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Czech Philharmonic • Jakub Hrůša

Jakub Hrůša and the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra not only see “eye to eye” but hear “ear to ear” as well. After their first collaboration last season, they set out together this time for Arabia of the Middle Ages in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. In the second half of the programme, the Czech Philharmonic and its Principal Guest Conductor join forces with three vocal soloists and the Prague Philharmonic Choir for Josef Suk’s Epilogue, the finale of his symphonic tetralogy.

Subscription series B


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Scheherazade, symphonic suite, Op. 35

Josef Suk
Epilogue, symphonic composition for orchestra, large and small mixed choir, soprano, baritone, and bass, Op. 37


Alžběta Poláčková soprano
Jiří Brückler baritone
Jan Šťáva bass

Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster

Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra
Jakub Hrůša conductor

Czech Philharmonic

*The Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is playing Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Jakub Hrůša

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Last season, Principal Guest Conductor Jakub Hrůša worked with the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra for the first time and went away not only speaking highly of the players artistic performance but also of the humanity they brought to their music making. In a letter addressed to the Youth Orchestra, he said:

“You played with precision and power, prudence and passion, your heads and your hearts, a clear plan and spontaneity. But the main thing is the human quality I sensed from it. Above and beyond all of that, you are simply great people. I think the most important thing I am now feeling is gratitude that I can return next year as your conductor. I am already looking forward to it.”

For their second series of concerts together, Hrůša has chosen the programmatic suite Scheherazade (1888), Rimsky-Korsakov’s most frequently performed orchestral work which was inspired by the medieval collection of Arabian tales, One Thousand and One Nights. Rather than forming a musical setting for one detailed story, Rimsky-Korsakov’s colourfully orchestrated music depicts instead characters, settings, and scenes from the different individual tales. Listeners will visit a Baghdad marketplace, feel the ardent love of a young prince, and witness a shipwreck on stormy seas.

Epilogue is the final work of Suk’s symphonic tetralogy which the Czech Philharmonic is recording with Jakub Hrůša. Suk began writing sketches for Epilogue in 1920 and made his final revisions in 1933. This extensive composition with a prominent vocal part is one of those great artworks with an intellectual framework which can be described in no other way than as religious and philosophical. The composer himself described the idea behind the work in such a way: “The work goes through the whole of human life, into reflection on death and the dread of it, before the appearance of the song of earthly love, all this leading up to the exhilarating song of liberated mankind. Is death not that for which we are striving, for which humanity shall be striving from eternity to eternity? Without death, life could not be made new and eternal, therefore we have the words of the Holy Scriptures: ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’”


Alžběta Poláčková  soprano

Alžběta Poláčková

Alžběta Poláčková is one of today’s most sought-after Czech sopranos. The steady, radiant tone of her instantly recognisable soprano voice lies comfortably on the border between the lyric and the dramatic.

As a opera soloist at the National Theatre in Prague as well as at theatres outside of Prague and on foreign stages, she has performed many title roles in operas in a broad range of styles. She has also presented herself to the public at several festivals in this country and abroad (including the Glyndebourne Opera Festival and Smetana’s Litomyšl) under the leadership of important conductors. In the role of Jitka she took part in a recording of Smetana’s opera Dalibor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra led by Jiří Bělohlávek. Alžběta has collaborated with many important stage directors including Robert Carsen, Alice Nellis, and Calixto Bieito. Alongside Rolando Villazón she took part in the filming of the documentary “Rolando meets Don Giovanni”.

She was born in Prague, where she completed secondary school and then studied at the Academy of Performing Arts in the studio of René Tuček. She is a laureate of several international singing competitions.

Jiří Brückler  baritone

Jiří Brückler

A laureate of the National Theatre Director’s Award for artists up to age 35, Jiří Brückler studied singing at the Prague Conservatoire (Jiří Kotouč) and at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (Roman Janál). He was the winner of the 2008 Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary in the Junior category. 

With the Opera of the National Theatre and the State Opera, where he has been engaged since 2012, he has sung a series of major roles in operas ranging from Mozart to Britten. For the role of Rodrigo in Verdi’s Don Carlos, he was nominated for a 2013 Thalia Award, and he had already been nominated for that prestigious award four years earlier for the role of Silvio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci as a guest artist at the F. X. Šalda Theatre in Liberec; he has also sung that role at the Český Krumlov International Music Festival alongside José Cura. He is a regular guest at the J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen, the National Theatre in Brno, and the National Opera of Bulgaria in Sofia. He also collaborates with leading Czech orchestras in performances of the concert repertoire.

In the 2023/2024 season he will appear as Sharpless in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and in leading roles of Smetana’s operas. In March 2024 he will appear as the Hunter and the Gamekeeper in Dvořák’s Rusalka at the Opera de Tenerife.

Jan Šťáva  bass

Jan Šťáva

Jan Štáva (*1988, Brno) has been an ensemble member of the Janáček Opera of the National Theatre in Brno since 2010. His repertoire there includes the roles of Baron Ochs (Der Rosenkavalier), Leporello (Don Giovanni), and Kecal (The Bartered Bride). In 2011 he made his debut at the National Theatre in Prague as Osmin (Die Entführung aus dem Serail). Since then, he has appeared there in a number of other roles such as Leporello (Don Giovanni) and Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The stages where he has appeared abroad include the Opéra de Paris, the opera house in Montpellier, the Angers-Nantes Opéra, and the Opéra National de Lorraine in Nancy. He has appeared in concert in collaborations with such orchestras as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre National de Lyon, and the Philharmonie Leipzig. His concert repertoire includes bass parts in works by J. S. Bach (St John Passion), J. Haydn (The Creation), W. A. Mozart, A. Dvořák, and G. Verdi (Requiem). This season, his appearances will include Papageno (The Magic Flute) at Brno’s National Theatre.

Prague Philharmonic Choir  

The Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC), founded in 1935 by the choirmaster Jan Kühn, is the oldest professional mixed choir in the Czech Republic. Their current choirmaster and artistic director is Lukáš Vasilek, and the second choirmaster is Lukáš Kozubík.

The choir has earned the highest acclaim in the oratorio and cantata repertoire, performing with the world’s most famous orchestras. In this country, they collaborate regularly with the Czech Philharmonic and the Prague Philharmonia. They also perform opera as the choir-in-residence of the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.

This season, they will appear at four choral concerts of their own, with programmes focusing mainly on difficult, lesser-known works of the choral repertoire. Again this year they will be devoting themselves to educational projects: for voice students, they are organising the Academy of Choral Singing, and for young children there is a cycle of educational concerts.

The choir has been honoured with the 2018 Classic Prague Award and the 2022 Antonín Dvořák Prize.

Lukáš Vasilek  choirmaster

Lukáš Vasilek

Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting and musicology. Since 2007, he has been the chief choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC). Most of his artistic work with the choir consists of rehearsing and performing the a cappella repertoire and preparing the choir to perform in large-scale cantatas, oratorios, and operatic projects, during which he collaborates with world-famous conductors and orchestras (such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic).

Besides leading the PPC, he also engages in other artistic activities, especially in collaboration with the vocal ensemble Martinů Voices, which he founded in 2010. As a conductor or choirmaster, his name appears on a large number of recordings that the PPC have made for important international labels (Decca Classics, Supraphon); in recent years, he has been devoting himself systematically to the recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s choral music. His recordings have received extraordinary acclaim abroad and have earned honours including awards from the prestigious journals Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, and Diapason.

Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra  

In the modern history of the Czech Philharmonic, when the first steps were being taken towards an educational programme, the idea arose in 2006 – while Václav Riedlbauch was still the executive director – of giving symphonic concerts for student audiences, i.e. for a new generation of listeners. The choice fell to the former Prague (later Czech) Youth Orchestra, an ensemble with many years of tradition of a youthful, enthusiastic approach to music. This worked wonderfully because the students in the audience saw their peers on stage. Bound by their love of music, these musicians gave performances from 2006 to 2010 under the leadership of the conductor Marko Ivanović, playing such works as Janáček’s Sinfonietta, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Cello Concerto, and Te Deum, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet suite.

When new management took over in 2011, the Czech Philharmonic greatly expanded its educational activities, and that was an opportunity for renewal of the student orchestra’s activities, renamed as the Czech Youth Philharmonic. The idea is to give the rising generation of musicians – mostly students at music schools, whether grammar schools with a music emphasis, conservatoires, or academies of music – the regular opportunity of rehearsing and performing great symphonic, concertante, and choral works. Over time, the efforts turned towards creating a permanent orchestra that would support its members in the perfecting of their ensemble playing and in the creation of long-term relationships and mutual understanding. The Czech Youth Philharmonic musicians also serve as “bearers of light” in relation to their peers by showing them that young people can love classical music and can present it enthusiastically to others.

Since the 2013/2014 season, the orchestra has been performing regularly at concerts of the Czech Philharmonic’s educational series Four Steps to the New World (under the baton of Marko Ivanović), and at the series Penguins at the Rudolfinum (with Vojtěch Jouza) and Who’s Afraid of the Philharmonic? (with Ondřej Vrabec). In April 2019, the Czech Youth Philharmonic appeared with Ida Kelarová and the Čhavorenge children’s choir at Šun Devloro concerts – musical celebrations of International Romani Day. In November 2019, the orchestra played under the baton of Robert Kružík at the Students’ Day Concert with the participation of Joachim Gauck and Petr Pithart.

In June 2020, the conductor Simon Rattle came to Prague insisting that he did not want to conduct just the Czech Philharmonic, but also “some orchestra with young people.” When the choice fell to the Czech Youth Philharmonic, that was an enormous challenge for its members. Sir Simon enjoyed working with the young musicians, and he was unsparing in his praise: “The Czech Youth Philharmonic reminds me of the orchestra of the Verbier Festival, which is made up of the best music students from all around the world, led by players from the Metropolitan Opera. That’s the level they are on.” In February 2021, the Czech Youth Philharmonic first appeared under the baton of chief conductor Semyon Bychkov in the televised concert “A přece se učí” (“But Learning Continues”).

In the 2022/2023 season, the Czech Youth Philharmonic gave its debut at Czech Philharmonic subscription concerts with the conductors Semyon Bychkov and Giovanni Antonini. This year, philharmonic subscribers will hear the Czech Youth Philharmonic under the baton of Jakuba Hrůša and, once again, Giovanni Antonini. In the series “Steps to the New World”, the young musicians will perform works by Bizet, Grieg, Smetana, Wagner, and other composers under the baton of Marko Ivanović.

Jakub Hrůša  principal guest conductor

Jakub Hrůša

Born in the Czech Republic, Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Music Director Designate of The Royal Opera, Covent Garden (Music Director from 2025), Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. 

He is a frequent guest with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna, Berlin, Munich and New York Philharmonics; Bavarian Radio, NHK, Chicago and Boston Symphonies; Leipzig Gewandhaus, Lucerne Festival, Royal Concertgebouw, Mahler Chamber and The Cleveland Orchestras; Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. He has led opera productions for the Salzburg Festival (Káťa Kabanová with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2022), Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera House, and Opéra National de Paris. He has also been a regular guest with Glyndebourne Festival and served as Music Director of Glyndebourne On Tour for three years.

His relationships with leading vocal and instrumental soloists have included collaborations in recent seasons with Daniil Trifonov, Mitsuko Uchida, Hélène Grimaud, Behzod Abduraimov, Anne Sofie Mutter, Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Rudolf Buchbinder, Gautier Capuçon, Julia Fischer, Sol Gabetta, Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen, Karita Mattila, Leonidas Kavakos, Lang Lang, Josef Špaček, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yuja Wang, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Alisa Weilerstein and others. 

As a recording artist, Jakub Hrůša has received numerous awards and nominations for his discography. Most recently, he received the Opus Klassik Conductor of the Year 2023 prize and the ICMA prize for Symphonic Music for his recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, and the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik for his recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, both with Bamberg Symphony. In 2021, his disc of Martinů and Bartók violin concertos with Bamberg Symphony and Frank Peter Zimmermann was nominated for BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone awards, and his recording of the Dvořák Violin Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Augustin Hadelich was nominated for a Grammy Award. 

Jakub Hrůša studied at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where his teachers included Jiří Bělohlávek. He is President of the International Martinů Circle and The Dvořák Society. He was the inaugural recipient of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize, and in 2020 was awarded both the Antonín Dvořák Prize by the Czech Republic’s Academy of Classical Music, and – together with Bamberg Symphony – the Bavarian State Prize for Music. 


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Scheherazade, symphonic suite, Op. 35

Odkaz ruského skladatele Michajla Ivanoviče Glinky dal ve druhé polovině 19. století vzniknout seskupení petrohradských skladatelů zvanému Mocná hrstka. Tato skupina se snažila tvořit podle principů, které spojovaly dosavadní tradici ruské umělé hudby a domácí folklórní dědictví se snahami po moderním, pokrokovém umění. Nejplodnějším a zároveň nejmladším skladatelem Mocné hrstky byl Nikolaj Andrejevič Rimskij-Korsakov (1844–1908). Ačkoliv se od počátku chtěl profesionálně věnovat hudbě, vystudoval na nátlak rodiny v Petrohradě námořnickou školu a poté podnikl na plachetnici tříletou cestu kolem světa. Hudební kompozice se ovšem nevzdal. Dosáhl v ní takového renomé, že mu v roce 1871 bylo nabídnuto místo profesora petrohradské konzervatoře, a to i přes to, že neměl žádné formální hudební vzdělání. Na konzervatoři pak vychoval řadu velkých skladatelských osobností – Glazunova, Ljadova, Stravinského nebo Prokofjeva.

Nejnápadnějším znakem dvaceti čtyř orchestrálních skladeb a šestnácti oper Rimského-Korsakova je skvělá instrumentace. Skladatel také zorchestroval (a dokončil) mnoho skladeb svých soudruhů z Mocné hrstky – Alexandra Borodina a Modesta Musorgského. Své instrumentační zásady shrnul do posmrtně vydané knihy Základy orchestrace, jež bývá i dnes zdrojem poučení pro mnohé adepty kompozičního umění.

Autoři sdružení v Mocné hrstce sice usilovali o čistě ruský hudební styl nezávislý na formálních skladebných postupech západoevropských klasiků, ve výrazové stránce svých děl se však tito ruští skladatelé často nechávali inspirovat exotickými motivy i díly svých starších současníků ze západu. Rimského programní suita Šehrezáda z roku 1888, jež byla inspirována středověkou sbírkou arabských pohádek Tisíc a jedna noc,je přímo nasycena orientálními prvky (nejvýrazněji snad v tématu Šehrezády, které poprvé zazní v první části v podání sólových houslí s doprovodem harfy a poté se vrací ve všech větách suity). Ve skladbě také slyšíme vliv Lisztových symfonických básní či programních orchestrálních skladeb Hectora Berlioze. Šehrezáda, která se stala nejhranějším orchestrálním dílem Rimského-Korsakova je pěkným dokladem orchestračního mistrovství svého autora. Barvitá instrumentace zvýrazňuje střídající se nálady této kompozice, která není hudebním vyjádřením podrobně propracovaného syžetu, ale spíše jen charakteristikou některých postav, konkrétních obrazů a výjevů orientálních pohádek, jež byly skladbě inspiračním podnětem. Skvěle volené zvukomalebné prostředky dávají posluchači věrně pocítit např. rozbouřené živly, které způsobily zkázu korábu v závěrečné části skladby.

Josef Suk
Epilogue, a symphonic work for orchestra, large choir, small choir, soprano, baritone, and bass, Op. 37

The Czech composer, violinist, and teacher Josef Suk received his basic musical training from his father, a village teacher. The talented boy then got the best possible education at the Prague Conservatoire, where he first studied violin under Antonín Bennewitz, then composition under Karel Stecker and Antonín Dvořák. This is one reason for the unusual maturity of even Suk’s early works. The popular Serenade for Strings in E flat major, Op. 6 even captivated Johannes Brahms, who recommended the work to his publisher Fritz Simrock, although the composer was just 18 years old. As a recent conservatoire graduate, Suk also had other ambitious; immediately after finishing their studies, Suk and some classmates founded a string quartet, which soon earned recognition at home and around Europe. For a full four decades, Josef Suk played second violin in the Bohemian Quartet, performing on prestigious stages and spending a great deal of time on tour in trains and hotels. It is incredible that with such a busy schedule, he was able to focus on composing. His works were attracting the interest of performers and audiences. And Antonín Dvořák—Suk’s former teacher and now his father-in-law—was now satisfied. For example, Dvořák declared Suk’s incidental music to Zeyer’s play Radúz and Mahulena to be “music from heaven”.

Dvořák died in 1904, and a year later Suk’s wife, Dvořák’s daughter Otilie, died of a heart condition at the age of 27. The heartbroken composer later said: “This sad turn of events also brought a definitive turning point in my creative work, giving rise to a symphony bearing the name of the angel of death Asrael”. He dedicated the Asrael Symphony (1905–1906) “to the sublime memory of Dvořák and Otilie”. He gradually created an entire cycle of compositions dealing with serious questions of human existence. After Asrael he wrote Pohádka léta (A Summer’s Tale, 1907–1909) and Zrání (Ripening, 1912–1917), then in 1920 he began sketching the last part of the cycle: “The Harvest of Love”. Only after he had begun work on the composition did he give it the title Epilogue. Suk wrote the first two parts of the tetralogy for large orchestra only, then at the very end of Zrání he added a small women’s choir. In Epilogue he greatly strengthened the vocal component, adding a mixed choir and three solo voices – soprano, baritone, and bass. He selected the text from the Bible and from Julius Zeyer’s legend Under the Apple Tree. His work on the vast score was often interrupted because he assumed new duties in addition to playing in the quartet: teaching composition at the Prague Conservatoire and taking over as the director of the school. This is another reason why Epilogue was written during the long interval between 1920 and 1929 (with final revisions in 1933). The unique compositions flows without interruption, and it is divided internally into five parts (1. Footsteps, 2. Mothers’ Song, 3. From Eternity to Eternity, 4. Mysterious Wonder and Restlessness, 5. Pilgrim – The Bringer of Consolation). The movement titles do not appear in the score, but the composer revealed the titles and the thoughts behind them to his biographer J. M. Květ: “A man walking about the countryside is contemplating the mysteries of life and death until he is gripped by fear of death nearly to the point of despair. At the moment of greatest desperation, a recollection comes to him of a song sung by his mother, and in the beauty of maternal love he becomes aware of earthly love in its purest form. Deep in thought, he sees a vision of a flame rising from the earth, and in its radiance he envisions mankind’s eternal feelings and desires and the questions of life and death. Under the impression of this revelation, his heart is filled with mysterious wonder and restlessness. Redemption comes in the form of a Pilgrim, an embodiment of universal human desire, who rids men of the fear of death and fills them to their depths with the humble certainty that ‘the spirit of eternal love hovers over us’, and that in death are the seeds of new life.”

In reference to Suk’s humorous comment quoted above, it should be added that unlike Sousedská, his Epilogue definitely requires skill from its performers. At the work’s premiere on 20 December 1933 in Smetana Hall at the Municipal House in Prague, joining with three soloists and three Prague choirs were the Czech Philharmonic augmented by additional players and the conductor Václav Talich, to whom the composer dedicated the work. The President of Czechoslovakia T. G. Masaryk was among those present at the successful premiere.

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