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Czech Chamber Music Society • Belfiato Quintet


The Belfiato Wind Quintet is one of today’s most renowned Czech chamber ensembles, as is confirmed by the prize awarded by the Czech Chamber Music Society for ensembles with members not averaging over 35 years of age. They will perform not only compositions written directly for winds, but also a special transcription of Smetana's String Quartet No.

Subscription series I | Duration of the programme 1 hour 30 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society

Programme

Paul Hindemith 
Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2 (12')

Samuel Barber 
Summer Music for wind quintet, Op. 31 (15')

Henri Tomasi
Cinq Danses Profanes et Sacrées (12')

— Intermission —

Bedřich Smetana / arr. Karel Chudý 
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor “From My Life”, arranged for wind quintet (30')

Performers

Belfiato Quintet 
Oto Reiprich flute 
Jan Souček oboe 
Jiří Javůrek clarinet 
Jan Hudeček bassoon
Kateřina Javůrková French horn 

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Belfiato Quintet

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Tickets and contact information

Reservation of seats for current subscribers:
until 3 June 2024, 20.00
Sale of individual tickets for subscription concerts:
from 10 June 2024, 10.00
Ticket sales for all public dress rehearsals:
from 11 September 2024, 10.00

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.

 

Performers

Belfiato Quintet  

Once again, the Rudolfinum welcomes the winner of the 2021 Czech Chamber Music Society Prize, the Belfiato Quintet, a first-class wind ensemble with youthful elan. The quintet members are leading Czech wind players, graduates of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and currently members of Prague’s most important orchestras (Czech Philharmonic, Prague Philharmonia, Orchestra of the National Theatre).

Founded in 2005, the quintet studied (with different personnel) at the Prague Conservatoire under Ondřej Roskovec from the Afflatus Quintet, at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague under Štěpán Koutník, and privately under Gottfried Pokorný from Vienna’s Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst. Their concerts are often presented on the chamber music series of leading Czech orchestras, and they appear at such festivals as Prague Spring and Smetana’s Litomyšl. They are also recognised abroad (UK, Poland, Japan) as promoters of Czech repertoire.

The Belfiato Quintet is often associated with Antonín Rejcha, not only because of their recording of his wind quintets, for which they were honoured by the Classic Prague Awards (2019), but also thanks to their victory at the Rejcha Competition held in Semmering, Austria. Today’s concert is also an opportunity to mention another competition success: third prize at the Henri Tomasi International Woodwind Quintet Competition in Marseille, where the quintet also won the prize for the best performance of a composition by Tomasi, a work which we will be able to hear today. Those who need more than one hearing can listen to it along with the Barber (which the group says is always a challenge) and the Hindemith on the new Belfiato Quintet CD recording titled “Elements”.

This year, it will be possible to hear the Belfiato Quintet in Prague at least two more times: in November at the Atrium in Žižkov playing music by Janáček, Foerster, and Haas, and in December at Advent Concerts to be broadcasted by Czech Television.

Compositions

Paul Hindemith
Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2

In 1922 Paul Hindemith composed the first of his works titled Kammermusik (Chamber Music). Six more works with this title appeared over the next few years. Op. 24 is the designation for two works, Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 1 and Kleine Kammermusik (Little Chamber Music), Op. 24, No. 2 (or Op. 24a and 24b). His Chamber Music is intended for a chamber ensemble of twelve solo instruments. It was first heard on 31 July 1922 at the Donaueschingen New Music Festival conducted by Hermann Schrechen, and it caused quite a stir; on the one hand, the composer was praised by critics for the sophistication of his technical mastery, but at the same time he was condemned as a desecrator of chamber music, playing impudent, lascivious pranks.

Hindemith also composed his Little Chamber Music for five wind instruments in 1922 in just five days. In it, Hindemith employed the same musical material as in his Chamber Music, Op 24, No. 1, but this is no mere arrangement. In reality, a new work was created, and although it is labelled as being “little”, it has five movements instead of the four movements of his Chamber Music, Op. 24, No. 1. The work was written for the Frankfurt Wind Chamber Music Association, one of the first ensembles with the fixed instrumentation of a wind quintet in Germany, which performed it on 13 June 1922 in Cologne (before the festival in Donaueschingen) as part of the second-annual Rhenish Chamber Music Festival. “Hindemith’s Little Chamber Music for five wind instruments, Op. 24, with its out-of-tune chords, horrifies only those who have not understood the joke,” wrote a perceptive critic. The Mainz-based publisher Schott quickly issued the work in print, and it soon became part of the standard repertoire.

Samuel Barber
Summer Music for wind quintet, Op. 31

The American composer Samuel Barber was made famous by his Adagio for Strings (an arrangement of the slow movement from his String Quartet, Op. 11), which Arturo Toscanini performed in 1938 in New York. A musician of versatile talents, Barber studied piano, voice, and conducting in addition to composition. Except for his dodecaphonic Piano Sonata, Op. 26, he was not inclined towards experimentation. He gave preference to traditional forms and never forsook melody, so his works are sometimes described as Neo-Romantic: “When I write an abstract piano sonata or concerto, I write what I feel. I believe this takes a certain courage.” In a 1935 interview, he emphasised: “My aim is to write good music that will be comprehensible to as many people as possible, instead of music heard only by small, snobbish musical societies in the large cities.”

Barber composed Summer Music in 1956 on commission for the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, and the work is now part of the standard wind quintet repertoire. In the Neo-Romantic, melancholy atmosphere of the one-movement composition, Barber employs the characteristic colours and technical capabilities of the individual instruments: the theme of the French horn and bassoon recurs several times, and the sorrowful sound of the oboe contrasts with staccato triplets. Another source of contrast is the polarity between the major and minor mode. Dance rhythms make an appearance, and a repeated refrain provides formal coherence.

Henri Tomasi
Cinq Danses Profanes et Sacrées

Besides music for the theatre, the French composer Henri Tomasi also wrote numerous compositions for winds, which he gave priority among his instrumental works (his Trumpet Concerto is especially popular). Tomasi was also active as a conductor. In Paris in 1932 he joined with Sergei Prokofiev, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, and Francis Poulenc in founding the chamber music society “Triton”, with which the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů was also in contact (in 1936 Tomasi conducted the world premiere of Martinů’s Harpsichord Concerto). 

Henri Tomasi composed his Cinq danses profanes et sacrées (Five Secular and Sacred Dances) in 1959 and dedicated them to the Rejcha Wind Quintet, a Czech ensemble. The composer also arranged the work for chamber orchestra, and it was first performed in that form on 9 October 1960 in Paris with Manuel Rosenthal conducting. The Five Secular and Sacred Dances form a suite modelled after Baroque dance suites. Like in historical suites, there is an alternation of contrasting tempos and moods. The instrumental colour is magical, and elements of modern harmony lend these stylisations of folk music a special feeling.

Bedřich Smetana
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor “From My Life”

Bedřich Smetana lost his hearing in the autumn of 1874 and had to resign his conducting post at the Provisional Theatre. After failed attempts to cure his affliction, he had come to terms sufficiently with his fate that he was able to create works of key importance over the next ten years of his life. In 1876, Smetana composed his String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, subtitled “From My Life”. That June, he had moved to Jabkenice to live with the family of his daughter Žofie, and in July he finished the opera The Kiss, which was premiered successfully at the Provisional Theatre on 7 November. The quartet’s completion is dated 29 December. At first, the composition did not meet with comprehension because of its supposedly excessively “orchestral” character. In a letter dated 1878 to his friend Josef Srb-Debrnov, Smetana wrote that he would leave the judgement of the composition’s style up to others; he had no intention of writing “a quartet in accordance with the formula and practice of usual forms” because (as is the case with his other compositions) “the work itself creates the form”. Smetana’s conception for the handling of four string instruments further advanced the development of the chamber music genre.

Initially, the Society for the Cultivation of Chamber Music turned the quartet down, so Smetana had to wait three years for the work’s first public performance on 29 March 1879 at a concert of the Artists’ Society in the hall of the Prague historical building Konvikt. The performers were Ferdinand Lachner and members of the orchestra of the Provisional Theatre Jan Pelikán, Josef Krehan, and Alois Neruda. “Like in all of the genres in which Smetana has so far created, in the field of chamber music he is again a completely new, original, and Czech composer, taking the modern stance of creating music on the basis of a poetic idea,” wrote the journal Dalibor. The work’s autobiographical aspect in the background is clear, the composer himself having informed us about it. The first movement expresses a natural inclination toward the arts, a romantic mood with longing, and a premonition of future misfortune. The second movement, a polka, is a remembrance youth, and the middle part is a “reminiscence of the aristocratic circles in which I was living for many years,” wrote Smetana. The third movement recalls Smetana’s love for Kateřina Kolářová, who later became his wife. The final movement describes “discovering the nature of the national element in music”. The music reaches a breaking point, the catastrophe of deafness, announced persistently by a high “E” two octaves above the treble-clef staff. The Bohemian Quartet promoted the work abroad, followed by other ensembles. 

The version of the work for wind quintet is not the quartet’s only arrangement. Its musical material and character also inspired the conductor and occasional composer George Szell (1897–1970), who spent several years in Prague conducting at the New German Theatre. In American emigration, he created a fine, sensitive orchestral arrangement of the quartet “From My Life” as a personal reminiscence of Europe, and he performed it on 8 March 1941 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York.

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