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Czech Philharmonic • Lukáš Vasilek

In the history of the Czech Philharmonic, few compositions have left as deep a mark as Honegger’s oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake. In 1970, Ivan Medek, then the Orchestra’s dramaturge, programmed the oratorio to commemorate Jan Palach’s self-immolation. This difficult but powerful work will be led by Lukáš Vasilek, Artistic Director of the Prague Philharmonic Choir.

Subscription series C


Arthur Honegger
Joan of Arc at the Stake, oratorio in 11 scenes for narrators, solo voices, choir, and orchestra


Audrey Bonnet Jeanne d’Arc
Sébastien Dutrieux Brother Dominique
Susanne Bernhard Virgin Mary
TBA St Catherine
Mélissa Petit St Marguerite
Kyle van Schoonhoven Porcus
TBA First herald 
Zachary Altman Second herald
TBA narrators

Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster

Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir
Jiří Chvála, Petr Louženský choirmasters

Lukáš Vasilek conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Lukáš Vasilek

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

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Arthur Honegger composed his “dramatic” or “scenic” oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake to a text by the poet Paul Claudel. It takes place during the last moments of the life of the Maid of Orleans with retrospective scenes from her childhood and her trial at which she was sentenced to death by burning. A vast, even monumental work bordering between an oratorio and an opera, it employs perhaps every musical resource that was available at the time. Together on stage, there are soloists, narrators, a mixed choir, and a children’s choir, and the orchestra includes the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument that was played by its inventor at the work’s premiere in 1938.

No Prague performance of Honegger’s oratorio can fail to bring to mind an event that occurred over half a century ago. In January 1969, in protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops and the beginning of the period of “Normalisation”, Jan Palach, a student at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, doused himself in flammable liquid and set himself on fire in front of the National Museum. At concerts on 23 and 24 January, Václav Neumann, the Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor at the time, performed the opening of Suk’s Fairy Tale in his honour. But that is not where things ended.

For the following season, the Orchestra’s dramaturge Ivan Medek programmed the oratorio about a saint whose life ended in the same way as Palach’s. For a long time, the regime officials failed to recognise the meaning of this act of defiance, but once they did, Medek was dismissed from the Orchestra, and eventually his opposition against the regime earned him the positions of cloakroom attendant and dishwasher at the pub Pod Kinskou. After the Velvet Revolution, he returned from emigration to serve as chancellor under President Václav Havel.

In his memoirs, Medek wrote the following about what had happened at the Czech Philharmonic: “I was not dismissed definitively until January 1970, when—still as an unofficial dramaturge—I put Arthur Honegger’s cantata Joan of Arc at the Stake on a Czech Philharmonic programme. At first, it did not raise any eyebrows. Then suddenly they called the Executive Director of the Czech Philharmonic Jiří Pauer to ask why we were advertising ‘Joan of Arc at the Stake’! I told Pauer that it was the composition’s title, and that the author of the text was Paul Claudel. He said that the words ‘at the Stake’ could not be used. It was not until a few days later that someone at the top realised that the cantata was to be performed on the anniversary of Jan Palach’s self-immolation. A lot of trouble came of that, of course. We had to change the date of the performance, and we could not explain the change. It was played 14 days later, and the sold-out concert had the air of a protest because everyone knew what it was about.”


Audrey Bonnet  vocals

Sébastien Dutrieux  vocals

Susanne Bernhard  vocals

The Prague audiences first heard the soprano Susanne Bernhard, born in Munich, in February 2023 at the performance of Britten’s War Requiem in the Rudolfinum, which was subsequently reprised in September in Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle. In June of the same year, Bernhard stood out as Tove in Schoenberg’s Songs from Gurre, performed at the State Opera as part of the Musica Non Grata Festival and at the Smetana Festival in Litomyšl under the direction of the conductor Petr Popelka.

While still a student of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich, Bernhard collaborated with the Bayerische Theaterakademie, and immediately after graduation she was engaged by the Opernhaus Kiel. She is now a frequent guest of the Frankfurt Opera, the Dresden Semperoper and the Theater Bregenz. In addition to opera, she also focuses on Lieder, oratorio and concert repertoire, with which she has appeared at prestigious festivals such as the Rheingau-Musikfestival and the Beethovenfest in Bonn. She has worked with great conductors (Daniel Harding, Paavo Järvi and Semyon Bychkov) and has also made numerous radio and CD recordings, including Britten’s Folksongs and Josef Mysliveček’s opera Medonte.

Mélissa Petit  vocals

The soprano Mélissa Petit grew up in the south of France, where she also studied at the University of Nice. Her success in competitions in Rome, Béziers, Bordeaux and Oslo opened windows of opportunity for her in the world of opera, but most importantly, she became a member of the Hamburg Opera Studio, with which she is still associated as a guest. Over the years, Petit’s scope of work has expanded and she can be found in roles from the Baroque to the contemporary repertoire on the stages of Opéra Bastille in Paris, Theater an der Wien, the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing and the Zurich Opernhaus, where she was engaged between 2015 and 2017. Audiences also know her from the major international festivals in Salzburg, where she participated in the 2022 performance of Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc, and in Bregenz. Here she collaborated, among others, with the Prague Philharmonic Choir, with whom she subsequently performed in the Czech Republic: in March 2022, they performed Francis Poulenc’s Stabat Mater together to rave reviews. She has also participated in several television programs of the French-German ARTE station, such as “The Stars of Tomorrow”, hosted by Rolando Villazon.

Kyle van Schoonhoven  tenor

The American tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven also previously collaborated with the Prague Philharmonic Choir – together with Susanne Bernhard he took part in the performance of Britten’s War Requiem. However, the main focus of this winner of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals is currently on Wagnerian roles. He has already sung Walther (Tannhäuser) at New York’s Metropolitan Opera; the title role of Lohengrin at San Francisco Opera, where he spent two years in the prestigious Adler Fellowship Program; as well as Froh (Das Rheingold) and Siegmund (Die Walküre), whom he also portrayed in a concert performance at Carnegie Hall. He has also recently appeared in his coveted role of Don José (Carmen). In April 2025, he will appear in the premiere of Der fliegende Holländer at the Fort Worth Opera in Texas.

Although he sang from a young age (singing was used as music therapy to help fix his stutter in childhood), it was not until high school that he was introduced to opera. His newfound love then spurred him on to study at the Fredonia School of Music, the Westminster Choir College and, through the Jensen Foundation Voice Competition and a host of other awards (George London Award, Nicolai Gedda Memorial Award), led him to the world’s most prestigious stage – the Met Opera.

Zachary Altman  vocals

The American bass-baritone Zachary Altman, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, is gaining notice for wide ranging repertoire in major theaters across Europe and the United States. Most recently he has been cast in productions of 20th-century operas. He has appeared, for example, in Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane (Reisopera Netherlands), Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Komische Oper Berlin), Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Malmö Opera), Albert Herring (Maggio Musicale Fiorentino), Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges (Opera Philadephia) and Strauss’s Daphne (Hamburg State Opera). He has performed Romantic and Mozartian roles as artist in residence at the Opera San José and as a member of the Theater Basel ensemble. During his stay in Basel, he also performed with the Basel Symphony Orchestra and the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra, but his greatest popularity on the concert stage came from his participation in the famous Hollywood Bowl, where he performed Bernstein’s operetta Candide with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir  choir

Today, the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir (founded in 1932) is one of the most important Czech artistic ensembles, renowned not just in Europe, but now on five continents. Over the years, the choir has trained thousands of talented children and taught them love for music and the arts. In terms of its traditions and the breadth of its artistic scope, it is a unique artistic institution of its kind not only in the Czech Republic, but also throughout Europe. The choir’s reputation of exceptional artistry is documented by numerous awards and official honours. It is regularly invited to major music festivals and concert tours, it collaborates with top orchestras and operatic stages, and it has realised more than 50 recordings of Czech and foreign music.

The Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir has its own special sound that captivates listeners on first hearing because of the naturalness, purity, and refinement of the children’s voices. Since the choir’s founding, these characteristics have been an inspiration for many outstanding Czech composers to create works especially for the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir.

Jiří Chvála has been at the choir’s helm since 1967, and the choirmaster of the Concert Department is Petr Louženský.

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.

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