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Czech Philharmonic • Velvet Revolution Concert


At this year’s Velvet Revolution Concert, three fantastic younger generation artists will take centre stage. Violinist Josef Špaček performs music by Suk, and Antoine Tamestit will play Martinů’s Rhapsody-Concerto on the very first viola made by Antonio Stradivari. Petr Popelka returns for the second time to conduct the Czech Philharmonic, and rounding off the Czech programme are works by Smetana and Janáček.

Programme

Bedřich Smetana
The Two Widows, overture to the opera

Josef Suk
Fantasy in G minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 24 

Bohuslav Martinů
Rapsody – Concerto for viola and orchestra, H 337

Leoš Janáček
Sinfonietta

Performers

Josef Špaček violin
Antoine Tamestit viola

Petr Popelka conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Velvet Revolution Concert

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

Dress rehearsal
On sale soon
Available seats
63
2
Available seats
177
3
Price from 250 to 2100 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

Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic

Tel.: +420 227 059 227
E-mail: info@czechphilharmonic.cz

Customer service is available on weekdays from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.

 

Among Czech Philharmonic audience members, violinist Josef Špaček is especially popular. In a recent survey of regular subscribers who were asked which artist they would most like to hear in a solo recital, the former Czech Philharmonic Concertmaster came up top.

Although it has been four years since he left, Josef Špaček is still closely associated with the Czech Philharmonic thanks to many joint projects and regular collaborations. Špaček’s solo career is now his main professional focus, and he enchants audiences both at home at the Rudolfinum and abroad. Although he appears with top European and American orchestras and plays chamber music regularly in the world’s most prestigious concert halls, he has not forgotten his roots. He can be heard at both New York’s Carnegie Hall but also small villages across the Czech Republic. 

Antoine Tamestit has fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a famous virtuoso through his sheer talent. His instrument of choice, the viola, is a bit larger than Špaček’s. “My mission is for the public to fall in love with the viola just as much as I have”, says the Paris native who appears on international stages as soloist, in recitals, and in chamber music playing repertoire ranging from the Baroque era to the present day.

Tamestit has won international acclaim for his peerless technique and for the rich beauty of his playing. For over 15 years, Tamestit has performed on an instrument that Antonio Stradivari made in 1672 as his very first viola. “Now, we’ve experienced a lot together, but we’re still getting to know each other. It wasn’t easy at first. I think we have two different personalities. But now we’re a seasoned pair. We form a single whole, but we both help each other other express ourselves”, revealed Tamestit in an interview for Prague Spring International Music Festival. He has already appeared with the Czech Philharmonic several times, even performing Martinů’s Rhapsody-Concerto, and not only in Prague, but also on tour of central Europe with Jiří Bělohlávek. The composition, which Tamestit calls “beautiful, moving, and exciting”, has become a popular piece in his concerto repertoire.

During the 2024/2025 season, Petr Popelka, who in recent years has become one of the most inspirational conductors of the younger generation, enters his first year as Chief Conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. This prestigious position does not prevent him from performing other conducting duties, so he will continue as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Popelka got his start as a double bass player. After studies, he was engaged for nearly ten years as assistant principal double bassist of the Staatskapelle Dresden, but he admits that his interest in conducting had already been ignited as a student thanks to his composing activities and private conducting lessons. In 2016, Popelka decided to devote himself intensively to conducting. He soon became Alan Gilbert’s assistant at the NDR Elbphilharmonie, and a year later, he took over as Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. Other ensembles have in recent years taken notice leading to guest conducting engagements with orchestras such as the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Bamberg Symphony, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestras.

Performers

Josef Špaček  violin, guest artist

Josef Špaček

“Working with Josef Špaček is amazing. He is a wonderful person with good heart. You can feel this in his playing, which is gracious, teeming with emotion. And his technique is marvellous. He is one of the greatest solo violinists of the present time,” says the conductor Manfred Honeck, under whom the young virtuoso has regularly given concerts, in the Czech Television documentary Devět sezón (Nine Seasons) The 2023 film provides an interesting account of Špaček’s life, also shedding light on his nine-year tenure as the Czech Philharmonic’s concert master.  

Although not having been a member for four years, Josef Špaček has not ceased to collaborate with the Czech Philharmonic, pursuing numerous joint projects. And even though appearing as a soloist with celebrated orchestras worldwide and as a chamber player at the most prestigious concert venues, he continues to perform in Czech towns and remote villages. 

Josef Špaček is a member of the exciting international Trio Zimbalist, giving performances all over the globe. He has regularly appeared in the Czech Republic with the cellist Tomáš Jamník and the pianist Miroslav Sekera, with whom he has created critically acclaimed albums. He has also made recordings with the Czech Philharmonic (featuring Janáček’s and Dvořák’s violin concertos, and Suk’s Fantasy), the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Petr Popelka (Bohuslav Martinů’s music).

Born in 1986 in Třebíč, Bohemia, Josef Špaček showed his exceptional talent at an early age. Music was a natural part of his childhood (his father has been a cellist of the Czech Philharmonic for over three decades, and his siblings played instruments too), as described by his mother in the book Špačci ve fraku. After graduating from the Prague Conservatory 
(under the tutelage of Jaroslav Foltýn), Josef went on to study in the USA, where he attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (his teachers included Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo) and The Julliard School in New York (tutored by Itzak Perlman). 

After completing his formal education, he returned to his homeland, where he was named the youngest ever concert master of the Czech Philharmonic. At the same time, he performed as a soloist and chamber player, garnering international recognition. A watershed in his career was victory at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, whereupon he began receiving invitations from the world’s most renowned institutions. Due to his having an ever more challenging and busy schedule as a musician – and to his family situation, especially following the birth of three children – he resigned from the post of concert master of the Czech Philharmonic so as to focus solely on being a soloist. Owing to his immense talent and great diligence, his childhood dream to become a famous violinist has come to pass.  

Antoine Tamestit  viola

Antoine Tamestit

“My mission is to make audiences love the viola just as much as I do,” says Antoine Tamestit, who has conveyed this passion of his to music fans all around the world.  Performing as a soloist and chamber player, the Paris native’s repertoire ranges from Baroque to contemporary. Such distinguished composers as Jörg Widmann, Thierry Escaich, Bruno Mantovani and others have written works for him. 

Antoine Tamestit’s first instrument was the violin, yet at the age of nine he was so mesmerised by J. S. Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello that he felt the urge to master a lower-range instrument. He therefore cursorily acquainted himself with the cello, but was not overly excited. When, however, he found out that the Suites can also be played on the viola, he did not hesitate and fully embraced the instrument. Love at first sight would grow into a lifelong bond. Taking lessons from Jean Sulem, Jesse Levine and Tabea Zimmermann, he soon won a number of coveted prizes (William Primrose Competition, ARD-Musikwettbewerb, etc.). Tamestit would perform on stages worldwide along with renowned orchestras (Berliner Philharmoniker, Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Orchestra dell’Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, New York Philharmonic, etc.) and conductors (Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding, Paavo Järvi, etc.).

Owing to his impeccable technique and rich tone, Tamestit has gained international fame. He plays the first viola ever built by Antonio Stradivari (1672), provided to him by the Stradivari-Stiftung Habisreutinger. “We have lived through a lot, and yet we continue to get to know each other. Initially, it was not easy. I think there are two personalities on stage. But today it is a symbiotic relationship. We constitute a single entity, helping each other to express ourselves,” Tamestit said in an interview within the Prague Spring festival, where in 2023 he held the post of artist-in-residence. He has collaborated with the Czech Philharmonic over the long term. One of the works they have performed together, in Prague and within a tour of Central Europe (with the late Jiří Bělohlávek), is Bohuslav Martinů’s Rhapsody, Tamestit’s favourite piece, which he has referred to as “beautiful, moving and ravishing”. 

He has devoted to chamber music too, regularly working with the pianist Emanuel Ax, the violinist Isabelle Faust and the clarinettist Martin Fröst. He is a member of Trio Zimmermann, whose recordings have received worldwide critical acclaim (highly lauded has been their 2019 album of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, as arranged by Tamestit). Moreover, he is a splendid soloist. He premiered Jörg Widmann’s Viola Concerto, a recording of which has received the prestigious Premier BBC Music Magazine Award.

Antoine Tamestit is also a sought-after educator, teaching at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne and the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris, as well as within the Kronberg Academy masterclasses. For over a decade, he has been artistic director of Japan’s Viola Space festival.

Petr Popelka  conductor

One of the most inspiring young Czech conductors, since the beginning of the 2024/25 season Petr Popelka has been music director of the Wiener Symphoniker. Previously holding the post of principal conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, he continues to be music director of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. 

Popelka started his artistic career as a double-bassist. Following his studies in Prague and Freiburg, he was engaged at the Staatskapelle Dresden, where he would serve as deputy solo double-bassist for almost a decade. While still a student, he developed a keen interest in conducting, and also composed music. In addition to taking private lessons, he closely observed conductors in action. “Every day with the orchestra was actually like a small masterclass for me,” Popelka said. In 2016, he arrived at the decision to learn conducting in earnest, and duly began studying with Vladimir Kiradjiev, and attending classes led by Alan Gilbert and others. Soon after receiving the Neeme Järvi Prize at the Gstaad Conducting Academy, he was named assistant to Gilbert, chief conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester. A year later, in 2020, Popelka was appointed principal conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, while also performing with the Gewandhausorchester, Staatskapelle Berlin, Bamberger Symphoniker, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and others. Amid his growing international reputation, Popelka was named main visiting conductor of the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava and also invited to work with the Czech Philharmonic. In September 2022, he assumed the post of principal conductor of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. One of the highlights of the 2022/23 season was a concert in Prague Popelka conducted of Arnold Schönberg’s monumental cantata Gurre-Lieder, performed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and the Prague Radio Orchestra. 

Besides giving concerts, he has conducted opera productions, including at the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo, the Semperoper in Dresden and the National Theatre in Prague. Popelka also continues to play the double-bass, appearing occasionally at chamber music performances. 

Compositions

Bedřich Smetana
The Two Widows, overture to the opera

Josef Suk
Fantasy in G minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 24

Bohuslav Martinů
Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra, H 337

Bohuslavu Martinů was not fated to spend much time living in his homeland although he loved his country deeply all his life, and visions of a return home are woven into many of his works. He left his native country for Paris in 1923 seeking artistic development in what was one of the world’s great musical centres at the time. Martinů had always been impressed with the arts in France, and while living there he absorbed the influences from Impressionism, Neoclassicism, the composers of the Parisian group Les six, and Igor Stravinsky. The Nazi occupation of France in 1941 drove Martinů even farther from his native land. He and his wife Charlotte emigrated to the USA. At this time, he was writing not only major works like Sixth Symphony or The Frescos of Piero della Francesca, but also many smaller pieces, often lyrical in character, which Martinů conceived as a kind of greeting to his homeland mainly by using motifs from Czech folk music. 

One such work is the Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra (1952), commissioned by the conductor George Szell and the Ukrainian violinist and violist Jascha Veissi. In his final style period, unlike the composers of the post-war avant-garde, Martinů subjected his musical language to an overall simplification. This transformation is clearly apparent in the Rhapsody-Concerto with its accessible harmonies, striking melodic writing, and masterful instrumentation. The work contains symphonic passage of sonic richness, but at the same time the composer sensitively lets the coloristic nuances of the individual instrumental sections come through, and of course above all the sentimental, sweet tone of the viola. Bohuslav Martinů had an extraordinarily well-developed sense of musical form, and in the last years of his life, this led him to turn with increasing frequency to the genres of fantasias and rhapsodies. Those allowed him much greater room for meditative, lyrical-sounding compositions reflecting his momentary emotional state. Although the internal structure of the Rhapsody-Concerto exhibits traits of the classical three-movement concerto, Martinů deliberately did not title his two-movement composition for solo viola a viola concerto. The tempo indications are somewhat symbolic; slow, lyrical and fast, virtuosic passages recur in both movements. An alternation of dramatic episodes also emerges both in the solo part and in the orchestra, but each of the two movements is framed by calm passages, and the whole work concludes with the sustaining of a quiet, conciliatory F major chord, dominated to the very end by the viola’s seductive tone.

Leoš Janáček
Sinfonietta

The life of Leoš Janáček took many twists and turns before he arrived at the compositional style of his greatest operas and symphonic works, which have now made him one of the most famous and most frequently performed Czech composers abroad. Janáček grew up with the music of the church and of folk culture. He gained his first experience in the church choir in Hukvaldy and later at the Augustinian monastery in Staré Brno. In 1872, the composer and choirmaster Pavel Křížkovský was hired to lead the choir there, and Janáček later became his successor. At the same time, he was studying at a secondary school in Staré Brno and at a teachers’ college. After graduating, he furthered his studies at the organ school in Prague. Thereafter, he was engaged in important activities in the field of folklore studies and pedagogy, collecting and publishing Moravian songs, leading the organ school in Brno, and conducting at the Brno Beseda concert hall. At first Janáček focused on writing choral music, then he turned his attention to other genres. The opera Jenůfa became a success after initial difficulties and obstacles baring its path to the stage. Later on, his other operas (Káťa Kabanová, The Makropulos Affair etc.) won recognition at home and abroad, as have his symphonic works (Taras Bulba, Lachian Dances etc.).

One of those symphonic works is the Sinfonietta, JW VI/18, probably the most famous of all of Janáček’s compositions. The idea originated when the newspaper Lidové noviny asked Janáček to write some music as a salutation for the Eighth Sokol Gymnastics Festival. Janáček began by writing fanfares, then he expanded them into a five-movement work, making use of his recollections of the sound of a military band. Václav Talich conducted the premiere at the Rudolfinum in Prague in 1926 with a military band joining the Czech Philharmonic as part of a cultural programme in association with the Sokol festival, and Czechoslovak Radio recorded the performance.

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