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Czech Philharmonic • Katia and Marielle Labèque

Whenever piano duos are spoken about, it is the Labèque sisters who spring immediately to mind. Katia and Marielle Labèque return to Prague with the music of Mozart with which they enchanted audiences back in 2016. Schubert’s Symphony No. 2 will also be presented under the baton of Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov, and the programme will open with a performance by the Czech Philharmonic Brass Ensemble.

Subscription series C


Giovanni Gabrieli (arr. Rolf Smedvig)
Canzon duodecimi toni 
Canzon septimi toni No. 2
Canzon VII
Canzon IX 
Concerto primo “La Battaglia”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concerto No. 10 in E flat major for two pianos and orchestra, K 365

Franz Schubert
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, D 125


Katia and Marielle Labèque pianos

Czech Philharmonic Brass
Robert Kozánek artistic director

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Katia and Marielle Labèque

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

Dress rehearsal
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Price from 250 to 1200 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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Historically, choral singing has been an important part of Czech musical life. In the English-speaking world and other countries such as Japan, brass ensembles have enjoyed similar popularity within society. With its Artistic Director Robert Kozánek, the Czech Philharmonic Brass Ensemble will treat listeners to the rich sound world of brass instruments. They have prepared a sample of works from the Venetian early Baroque composer and organist Giovanni Gabrieli. His canzonas will be heard in arrangements by the American trumpeter Rolf Smedvig.

Pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque have already played much of the two-piano repertoire for the public of Prague including new works. This time, they return with the Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos and Orchestra, which Mozart wrote to play with his beloved sister Nannerl. We do not know whether this ever happened, but later Mozart played the work with his pupil Josepha Barbara Auernhammer, about whom he said: “she plays delightfully but lacks the genuine fine and lilting quality of cantabile; she plucks too much”.

In the case of the Labèque sisters, the concerto is in safe hands. Their superb ensemble playing will be sure to let Mozart’s melodic invention, elegance, and purity shine through. They are also experts in engaging in satisfying musical dialogue and virtuosically merge the sound of two concert grand pianos. And that truly is not an easy discipline:

“We think that the problem for a piano duo is that playing together on two pianos is so difficult that it often leads to a metrical, mechanical kind of playing. If there’s something that we hate with a passion, it’s metrical, didactic, square playing. All our lives, we’ve been looking for balance that lets us perceive music in waves, and not as something vertical. We want to play horizontally even at the cost of sometimes not being perfectly together because that’s not at all important. The main thing is for each musical phrase to speak. All our lives, we’ve been working to achieve a certain freedom of phrasing and joint breathing that lets us play together without having to give each other any signals” – Katia and Marielle Labèque in an interview for Harmonie.


Katia & Marielle Labèque   pianos

Katia & Marielle Labèque

From the Basque region of France, then almost untouched by classical music, to the greatest concert halls in the world – this is the story of the Labèque sisters with a career spanning more than 50 years, who have been described as “the best piano duo in front of an audience today” (New York Times). But the shared story of the sisters, who have had a lifelong and intense relationship both professionally and personally, is much longer. The elder Katia first began playing piano under the tutelage of her mother, a pianist and piano teacher, and two years younger Marielle soon followed suit. In 1968, they entered the Paris Conservatory, but still as two soloists – the idea of forming a piano duo did not arise until after they had graduated from the conservatory, and so they then enrolled in a chamber music class there. They still remember how, while rehearsing Visions de l’Amen, they were suddenly interrupted by Olivier Messiaen, who happened to be passing by their class and wondered who was playing his piece. He was so impressed that he helped them record the work, which was not only their first recording experience but also an important invitation to the world of contemporary composers – after Messiaen, they worked with György Ligeti, Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio. Their career breakthrough came with their original arrangement of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which became one of the first gold records of classical music.

The Labèque sisters have performed in famous concert halls from the Musikverein in Vienna to Carnegie Hall in New York, have been guests at major festivals (BBC Proms, Salzburg, Tanglewood) and have appeared with the most celebrated orchestras in the world (Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, La Scala Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, etc.). “We don’t have the huge repertoire of a solo pianist or a violinist, but we have all the more freedom to create our own music and our own projects,” say the sisters, who collaborate with Baroque music ensembles (such as The English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Il Giardino Armonico with Giovanni Antonini), but they also venture into the field of “non-artificial” (natural) music (Katia even played in a rock band).

The problem of the limited repertoire for piano duo is also solved by addressing contemporary composers. In addition to the above mentioned, in 2015 they gave the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Double Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel. Two years later they premiered Bryce Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos expressly written for them, and recorded it for the album “El Chan”. The Labèques also performed this piece in Prague’s Rudolfinum – although due to the pandemic (2021) without an audience, only in a streamed version. However, this was not the Labèque sisters’ first meeting with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (whose chief conductor Semyon Bychkov is Marielle Labèque’s husband). In April 2017, the Dvořák Hall witnessed their performance of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, and a year later they made their solo debut there.

Philharmonic Brass   

Robert Kozánek  artistic director

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.

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