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Czech Chamber Music Society • Kirill Gerstein


Programmes of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra are usually prepared by the concertmasters. That will be different this season. One renowned artist leading the group will be pianist Kirill Gerstein.

Subscription series I | Duration of the programme 1 hour 50 minutes | Czech Chamber Music Society

Programme

Antonín Dvořák
Serenade for winds, cello, and double bass in D minor, Op. 44 (23')

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K 504 “Prague” (30')

— Intermission —

Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (34')

Performers

Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra

András Schiff piano, artistic direction 

Kirill Gerstein piano, artistic direction

Jan Fišer artistic direction

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Kirill Gerstein

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Price from 100 to 350 CZK 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

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

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Performers

Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra  

“It is the fulfilment of a dream we shared with Jiří Bělohlávek: after two years of preparations, we are ushering in concerts of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. This name does not stand for one particular ensemble; instead it represents a project in which the orchestra members will be performing in various chamber groups,” said David Mareček, Chief Executive Officer of the Czech Philharmonic, in the spring of 2018. Jiří Bělohlávek was convinced that it was healthy for the Czech Philharmonic to play in a smaller ensemble with a repertoire spanning the Baroque to the present, where the musicians can hone their intonation, phrasing, and collaboration as individuals within a whole group. The Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, consisting exclusively of the members of the Czech Philharmonic assembled for a specific occasion, was officially established in the Czech Philharmonic’s 123rd season. Since then, the ensemble has already prepared fifteen projects presented both during the orchestra’s regular season at the Rudolfinum and at festival appearances.

Jan Fišer  violin

Jan Fišer

Czech Philharmonic concertmaster Jan Fišer already exhibited his obvious musical talent as a child, winning many competitions (Kocian Violin Competition, Concertino Praga, UNESCO Tribune of Young Musicians, Beethoven’s Hradec etc.). He comes from a musical family, quite literally a family of violinists—his father is one of the most respected violin teachers in this country, and his younger brother Jakub plays first violin in the Bennewitz Quartet. Jan Fišer took his first steps as a violinist under the guidance of Hana Metelková, and he later studied at the Prague Conservatoire under Jaroslav Foltýn. He went through the famed summer programme of the Meadowmount School of Music three times, where he also met his future teacher, the concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Andrés J. Cárdenes. It was in the studio of that important professor who continued the great Ysaÿe–Gingold–Cárdenes tradition of violin pedagogy that Fišer graduated from the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music in Pittsburgh in 2003.

Just when he was deciding whether to remain in the USA or to return to the Czech Republic, the Prague Philharmonia announced an audition for the position of concertmaster. Fišer won the job and stayed with the orchestra for a full sixteen years, until he left the first chair of the Prague Philharmonia for the same position with the Czech Philharmonic, where he remains to this day alongside Jan Mráček and Jiří Vodička. He has also appeared as a guest concertmaster with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony, and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern; he also collaborates with important Czech orchestras as a soloist (Prague Philharmonia, Janáček Philharmonic in Ostrava etc.). He has assumed the role of artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. 

Besides engaging in a wealth of orchestral and solo activities, he also devotes himself actively to playing chamber music. With pianist Ivo Kahánek and cellist Tomáš Jamník, he belongs to the Dvořák Trio, which has already enjoyed many successes at competitions (such as the Bohuslav Martinů Competition) and on concert stages both at home and abroad. Jan Fišer has appeared at festivals abroad and in famed concert halls worldwide not only as a soloist, but also as a chamber music player. For example, the Dvořák Trio has made guest appearances at the Dresden Music Festival and at renowned concert halls like the Berlin Philharmonie and Hamburg’s Elbephilharmonie.

Fišer’s French violin from the early 19th century is attributed to the violinmaker François-Louis Pique; the instrument has also been heard in recording studios: Jan Fišer records for television and radio, and he was one of the five laureates to take part in recording the CD “A Tribute to Jaroslav Kocian” for the 40th anniversary of the Kocian International Violin Competition. He is also following in his father’s footsteps as a pedagogue, serving as one of the mentors for the MenART scholarship academy, and he regularly teaches at music courses including the Ševčík Academy in Horažďovice and the Telč Music Academy.

Kirill Gerstein  piano, artistic director

Kirill Gerstein

Born in the territory of the former Soviet Union, the pianist Kirill Gerstein studied in the USA, Spain, and Hungary, and at present he lives in Berlin. Today an American citizen, he represents something like an intersection of the interpretive traditions that he absorbed while maturing as a pianist, taking inspiration from them to create a musical language of his own. Besides his geographical mobility, he also moves freely between historical periods: his repertoire includes works of the traditional canon and contemporary music. He also grew up with jazz.

It was jazz that took him to the Berklee College of Music as the youngest student in the school’s history at 14 years of age. Acting as an intermediary was the jazz legend Gary Burton, whom Gerstein had met in Saint Petersburg. In Boston, he studied jazz and classical piano for several years before deciding ultimately for the career of a classical pianist and heading for New York’s Manhattan School of Music. After graduating, he further broadened his interpretive horizons under Dmitri Bashkirov at the Escuela Superior de Musica Reina Sofia in Madrid and under Ferenc Rados in Budapest. At that time, he began appearing on concert stages, helped by winning the famed Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. 

He built up the reputation of a world-class pianist known for advanced technique, intelligent interpretation, and careful reading of scores. As a soloist, he appears with the world’s top ensembles, in the 2023/24 season performing for example with the orchestras of the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Zurich Tonhalle, the Orchestre national de France, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala and giving recitals at such venues as Carnegie Hall and Vienna’s Konzerthaus. 

He is known for interpreting contemporary music, having even used the money from the Gilmore Artist Award to commission new works. He is associated in particular with the composer Thomas Adès, who composed his Piano Concerto for Gerstein, whose recording of the work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra received a 2020 Grammy nomination and won a Gramophone Award. In 2021 they together received the International Classical Music Award for Gerstein’s recording of Adès’s solo piano compositions and his music for two pianos, which they recorded together.

Another piano concerto dedicated to Gerstein was written by Thomas Larcher. That is the work that Gerstein was to have performed in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic in 2021, but because of measures to the limit the spread of the Coronavirus, the concert was only streamed, and the programme was changed to Schumann’s Piano Concerto, which will be heard again today at the Rudolfinum. Gerstein is tied to the Czech Philharmonic by years of collaboration dating back to 2012 when the orchestra was still led by Jiří Bělohlávek, and continuing with many more visits to Prague, performances on tour in Europe and America, and a recording of Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos.

Gerstein is passing on his experience to piano students at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin and at the Kronberg Academy. Under the auspices of the latter institution, he has made a series of online seminars with the title “Kirill Gerstein invites…”, debating with such important figures from the world of music as Thomas Adès, Kaija Saariaho, and Sir Antonio Pappano.

Compositions

Antonín Dvořák
Serenade for winds, cello, and double bass in D minor, Op. 44

Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade in D minor, Op. 44, is a work of lightness and ease, entirely in line with the historical role of compositions of this genre. Originally, serenades were musical pieces performed by lovelorn cavaliers under the windows of their fair ladies. The instrumental form of the serenade had a cyclical structure imitating such an early evening performance, including the arrival of musicians, gallant courtship, and love songs. Dvořák’s Serenade in E major, Op. 11, of an earlier date was written for strings, and it became so popular that he composed another such work for instruments from different families, namely the winds accompanied by a cello and a double bass. The Serenade in D minor, Op. 44, came into being in two weeks in January 1878. The classical Mozart-type serenade has been transformed by Dvořák into a presentation of the Czech form of this composition, most notably in the Minuetto movement which is more reminiscent of the Czech folk dance sousedská with traces of the rhythm of a furiant in the middle section. After the lyrical Andante comes the final movement, characterized by a polka rhythm.

Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15

The first unfinished attempt at a piano concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven dates from 1784. Between 1787 and 1790 Beethoven composed Piano Concerto in B flat major, Op. 19. He revised it several times, and this is why it is designated as his second piano concerto (the first being Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 15, although it came into being as late as 1795). In total, Beethoven composed five piano concertos, leaving the sixth one uncompleted. The Piano Concerto in C major is evidently influenced by Mozart. However, advances in piano construction had enabled Beethoven to enrich the solo part with new elements, to deepen the links between musical ideas of the individual movements in the formal structure, and to considerably expand the harmonic aspect and instrumentation of the accompanying orchestra – in the Piano Concerto in C major he used timpani, clarinets and trumpets in the orchestra for the first time. The first movement opens with an exposition of a march-like character played by the orchestra, which also introduces the second theme. The recapitulation concludes with a technically demanding solo piano cadenza. The cadenzas were originally improvised and formed part of the spontaneous compositional process of Beethoven as both composer and performer; however, in 1809 he worked out a notated cadenza and did so for his subsequent concertos. The final movement in rondo form shows Haydn’s influence in its humorous character. The Piano Concerto in C major was probably first heard on 29 March 1795 in the Hofburg Theater in Vienna on a special concert held for the benefit of the Vienna Composers Society, which looked after the welfare of musicians’ widows and orphans. The main number on the program was an oratorio to the libretto Gioas re di Giuda by Pietro Metastasio, set to music by many composers, this time by the now forgotten Antonio Casimir Cartellieri (1772–1807), a musician in the service of the Lobkowitz family. Beethoven’s new piece was performed as an interlude. “The renowned Ludwig van Beethoven earned the undivided applause of the audience with a completely new concerto on the pianoforte written by himself,” wrote the Wiener Zeitung on 1 April 1795. However, according to some musicologists Beethoven actually played the Piano Concerto in B flat major on this occasion, and the Piano Concerto in C major was likely premiered on 18 December of the same year at an academy in the Redoutensaal hosted by Haydn, who invited Beethoven there. On 29 March 1800, the Wiener Zeitung published the following announcement: “On 2 April 1800, Herr Ludwig van Beethoven will have the honor to give a grand concert for his benefit in the Hofburg Theater.” There the Piano Concerto in C major was performed in its revised, definitive version.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K 504, “Prague”

Following the success of the first Prague performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, which took place in December 1786 at the Nostitz (Estates) Theater, “a group of great connoisseurs and lovers of music” – as Leopold Mozart wrote to his daughter on 12 January 1787 – invited the composer to Prague. Mozart did indeed come to Prague the following month, saw his Figaro and conducted the performance himself on 22 January 1787. Three days before, on 19 January, he had held a musical academy at the Nostitz Theater, during which he played the piano and performed his Symphony in D major (KV 504), which later became to be known as the Prague Symphony. Mozart scholars are still not agreed on the original purpose for which it was composed, perhaps for the (undocumented) academy in Vienna. This would suggest that Mozart sketched the final movement as early as the spring of 1786, but then set the work in progress aside. Further information about the new symphony is in Mozart’s own list of compositions from early December 1786. Whether the work was completed for a forthcoming trip to Prague or for another occasion, the Prague concert is in any case its first demonstrable performance. The symphony is in three movements, without a dance movement, and even on this point musicologists are not agreed; some believe that Mozart deliberately returned to an earlier type of Italian sinfonia, others claim that during the course of the work he felt the minuet to be too different in style, or that he excluded it because it was no longer “fashionable”, or that the reason was simply the lack of time. The first movement in sonata form begins with a slow introduction, the longest Mozart ever wrote, which foreshadows the overture to Don Giovanni; the allegro section is one of the most beautiful examples of Mozart’s polyphonic artistry, the rhythmical aspect of which is characterized by forward rushing syncopations. The second movement’s quiet, highly chromaticized andante, orchestrated without trumpets and timpani, is also in sonata form and is followed by a buffo finale. Its opening theme is reminiscent of the duet of Susanna and Cherubino from Act II of Le nozze di Figaro, so for the Prague audience it was a reference to a work they knew well. Like in the previous movements, Mozart works only with the main theme in the sonata development. The musicologist Alfred Einstein considered the finale of the Prague Symphony to be “one of those peculiar Mozartian movements that, in spite of seeming joyfulness and perfection, leave a wound in the soul: here, beauty is associated with death.”

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