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Czech Philharmonic • Variations


To mark the end of the Year of Czech Music, the Czech Philharmonic will present a concert with a dramaturgically very significant programme - Dvořák's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G minor and Smetana's Vyšehrad, Vltava and Šárka from the cycle of symphonic poems Má vlast. The excellent pianist Ivo Kahánek will be our guest. 

Programme

Antonín Dvořák 
Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33

Bedřich Smetana 
Vyšehrad, Vltava, Šárka from the cycle of symphonic poems Má vlast

Performers

Ivo Kahánek piano

Semyon Bychkov conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Variations

Karlovy Vary — Thermal Hotel

Tickets available from the presenter

Performers

Ivo Kahánek  piano

Ivo Kahánek

A musician of tremendous emotional power, depth, and expressiveness, Ivo Kahánek has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting artists of his generation. He is universally recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of Romantic piano music and is a particular specialist in Czech repertoire (awarded e.g. by Dispaison d’Or). He possesses a rare gift of creating an immediate and compelling emotional connection with his audiences. Kahánek came to public attention after winning the Prague Spring International Music Competition in 2004 and performing at the 2007 Proms Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek. He has collaborated with the most prestigious orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic (Sir Simon Rattle), the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic, and many others. He is a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

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.

Compositions

Antonín Dvořák
Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33

Dvořák was already a composer of genius by 1876, when he wrote his Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33, but he was basically known only to the Prague public. At the time, he had to earn a very modest living as an organist and by giving piano lessons privately. In those days, the pianist Karel Slavkovský was devoting considerable attention to music by Czech composers. On 24 March 1878, it was he who played was the first to play the solo part of Dvořák’s new work in the hall at Prague’s Žofín Palace. A second performance, again in Prague and with the same pianists, took place two years later. At that time, shortly after the extraordinary success of Dvořák’s Moravian Duets and of the Slavonic Dances in Germany, he was receiving offers from important publishers. One of them, Julius Hainauer from Breslau, published the concerto in 1883. Before publication, Dvořák made major revisions to the score, giving the work its ideally polished sound. His concerto was ahead of its time in many ways, and that had negative consequences. Some music critics (although a small minority) saw the work’s departures from the usual as weaknesses, while others were blinded by their aversion to Czech patriotism, an entirely irrelevant objection in the case of Dvořák. Despite such voices, the composer maintained a very detached perspective. After an otherwise successful concert in Berlin in 1884, Dvořák wrote to the piano virtuoso Anna Grosser: “All this criticism overflowing with ridicule, hatred, and bile (more like an execution) provides me with plenty of amusement and entertainment. Things keep getting crazier, but those gentlemen in Berlin still will not stop me from taking flight!” 

The critics did not keep the composer from taking flight, but his Piano Concerto remained grounded to some extent. The concerto continued to be played over the following years, but notably less often than other great works by Dvořák. An important chapter in the performance history of the concerto in the 20th century belongs to an arrangement of the solo part made by the Prague piano virtuoso and teacher Vilém Kurz 15 years after Dvořák’s death. Several of his pupils and other pianists played the concerto in that form even long after such arrangements had ceased to be fashionable, when, to the contrary, there were increasing efforts towards the most faithful possible interpretations of composers’ intentions. The soloist for today’s concert, András Schiff, has clear reasons for playing Dvořák’s own version. More and more pianists have begun doing so in recent decades, but the work is still performed less often overall than other concertos. The key to an explanation may be the words of the phenomenal pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who only played Dvořák’s own version. Richter certainly did not suffer from technical limitations, but he always “merely” had to get to the heart of a work and understand it. In November 1977, he wrote in his diary: “I recall how long it took me to learn this [Dvořák’s] concerto (nearly three years), while I learned Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto in just two months without having any special difficulties.” This may be another reason why it is hard to find another work like Dvořák’s Piano Concerto: brilliant yet seldom heard.

Bedřich Smetana
Vyšehrad, Vltava, Šárka from the cycle of symphonic poems Má vlast

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