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Czech Chamber Music Society • Julia Fischer


Julia Fischer, a superb violinist with Slovak roots, will lead the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra in a lovely programme of Bach, Mozart, and Suk. As curator of this year’s Czech Chamber Music Society season, she will appear in a violin concerto by Mozart, and for Bach’s Double Concerto, she has invited her student Jeremias Pestalozzi.

Subscription series I | Czech Chamber Music Society

Programme

Johann Sebastian Bach 
Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in D minor, BWV 1043 (15')

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K 219 (30')

— Intermission —

Josef Suk
Serenade for Strings in E flat major, Op. 6 (30')

Performers

Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
Jeremias Pestalozzi violin
Julia Fischer violin, artistic direction 

Photo illustrating the event Czech Chamber Music Society • Julia Fischer

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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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.

Julia Fischer   violin

Julia Fischer

Julia Ficher is one of today’s most prominent violinists. Her career journey has been recorded on many CDs and DVDs on the Pentatone and Decca labels and recently also on her own musical platform JF CLUB. She has been honoured with such prestigious prizes as the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and a Gramophone Award.

She was born in 1983 in Munich to German and Slovak parents who are said to have met while studying in Prague. She began playing the violin at age three, and she soon took up the piano as well under the guidance of her mother Viera Fischer. At just nine years of age, she enrolled at the university in Munich as a student of the renowned pedagogue Ana Chumachenco, whom Fischer later succeeded in that teaching position. A major milestone was her victory at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin International Competition in 1995 (at just 12 years of age!), launching her worldwide fame. Since then, we have been seeing her regularly on the world’s most famous stages, whether collaborating with major orchestras and such conductors as Herbert Blomstedt, Christian Thielemann, Juanjo Mena, Riccardo Muti, and Franz Welser-Möst, or giving solo or chamber music recitals. Besides the traditional repertoire, she also devotes herself to contemporary music, as is shown by the scheduled March world premiere of a violin concerto by Daniel Kidane with the London Philharmonic and Edward Gardner.

In addition, Julia Fischer is planning several European tours this year including appearances with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Royal Philharmonic, her quartet (the Julia Fischer Quartet), and the pianist Yulianna Avdeeva. She is going to Athens (4 Dec.) and Vienna (6 Dec.), and before arriving in Prague, we also find her playing a concert with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen for the occasion of the awarding of a Nobel Prize (8 Dec.). She and Avdeeva have been a seasoned duo for several years although, as Julia Fischer reveals, their meeting had been arranged: “We had musical friends in common who wanted to get us together no matter what. They were convinced that we were suited to each other. And that finally came about in 2012. What more is there to say? They were right.” The Prague public was already able to witness how well these two extraordinary women play together in 2018, when they appeared together at the Municipal House’s Smetana Hall.

Not satisfied “just” with the career of a world-famous violinist, Julia Fischer is taking advantage of her musical versatility. She will be revealing to the Prague public the quality of the aforementioned Julia Fischer Quartet as part of her residency in November (concert I2), and those who want proof of her pianistic ability can enjoy the DVD recording of her successful concert at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt in 2010, when she appeared on the first half of the programme as the soloist in a violin concerto by Saint-Saëns, then on the second half playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Besides performing, she also devotes herself to music pedagogy, with teaching activities that include leading numerous masterclasses. She joined with Johannes X. Schachter and Henri Bonamy in founding the Kindersinfoniker youth orchestra. Next year she will also become the artistic director of the Boswil Summer Festival in Switzerland. 

Jeremias Pestalozzi  violin

Jeremias Pestalozzi

Jeremias Pestalozzi was born in 2005 and has been playing the violin since he was five years old. He was in the string academy of Simone and Peter Michielsen in Puchheim until March 2022 and played as concertmaster in the Puchheim Youth Chamber Orchestra. He is the first violinist in the quartet called Quartessenz (formed in 2016) and could be heard among others at the “Ickinger Frühling” in 2022. He won the 1st prize (duo and solo) at the national competition of “Jugend musiziert” in 2018 and 2019. 

Since 2019, he has been “Jungstudent” at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich – first with Simone and Peter Michielsen and Christoph Poppen and since March 2022 in the class of Julia Fischer where he also began his bachelor in October 2023. In addition he has attended master classes with Ana Chumachenco, Ingolf Turban, Nora Chastain and others. 

In 2019, he made his debut with the Bad Reichenhall Philharmonic Orchestra with the 2nd Violin Concerto by Henryk Wieniawski and played there again as a soloist under Daniel Spaw with the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in July 2021. In 2022, he performed the Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, in April with the Bad Reichenhall Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Andrej Vesel and in June with the Wendland Symphony Orchestra under the conducting of Johannes Köhler. 

In February 2020, he won a violin by Antonio Gragnani, Livorno 1779, on loan at the 28th competition of the German Musical Instrument Fund of the German Foundation for Musical Life in Hamburg, which he can continue to play after the 29th competition in February 2022.

Compositions

Johann Sebastian Bach
Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in D minor, BWV 1043

We tend to imagine the great baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach at the organ or harpsichord instead of with a violin in his hands, but he was also a very skilled master of that instrument, and he composed music for it as well. Köthen (Cöthen in Bach’s day), a town in the present-day German federal state Saxony-Anhalt, was of great importance for Bach’s production of secular instrumental works. Johann Sebastian moved there from Weimar at the end of 1717 and entered the service of the young Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen, who loved music and played several instruments. At the local court, chamber music and orchestral compositions were frequently performed by an ensemble of high quality. When the 22-year-old Prince put Bach, not even ten years older, in charge of the ensemble, he found him to be a talented and industrious composer, a wonderful organist and harpsichordist, and moreover a kindred spirit. It was in Köthen that Bach composed such works as his suites, solo sonatas and partitas, Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the Brandenburg Concertos. It is not entirely clear whether the Double Concerto in D minor for two violins and orchestra, BWV 1043, was also composed in Köthen: some scholars date it to ca. 1730, by which time Bach had been employed in Leipzig for seven years as the city’s music director and cantor. These scholars see a connection between this composition and the local student orchestra called the Collegium musicum, which performed regularly each week at Zimmermann’s Coffeehouse. Although the preserved autograph of the solo parts does in fact date from around 1730, the genesis of the Double Concerto may have been more complex.

The three-movement concerto has a slow middle part (Largo ma non tanto) surrounded by fast movements (Vivace, Allegro). The cantabile second movement is noted as one of the most exceptionally beautiful creations in all of Bach’s output. The sweet melody of the siciliana rocks gently in 12/8 time, and the solo instruments join together to create an atmosphere of intimacy. Throughout the concerto, both in the orchestra and in the two equally important solo parts, Bach showed himself to be a master of counterpoint and a worthy and only slightly younger counterpart to Antonio Vivaldi, another important composer of violin concertos, among other things. For good reason, the Double Concerto in D minor is still a popular number on concert programmes, and it is played in a variety of transcriptions. The composer himself arranged the work in the 1730s as the Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords and orchestra (BWV 1062), expanding the repertoire for the Collegium musicum, as he did with many other transcriptions of his own music and that of others.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K 219

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart learned to play the violin from his father Leopold, who was an excellent pedagogue and instrumentalist and a devotee of Tartini and of the Italian art of violin playing in general. As a prodigy, little Mozart travelled around Europe and amazed listeners with the maturity of his technique. In the mid-1770s, he composed five violin concertos (K 207, 211, 216, 218, and 219); the last dates from the end of 1775, although the dating in the score was repeatedly changed afterwards. It is not out of the question that Mozart, then just 19 year old but overflowing with talent as a violin and piano virtuoso and clearly exhibiting ability as a composer, created these concertos knowing that he himself would be their first interpreter. As late as 1777, at a performance in Munich he supposedly felt like “the greatest violinist in Europe” (as he told his father in a letter), but that would soon change.

The Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major (K 219) is particularly famous for the “Turkish” theme of an episode in the final movement, thanks to which the work is sometimes called the “Turkish Concerto”. “Turkish music” was a fashionable stylistic device that was also popular with other composers as well. It is familiar to us, for example, from Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio or from his Piano Sonata in A major (K 331) with its march “alla Turca”. The Janissaries, originally elite troops of the Ottoman military, were accompanied by thunderous bands with lots of percussion, and the rolling and beating of the drums had a considerable psychological impact. By Mozart’s day, musical elements borrowed from the Janissaries tended to be used for evoking a mood of exoticism or even for grotesque colour. Here, Mozart uses unusual expressive resources such as chromatic scales, col legno, and pizzicato to contrast with the lighter sound of the rest of the concerto’s third music, which is mainly in the spirit of a menuet (Rondeau – Tempo di minuetto). The movement has an unusually open-ended conclusion, and the whole concerto actually begins unusually: after the orchestral exposition of the first movement (Allegro aperto), the soloist enters with a heartfelt Adagio that bears comparison with an aria sung by an operatic prima donna. The lovely middle movement (Adagio) in E major is structured as a dialogue between the solo violin and the orchestra. That movement was perhaps too sophisticated for the first audiences and for the Salzburg concertmaster Antonio Brunetti, so Mozart wrote an alternative Adagio (K 261) in 1776.

Josef Suk
Serenade for Strings in E flat major, Op. 6

The Serenade for Strings in E flat major, Op. 6, by Josef Suk is one of the most familiar Czech compositions from the end of the 19th century. Some Czechs will remember how the piece was rather incongruously associated with the Christmas season because it was broadcast repeatedly on Christmas Eve. The music emanating from television sets in our homes was meant to illustrate the happiness of family life, and in a way that also tells us a great deal about the composition: it is joyous, refreshing, and songful with just a touch of melancholy. The story goes that in 1892, Suk’s teacher Antonín Dvořák gave the 18 years old composer (!) who was finishing his studies at the conservatoire the suggestion of composing this work, pointing out that summer was coming, so it was time to set aside the “minor-key grandiosity”. Suk did in fact compose the first three movements during the summer holiday of 1892, after having graduated from the Prague Conservatoire’s composition course with his Dramatic Overture, Op. 4, and after a brief pause, he added a fourth movement later that year. The preserved manuscript is written partly in the composer’s hand and partly in the hand of his father Josef Suk Snr., apparently based on an original autograph score or detailed sketches, which the composer had written in pencil. This theory is based in part on the fact that unlike when writing in ink, Suk wrote large noteheads when using a pencil. After Antonín Dvořák’s return from America, he supposedly criticised Suk for the size of the notes in the score that the pupil was showing him.

Suk’s Serenade was very well received by the music critics of the day. The Orchestral Society in Tábor premiered the first two movements under Josef Suk’s baton (17 December 1893), then Antonín Bennewitz rehearsed the entire composition with the orchestra of the Prague Conservatoire and performed it in December 1894. The Serenade for String also attracted attention abroad: Encouraged by Johannes Brahms’s very favourable opinion and by a recommendation from Dvořák, the Berlin publisher Simrock printed the score and parts and an arrangement for piano four-hands (1896). An indication of the quality of Suk’s work and of the hopes inspired by the young composer was the stipend awarded to him by the Ministry of Enlightenment and Education for his Serenade for Strings. 

The first three movements are in ternary form and are in different keys: the first movement (Andante con moto) is in E flat major, the second (Allegro, ma non troppo e grazioso) is in B flat major, and the third (Adagio) is in G major. The final movement (Allegro giosoco, ma non troppo presto) is composed in sonata form, and it returns to E flat major. Although Suk himself later viewed the composition as being “very Dvořákian in colour”, the work employs in embryonic form the same compositional procedures that became characteristic of Suk’s later development. The Serenade undeniably displays the composer’s mastery at instrumentation and his perfect comprehension of string instruments and of the violin in particular. At the very time when he was working on the Serenade, his involvement with string instruments was even more intense during preparations for the first public performance by the Bohemian Quartet (October 1892), with which he remained as the second violinist for more than 40 years.

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