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Czech Philharmonic • Tokyo


At famed Suntory Hall, the Czech Philharmonic will have a special three-concert residency during its tour of Asia. The first evening, it will present the same programme as at its appearance the day before in Nagoya. They are returning here after a three-year absence with chief conductor Semyon Bychkov.

Programme

Antonín Dvořák
Othello, concert overture, Op. 93

Antonín Dvořák
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104

Antonín Dvořák
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88

Performers

Pablo Ferrández cello

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Tokyo

Tokyo — Suntory Hall

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Performers

Pablo Ferrández  cello

Pablo Ferrández

The Spanish cellist Pablo Ferrández, now 32 years old, was destined from birth for a brilliant musical career. Both of his parents were also musicians, and they named their child for the iconic Spanish cellist Pablo Casals. Ferrández soon showed himself to be worthy of the name: he turned out to be a prodigy, making the impression of a “trained” cellist at age three, starting to make public appearances at age nine, and making his debut with the Spanish National Orchestra at age 12. He is said to have been a very disciplined child, and he was unaware of his exceptional nature because he was constantly immersed in his work.

At age 13 he began studying at the prestigious Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía under Natalia Shakhovskaya, a student of the great Mstislav Rostropovich, whose interpretive tradition Ferrández is following to a considerable extent. Ferrández then continued his musical education at the Kronberg Academy in Germany. Of course, his musical career would not be where it now is had it not been for two circumstances: victory at the famed Tchaikovsky International Competition (2015) and meeting Anne-Sophie Mutter, who took him under her wing as a scholar of her foundation. That not only put Ferrández in contact with his musical idol, who has since passed on many of her skills to him, but also earned him a large number of opportunities to perform in great concert halls including appearances alongside Anne-Sophie Mutter.

That is also how Ferrández first came to the Rudolfinum last January with Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Czech Philharmonic, and Manfred Honeck, excelling in Brahms’s Double Concerto. And today, we are fortunate to have a live recording of that successful concert. The acclaim was so tempestuous that Pablo Ferrández immediately received the offer to perform here again. He had no idea it would be so soon: already in September he stood in at the opening of the Dvořák Prague Festival in Dvořák’s great Cello Concerto. Despite his youth, he has already played the work on today’s programme countless times, and he included it on his first recording. According to some of the world’s critics, with Dvořák Ferrández has become “a cellist of stature” (The Guardian), and Czech critics have also been unsparing in their praise.

Ferrández and the Czech Philharmonic are taking Dvořák to Japan at the turn of October and November, and he will also be appearing on the March tour of Europe with the Czech Philharmonic in Spain, Germany (on 19 March you can wish him a happy birthday at the concert in Munich), and France. This year, he will get quite a few chances to enjoy the masses of orchestral sound that he loves during his solo appearances: on his busy calendar are several debuts with American orchestras in Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and other important cities as well as concerts with the already familiar faces of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre National de France. A “New genius of the cello” (Le Figaro), he is conquering the world with his 1689 Stradivarius.

Semyon Bychkov  conductor

Semyon Bychkov

In the 2023/2024 season, Semyon Bychkov’s programmes centred on Dvořák’s last three symphonies, the concertos for piano, violin and cello, and three overtures: In Nature’s Realm, Carnival Overture, and Othello. In addition to conducting at Prague’s Rudolfinum, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic took the all Dvořák programmes to Korea and across Japan with three concerts at Tokyo’s famed Suntory Hall. Later, in spring, an extensive European tour took the programmes to Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium, and France and, at the end of year, the Year of Czech Music 2024 will culminate with three concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York. As well as featuring Dvořák’s concertos for piano, violin and cello, the programmes will include three poems from Smetana’s Má vlast, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass for which the orchestra will be joined by the Prague Philharmonic Choir. 

Bychkov’s inaugural season with the Czech Philharmonic was celebrated with an international tour that took the orchestra from performances at home in Prague to concerts in London, New York, and Washington. The following year saw the completion of The Tchaikovsky Project – the release of a 7-CD box set devoted to Tchaikovsky’s symphonic repertoire – and a series of international residencies. In his first season with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov also instigated the commissioning of 14 new works which have subsequently been premiered by the Czech Philharmonic and performed by orchestras across Europe and in the United States.

As well as the focus on Dvořák’s music, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic are exploring the symphonies of Mahler as part of PENTATONE’s ongoing complete Mahler cycle. The first symphonies in the cycle – Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 5 were released in 2022, followed in 2023 by Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”. Last season’s highlights included performances of Mahler’s Third Symphony in Prague and Baden-Baden, and during the 2024/2025 season, Bychkov will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 with the orchestra in Prague, New York, and Toronto, and Symphony No. 8 in Prague.

While especially recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has built strong and lasting relationships with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux, and Maurizio Kagel. More recent collaborations include those with Julian Anderson, Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert, Thierry Escaich, and Thomas Larcher whose works he has premiered with the Czech Philharmonic, as well as with the Concertgebouworkest, the Vienna, Berlin, New York and Munich Philharmonic Orchestras, Cleveland Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and one in the West. Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has lived in Europe since the mid-1980s. Singled out at the age of five for an extraordinarily privileged musical education, Bychkov studied piano before winning his place at the Glinka Choir School where, aged 13, he received his first lesson in conducting. He was 17 when he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory to study with the legendary Ilya Musin and, within three years won the influential Rachmaninoff Conducting Competition. Bychkov left the former Soviet Union when he was denied the prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic.

By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His international career, which began in France with Opéra de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, took off with a series of high-profile cancellations which resulted in invitations to conduct the New York and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras and the Concertgebouworkest. In 1989, he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997, Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and in 1998, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.

Bychkov’s symphonic and operatic repertoire is wide-ranging. He conducts in all the major opera houses including La Scala, Opéra national de Paris, Dresden Semperoper, Wiener Staatsoper, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Teatro Real. While Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, his productions of Janáček’s Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov each won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. In Vienna, he has conducted new productions of Strauss’ Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, as well as revivals of Strauss’ Elektra and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; while in London, he made his operatic debut with a new production of Strauss’ Elektra, and subsequently conducted new productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival, Strauss’ Elektra and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Madrid. He returned to Bayreuth to conduct a new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in summer 2024.

Bychkov’s combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that his performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, the warmth of his relationships is reflected in honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms. In Europe, he tours with the Concertgebouworkest and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France, and Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia, and Cleveland Orchestras.

Bychkov has recorded extensively for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Concertgebouworkest, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. His 13‑year collaboration (1997–2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne produced a series of benchmark recordings that included works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphonies No. 3, Das Lied von der Erde), Shostakovich (Symphony Nos. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninoff (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His 1992 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with the Orchestre de Paris was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (2020); Wagner’s Lohengrin was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year (2010); and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month (2018). Of The Tchaikovsky Project released in 2019, BBC Music Magazine wrote, “The most beautiful orchestra playing imaginable can be heard on Semyon Bychkov’s 2017 recording with the Czech Philharmonic, in which Decca’s state-of-the art recording captures every detail.”

In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music in July 2022 and the award for Conductor of the Year from Musical America in October 2022.

Bychkov was one of the first musicians to express his position on the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, since when he has spoken in support of Ukraine in Prague’s Wenceslas Square; on the radio and television in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Austria, the UK, and the USA; written By Invitation for The Economist; and appeared as a guest on BBC World’s HARDtalk.

Compositions

Antonín Dvořák
Othello, concert overture, Op. 93

The orchestral compositions by Antonín Dvořák on today’s programme were written in the 1880s and ’90s, a period that includes Dvořák’s stay in New York (1892–1895). How do these three works cross paths with the American chapter in the life of one of the greatest Czech composers?

The concert overture Othello, Op. 93 (B174) dates from the turn of 1891 and 1892 and constitutes the final part of a cycle of overtures titled Nature, Life, and Love, which were originally to have been the composer’s Opus 91 and were meant to be played together as a whole. It was in this form that Dvořák conducted the work’s premiere at the Rudolfinum on 28 April 1892 with the orchestra of the National Theatre augmented by students from the conservatoire. The concert from the “farewell tour” preceding the composer’s departure for his new job at the conservatoire in New York got a very positive reception. The famous music critic Emanuel Chvála described the new work as being “explicitly programmatic”, in the case of Othello (Love) marked by “an expression of demonic passion”. Listeners noticed the ideas and motifs shared between the individual overture and the composer’s melodic inventiveness. It was as if everything were related: the beauty of nature, the pageant of life, and ill-fated love. At Carnegie Hall on 21 October 1892, for his American debut in the role of a composer and conductor, Dvořák again performed the entire triptych of concert overtures along with his Te Deum, Op. 103 (B176), which was heard for the very first time. The titles of the overtures changed gradually, and it was not until they appeared in print (Simrock, Berlin 1894) that the works got their definitive titles and opus numbers: In Nature’s Realm, Op. 91, Carnival Overture, Op. 92, and Othello, Op. 93. The publisher entrusted Johannes Brahms with editing the scores before they were printed because the composer was across the ocean at the time but gave his complete approval.

Antonín Dvořák may have seen the play The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare (1564–1616) on the stage of the National Theatre, where it was in the repertory from 1887 until 1896 in a production directed by Josef Šmaha that used a Czech translation by Jakub Malý. In whatever context he may have discovered the play, the drama about love’s destructive power captivated him, as can be seen from his comments on the action inscribed in the autograph score and from the musical reminiscences of the characteristic death motif from his own Requiem, Op. 89, at the moment when “Othello, at the height of rage, murders her [Desdemona]”. Dvořák had written an earlier, no longer extant overture Romeo and Juliet, and there is a mention of an opera libretto for Viola (Twelfth Night) supposedly offered to the composer by the Court Opera in Vienna, but the overture Othello is Dvořák’s only preserved work with inspiration from Shakespeare.

Antonín Dvořák
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104

At the end of his stay in America, Antonín Dvořák wrote his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (B191), his most famous work in the genre alongside his concertos for piano (G minor, Op. 33) and violin (A minor, Op. 53). Yet he had long regarded the cello, an instrument that supposedly “whines up high and mumbles down low”, as unsuitable for solo playing, and he basically discarded his first, youthful attempt at writing a cello concerto. His opinion of the cello changed under the influence of wonderful performers: Hanuš Wihan, with whom he had played in a piano trio during his “farewell tour”, and the American composer and cellist Victor Herbert, Dvořák’s colleague at the conservatoire in New York. Dvořák was truly captivated by Herbert’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 30 (1894). He began work on sketches for his own concerto in B minor on 8 November 1894, just ten days later he began orchestrating it, the score was finished on 9 February 1895, and he made a major revision to the finale after returning to Bohemia.

The concerto consists of the usual three movements: the opening Allegro is composed in sonata form, the second movement (Adagio ma non troppo) is warmly lyrical, and the third movement (Finale. Allegro moderato) has the layout of an extended rondo with motivic connections to both preceding movements. The whole concerto exudes a sense of melancholy and desire for the homeland and for family. At the same time, there is an awareness of the impending return from the labyrinth of the world to the paradise of the heart; the music is very emotional and full of beautiful melodies as well as wonderful orchestration. It is no exaggeration to call it one of the most admired compositions of its genre. Dvořák himself was aware of the concerto’s exceptional qualities, referring to it in a letter to Josef Bohuslav Foerster as a work that brought him “outrageous joy” and that decidedly exceeds his two earlier concertos in importance. The cello and orchestra become such equal partners that the concerto has sometimes been described as Dvořák’s tenth symphony. The music’s intimate message is highlighted by a motif from Kéž duch můj sám (Leave Me Alone), a song in Dvořák’s cycle Four Songs, Op. 82 that was a particular favourite of the composer’s sister-in-law Josefina Kounicová. The motif is heard in the second movement and again in the finale, which was revised after Josefina’s death in May 1895.

The English cellist Leo Stern played the concerto’s premiere on 19 March 1896 in London with the Philharmonic Society under Antonín Dvořák’s baton. Stern studied the new concerto very diligently, being aware that it “is quite unlike any other cello concerto” and “is very difficult as regards intonation”. He acquitted himself honourably, however, so he also played the premieres in Prague (11 April 1896) and elsewhere. Although the Cello Concerto is dedicated to Hanuš Wihan, Prague audiences never heard him play it, a fact explained in part by a dispute over a cadenza, which Wihan wanted to add to the concerto, but which Dvořák resolutely refused. Mostly at fault, however, was Wihan’s busy schedule with commitments to the Bohemian Quartet and the Prague Conservatoire.

Antonín Dvořák
Symfonie č. 8 G dur op. 88 „Anglická“

Rok 1889, ve kterém vznikla Symfonie č. 8 G dur op. 88, byl pro jejího autora úspěšný. Dostal nabídku profesora skladby na Pražské konzervatoři, Národní divadlo mu uvedlo premiéru opery Jakobín, byl vyznamenán Řádem železné koruny. Dvořák se nacházel v pozitivním životním období, ve kterém u něj sílil pocit vyrovnanosti a životní radosti.

Zájem o skladatelovy kompoziční aktivity byl dále posílen jeho úspěšnými pobyty v Anglii. Svému anglickému příteli klavíristovi a skladateli Francescu Bergerovi v dopise ze dne 8. září 1889 píše: „Velmi děkuji za Váš laskavý dopis, ve kterém se mě ptáte, zda mám něco nového pro Vaše koncerty. Pravděpodobně to bude nová symfonie, na které nyní pracuji; je zde pouze otázka, zda budu schopen ji dokončit včas.“Do práce na Osmé symfonii byl Dvořák ponořen od 28. srpna do 8. listopadu, a to převážně na svém letním sídle ve Vysoké, kde se cítil nejlépe.

Dobrá tvůrčí atmosféra byla ale narušena roztržkou s jeho „dvorním“ nakladatelem Simrockem. Vydavateli se Dvořákovy finanční požadavky zdály přehnané. Snažil se ho přimět ke komponování drobnějších a jednodušších skladeb, neboť velká a náročná orchestrální díla se mu nezdála dostatečně rentabilní. Autor ovšem nehodlal slevit ze svých uměleckých představ, a tak na tři roky přerušil se Simrockem spolupráci. Svůj opus 88 vydal u londýnské firmy Novello. Symfonie tak proto získala později podtitul „Anglická“.

Osmá symfonie si v základních rysech – čtyřvětosti a tempovém rozvržení vět – zachovává stavbu klasické symfonie. Dílo ale překvapuje mnoha inovacemi, pestrým sledem proměnlivých nálad od pastorálních obrazů přes intonace taneční a pochodové až k dramaticky vypjatým plochám. Je to kantabilní a diatonická skladba, ze které je patrná skladatelova náklonnost k české a slovanské lidové hudbě. Jak sám autor poznamenává, usiloval o zpracování témat a motivů v jiných než „obvyklých, všeobecně užívaných a uznaných formách".

Premiéra se uskutečnila pod Dvořákovým vedením 2. února 1890 v Rudolfinu v rámci populárních koncertů Umělecké besedy a následně 24. dubna téhož roku v Londýně při koncertu tamní Filharmonické společnosti v St. James’s Hall. Dvořák symfonii následně dirigoval ještě mnohokrát: 7. listopadu 1890 ve Frankfurtu nad Mohanem, 15. června 1891 v Cambridge při příležitosti udělení čestného doktorátu tamní univerzitou, 12. srpna 1893 v Chicagu a 19. března 1893 znovu v Londýně. Ohlasy, které následovaly po provedeních, jsou samostatnou kapitolou. Dvořák byl anglickým tiskem označen za jediného z žijících skladatelů, který může být oprávněně nazýván Beethovenovým nástupcem: „Ten jediný, ačkoli se stejně jako Brahms snaží držet Beethovenovy školy, je schopen přinést do symfonie zřetelně nový prvek.“

Vídeňský kritik Eduard Hanslick zase píše: „Celé toto Dvořákovo dílo, jež patří k jeho nejlepším, lze chválit za to, že není pedantické, ale při vší uvolněnosti nemá zároveň k ničemu tak daleko jako k naturalismu. Dvořák je vážným umělcem, který se mnohému naučil, ale navzdory svým vědomostem nepozbyl spontánnost a svěžest. Z jeho děl mluví originální osobnost a z jeho osobnosti vane osvěžující dech něčeho neopotřebovaného a původního.“

Zanedbatelný není ani komentář samotného skladatele po Londýnské premiéře: „Koncert dopadl skvěle, ba tak, jak snad nikdy předtím dříve. Po první větě byl aplaus všeobecný, po druhé větší, po třetí velmi silný tak, že jsem se musel několikrát obracet a děkovat, ale po finále byla pravá bouře potlesku, obecenstvo v sále, na galeriích, orkestr sám, i za ním u varhan sedící, tleskalo tolik, že to bylo až hrůza, byl jsem několikrát volán a ukazovat se na pódium – zkrátka bylo to tak hezké a upřimné, jak to bývá při premiérách u nás doma v Praze. Jsem tedy spokojen a zaplať pánbůh za to, že to tak dobře dopadlo!“

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