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Czech Philharmonic • Alisa Weilerstein

It is rare for the Czech Philharmonic to give two world premieres in the same evening but just such a programme has been planned by conductor Tomáš Netopil. Alongside Debussy’s La mer, considered as the emblematic work of musical Impressionism, the Czech Philharmonic presents the world premieres of Teml’s The Labyrinth of Memory and Blackford’s Cello Concerto played by dedicatee Alisa Weilerstein.

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Jiří Teml
The Labyrinth of Memory, a symphonic picture (world premiere)

Richard Blackford
Cello Concerto (world premiere)

Claude Debussy
La mer


Alisa Weilerstein cello

Tomáš Netopil conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Alisa Weilerstein

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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“I know that music is progressing, and it must do so, always becoming more complex. But often it also becomes less listenable and harder to perceive. The public can’t keep pace with the composers who are always experimenting without taking people’s taste into consideration. There are even composers who claim that they don’t care at all about the public. But that’s not me. I want people to listen to a composition to the end and to accept it. So, I have to go back and correct certain things to make them comprehensible.”

– Jiří Teml (*1935) in an interview for KlasikaPlus

With its world premiere delayed due to the pandemic, it’ll be interesting to finally hear Teml’s The Labyrinth of Memory in the context of Debussy’s La mer. Impressionism, after all, is one of the most loved styles of music, and Teml has not only claimed that as something he values but has also repeatedly utilised it in his works.

The second world premiere on the programme is a new Cello Concerto commissioned by the Czech Philharmonic from the British composer Richard Blackford. 

The soloist for Blackford’s new work is Alisa Weilerstein who views performing new music as an important part of the life of an artist. She has already premiered new concertos by Joan Tower, Matthias Pintscher and Pascal Dusapin. The American cellist has also enjoyed many years of musical collaboration with the Czech Philharmonic including a 2014 recording of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Jiří Bělohlávek, and joint appearances with Semyon Bychkov at New York’s Carnegie Hall four years later.

“Underlying my cello concerto is the story about how people from the small town of Paradise, California, came together to help those whose homes were destroyed by the wildfires known as The Devil Winds of Santa Ana in 2018. The cello and orchestra firstly evoke the power of the firestorm, then an elegy for the destruction caused by it, a movement in praise of rain, and finally a hymn to celebrate a community helping those who lost their homes to climate change to rebuild and start again. Their story of compassion and resilience motivates the four movements.”

– Richard Blackford


Alisa Weilerstein  cello

Alisa Weilerstein

A box of rice cereal served as Alisa Weilerstein’s very first cello when she was two and a half years old. Little Alisa caught the chickenpox just when her musical parents (her mother is a pianist and her father is a violinist) were on a world tour, so her grandmother was coming up with fun ideas. The biggest hit was a set of musical instruments made with breakfast cereal boxes, but Alice was only interested in the cello. Unfortunately, that cello could not be played. Two years later, little Alisa’s parents finally let her persuade them to get her a real instrument. Six months later, she played it in public for the first time. At age 13 she played with the Cleveland Orchestra, and Carnegie Hall opened its doors to her for the first time when she reached age 15. She did not, however, allow musical institutions to limit her to a one-sided musical orientation, so after graduating from the Youth Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, she went to Columbia University to study Russian history (both of her parents have Russian roots). Nonetheless, her study plan included several hours of daily practice on the cello, and at the same time she had a busy schedule of concerts!

This American cellist’s popularity led to a concert appearance at the White House, where she was received by the president’s family in 2008, and her artistic prestige earned her a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation (2011) and an award from BBC Music Magazine for the “Recording of the Year 2013” (cello concertos by Edward Elgar and Elliott Carter with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin). At the time, she was already routinely giving concerts with top orchestras in the USA, Europe, and Asia. She also continues to give solo recitals, earning acclaim especially for her interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello. She has also recorded the whole cycle on CD (nominated for a prize from the journal Gramophone), and during the pandemic she made live recordings at home for a project titled 36 Days of Bach (one movement from a suite every day). Because she is also a major proponent of contemporary music, she also created a multimedia project titled Fragments, which combines the aforementioned Bach suite movements with 27 newly composed pieces. All of this was done with the famed theatrical and operatic stage director Elkhanah Pulitzer supervising visual aspects of the project, which sets out to “find new ways to connect the audience and artist”. The project has already been heard at such venues as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

That, however, is not the end of her service to today’s cello literature: contemporary composers are writing more works for her with solo concertos by Joan Tower, Matthias Pintscher, Pascal Dusapin, and Richard Blackford at the forefront. It is the premiere of Blackford’s concerto that awaits us at today’s concert under the baton of Tomáš Netopil. Weilerstein’s long-term collaboration with the Czech Philharmonic dates back to 2013 at the Dvořák Prague Festival, when she played Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. A year later, the concerto’s release on CD received great acclaim from critics. “In Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic, [Weilerstein] has chosen ideal partners”, commented Hugh Cunning in The Sunday Times. Weilerstein also has only the fondest memories of working with the Czech Philharmonic: “I really, really love the sound of the orchestra—there is a kind of lyricism and tenderness, which I don’t often hear in Dvořák playing.” This is perhaps why Weilerstein has come to Prague several more times and even performed with the Czech Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall on tour in 2018. Her younger brother, the conductor Joshua Weilerstein, and her husband, the Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare, have also appeared with the orchestra at the Rudolfinum.

Tomáš Netopil  conductor

Tomáš Netopil

Since the 2018/2019 season, Tomáš Netopil has been the Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, with which he regularly prepares concert programmes at the Rudolfinum and on tours. The 2022/2023 season was his tenth and final as General Music Director of the Aalto Theater and Philharmonic in Essen, Germany. From the 2025/2026 season, he will take up the post of chief conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. 

In 2018, Tomáš Netopil created the International Summer Music Academy in Kroměříž, offering students exceptional artistic instruction and the chance to meet and work with major international musicians. In the summer of 2021, in association with the Dvořákova Praha Festival, the Academy established the Dvořák Prague Youth Philharmonic with musicians from conservatories and music academies, coached by principal players of the Czech Philharmonic.

As evidenced by his engagement in Essen, Tomáš Netopil is a sought-after opera conductor. From 2008 to 2012, he was the music director of the Opera of the National Theatre in Prague. Operatic highlights beyond Essen include the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden (La clemenza di Tito, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, La Juive, The Bartered Bride, and Busoni’s Doktor Faust), the Vienna Staatsoper (his most recent successes include Idomeneo, Der Freischütz, and a new production of Leonore), and the Netherlands Opera (Jenůfa). His concert highlights of recent seasons have included the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich as well as engagements with the Orchestre de Paris, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai, the Orchestre National de Montpellier, and Concentus Musicus Wien.

Tomáš Netopil’s discography for Supraphon includes Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (the first-ever recording of the original 1927 version), Dvořák’s complete cello works, Martinů’s Ariane and Double Concerto, and Smetana’s Má vlast with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. During his tenure in Essen, he has recorded Suk’s Asrael and Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 6 and 9.

He studied violin and conducting in his native Czech Republic and at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm under the guidance of Professor Jorma Panula. In 2002 he won the inaugural Sir Georg Solti Conductors Competition at the Alte Oper Frankfurt. In his spare time, he likes to fly small planes.

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