survive the events of the First World War and the Russian Revolution that forced Prokofiev to abandon is native country. He went to the USA and western Europe to live, and in October 1923 in Paris he reconstructed the composition from his sketches. In light of the many changes, especially with respect to the orchestration, he jokingly described the work’s new form as his fourth piano concerto (meanwhile, the Third Piano Concerto had been premiered in 1921 in Chicago), but experts have always regarded the two versions as representing a single work. The premiere of the second version took place on 8 May 1924 in Paris under the baton of Serge Koussevitsky. 

The concerto’s four-movement structure allowed the composer to create a work full of contrasts, with certain parameters of the first and last movements corresponding to each other – their length, an extensive cadenza, and the sophisticated use of sonority to achieve a thrilling effect. The second movement gives the performer the chance to exhibit bravura finger technique. Expressiveness returns in the third movement, as the orchestra’s threatening pesante drags the initially restrained piano into a demonic atmosphere, in which the fourth movement begins as well. Before the end, the solo melody of a lullaby brings calm, then the movement gradually develops into a monumental recapitulation of the main motifs.

Josef Suk
Ripening. A symphonic poem for large orchestra, Op. 34

Josef Suk composed the symphonic poem for large orchestra Zrání (Ripening) between 1912 and 14 August 1917 as the third in a series of large symphonic projects, which he created during the period following the deaths of his teacher Antonín Dvořák (1904) and of Suk’s wife, Dvořák’s daughter Otilie (1905). While the Asrael Symphony (1906) expresses the composer’s sorrow over the loss of loved ones, A Summer’s Tale (1907–1909) is full of imagination, and it shows the way towards the coming to terms with grief that Suk finally achieves fully in Zrání. Suk borrowed the title Zrání and the conception of his work from a meditative poem by Antonín Sova in a collection titled Žně (The Harvest), and he used the poem’s concluding section as this work’s motto.

The unfolding of the single-movement composition proceeds through expressively and motivically contrasting passages. The work is one of the supreme manifestations of subjective lyricism, and it exhibits an unusually imaginative handling of sound. The score is influenced by late Impressionism, supplementing the timbral individualisation of lines with the frequent use of polyphonic techniques. In the harmony, there is tension between tonality and chromaticism; the whole-tone scale and other procedures that relax the grip of tonality arise naturally from the polyphony and the multi-layered modern structure. The musicologist Vladimír Helfert asserted that beginning with this composition, Suk admirably balances rationality and emotion. The composer himself characterised Zrání as follows: “I spent nearly five years working on this composition. In the tightly bound musical form, you will find all of the degrees of human feeling. In this work, I again immerse myself into life’s jubilations and the shadows of tragedy, but then in the long fugue near the end, I emphasise that ‘labour is our liberator’. After the music builds to a huge, passionate climax, a profound calm arrives towards the end with a tremulous hymn of life’s affirmation.”

The first performance was entrusted to the Czech Philharmonic, and the conductor Václav Talich studied the score with exceptional care, consulting with the composer about the work’s interpretation and insisting on twelve rehearsals. The dress rehearsal took place on 28 October 1918, and the mood of elation over the declaration of Czechoslovakia as an independent state on that day carried over to the premiere two days later. The enthusiastic reaction of Suk’s friends and the favourable reviews were heightened by the euphoria over the country’s newly acquired independence. It was against this background that Zdeněk Nejedlý publicly criticised Suk, denigrating him as a person and an artist and even going so far as to accuse the members of the Czech Quartet (until 1918 the Bohemian Quartet) of having collaborated with the Austrian authorities. Suk suffered a physical and nervous breakdown. Suk wanted to bring his artistic activities to a permanent halt, and he asked for the score of Zrání to be returned to him. He withdrew completely from society and secluded himself in the Bohemian village Křečovice, where those close to him tried to eliminate all sources of stress from his life. The affair cast a lasting pall over Czech cultural life, but Suk’s Zrání nonetheless remains, as Vladimír Helfert said – one of the most daring utterances of 20th-century European music.

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