Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Czech Philharmonic
Principal Guest Conductor, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor Laureate, BBC Symphony (London)
Renowned Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek was appointed Music Director and Artistic Director of the Czech Philharmonic in 2012, following on from his successful tenure as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, of which he is now a Conductor Laureate. He was Chief Conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra (1977–89), Music Director of the Prague Philharmonia (1994–2004), was appointed President of the Prague Spring Festival in 2006. From 2013 to 2017, he was Principal Guest Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
In opera, he has collaborated with the Vienna State Opera, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opéra National de Paris, the Teatro Real Madrid, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Zurich Opera, and the National Theatre in Prague. He has also conducted and recorded several opera-in-concert presentations with the BBC Symphony, to great acclaim. Confirming his preeminence as the conductor of Janacek, this past season he conducted the Czech Phil in a concert presentation of Jenůfa at the London Royal Festival Hall, as well as in full production the San Francisco Opera. This was followed by a performance of Janacek The Makropulos Case with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
Under his leadership the Czech Philharmonic is enjoying unprecedented success both at home in Prague, and on extensive tours. Together they have toured in the past three seasons on three continents, including Europe, Asia and North America. Their recent residency in Vienna at the Musikverein was a great success, and has lead to similar events being planned in other world capitals. The Czech Philharmonic announced in January 2017 that their partnership with Maestro Bělohlávek is now officially extended to 2022!
In addition to his ongoing Prague seasons and touring engagements with the Czech, he continues to perform as a guest conductor with the world’s major orchestras, including recent appearances with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (including at the London Proms), New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Washington National Symphony, and Deutsches Symphony Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Vienna Symphony Orchestra. In the coming season, in addition to major projects with Czech Phil, he looks forward to engagements with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Bayerische Rundfunk Orchestra Munich, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, St Petersburg Philharmonic, and more.
With the Czech Philharmonic, he will conduct a major Asian tour in Autumn 2017 with concerts in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, in addition to appearances on tour in Europe, the highlight of which will be a performance of Janáček Glagolitic Mass at the Salzburg Festival in August 2018.
Jiří Bělohlávek has recorded extensively, with recent projects with the Czech Philharmonic including the complete symphonies and concertos of Dvořák. The series with Decca continues in the coming season, when a major disc of Suk will be recorded.
In 2012 he was awarded an honorary CBE for his services to British music.
violin, artistic director of the project
Josef Špaček is fast emerging as one of the most accomplished violinists of his generation. He studied with Itzhak Perlman at The Juilliard School in New York, Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and with Jaroslav Foltýn at the Prague Conservatory. He was a laureate of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, and won top prizes at the Michael Hill International Violin Competition in New Zealand, the Carl Nielsen International Violin Competition in Denmark and the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York.
Highlights during the 2017/2018/2019 seasons include a return visit to the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht, as well as debuts with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Capitole de Toulouse and Thomas Søndergård, the Bamberger Symphoniker and Manfred Honeck, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Maxim Emelyanchev, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and Michael Sanderling, the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and David Zinman, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg and Aziz Shokhakimov, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo and Tomáš Netopil, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra and Christian Vásquez, the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen and Daniel Blendulf and the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra and Lio Kuokman. He continues to appear as a soloist of the Czech Philharmonic for concerts, both in Prague and on tour, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, Jakub Hrůša and Thomas Adès.
Previous highlights include subscription concerts with the Czech Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev, a return visit to the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI Torino and James Conlon, his debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek, his Berlin debut with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin and Thomas Sanderling, his Amsterdam Concertgebouw debut with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Thomas Søndergård, his Tokyo debut with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and Jakub Hrůša and debuts with the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto and Gerard Korsten, the Sønderjylland Symphony Orchestra and Johannes Wildner and the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen and Adrien Perruchon (recorded by Mezzo Live HD TV), as well as recital debuts in among others Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and La Jolla, San Diego.
In addition to the above-mentioned orchestras, Josef Špaček has appeared across Europe, the US and Asia with orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, PKF – Prague Philharmonia, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Essener Philharmoniker, Tonkünstlerorchester Niederösterreich, Orchestre National de Belgique, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony and Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
The late Jiří Bělohlávek was an avid supporter of Josef Špaček and regularly invited him. Other conductors he works with include Semyon Bychkov, James Conlon, Christoph Eschenbach, Asher Fisch, Valery Gergiev, Roy Goodman, Jakub Hrůša, Manfred Honeck, Eliahu Inbal, Jun Märkl, Rossen Milanov, Tomáš Netopil, Thomas Sanderling and Thomas Søndergård.
Josef Špaček gives recitals and takes part in chamber music festivals in Europe (among others at the Rudolfinum in Prague, Konzerthaus in Vienna, Evian Festival, Kaposfest and Schloß Elmau), Asia and the USA (i.a., Kennedy Center, La Jolla, ChamberFest Cleveland and Nevada Chamber Music Festival).
Supraphon released a highly praised recording of the violin concertos by Dvořák and Janáček, and of the Fantasy by Suk, with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek (“Recording of the Week” of The Sunday Times, “Recording of the Month and of the Year” of MusicWeb International and 5* in Diapason), as well as a recital CD with works for violin and piano by Smetana, Janáček and Prokofiev with pianist Miroslav Sekera. In 2010 he recorded works by H. W. Ernst for Naxos. His first CD, released in 2006, includes a complete recording of the Sonatas for Solo Violin by Eugène Ysaÿe.
He has served as concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the youngest in its history. The orchestra has named him “Associate Artist” as of January 2016.
Josef Špaček performs on the ca. 1732 “LeBrun; Bouthillard” Guarneri del Gesù violin, generously on loan from Ingles & Hayday.
“Her sound has passion, grit and electricity, but also a disarming warmth and sweetness that can unveil the music’s hidden strains of lyricism...”
- New York Times
Isabelle Faust captivates her listeners through her insightful and faithful interpretations, based on a thorough knowledge of the historical context of the works as well as her attention to current scholarship.
At an early age, Isabelle Faust won the prestigious Leopold Mozart and Paganini competitions and was soon invited to appear with the world’s leading orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. 2016 marks her first year as “Artistic Partner” for the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.
Isabelle Faust performs a wide-ranging repertoire, from Johann Sebastian Bach all the way through to contemporary composers such as Ligeti, Lachenmann and Widmann. To highlight this versatility, in addition to her mastery of the great symphonic violin concertos, Isabelle Faust also performs works such as Kurtágʼs Kafka Fragments with the soprano Anna Prohaska, or Schubert’s octet on historical instruments. She will premiere several new works for violin and orchestra during the next seasons, including concerti by the composers Ondřej Adámek, Marco Stroppa, Oscar Strasnoy and Beat Furrer.
Over the course of her career, Isabelle Faust has regularly performed or recorded with world-renowned conductors including John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe, Daniel Harding, Bernard Haitink and Andris Nelsons. During recent years Isabelle Faust developed a close relationship with the late Claudio Abbado and performed and recorded under his baton. Their recording of Beethovenʼs and Bergʼs violin concertos with the Orchestra Mozart received a “Diapason dʼOr” (France), “Echo Klassik” (Germany), “Gramophone Award 2012” (UK) as well as a “Record Academy Award” (Japan).
Faust has recorded many discs for Harmonia Mundi with her recital partner Alexander Melnikov. These include their latest album with Brahms’s sonatas for violin and piano, as well as Schumann’s piano trios. Both, her recording of Mozart’s violin concerti with Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini, as well as Bach’s harpsichord sonatas with Kristian Bezuidenhout were released in 2016/2017.
"Hisako Kawamura is a brilliant talent. In difference to majority of pianists who have technique to make one black out, she is able to listen the music in new way, has impeccable taste and sense for measure. You meet such quality very seldom, but Kawamura is born for the stage." – Elisso Virssaladze
As one of most outstanding young pianists of her generation, she performed as soloist with the Russian National Orchestra under the baton of Mikhail Pletnev and Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin under Marek Janowski on their Japan Tours. In addition to her solo activity, she adores play chamber music and will give several recitals with the violoncellist Clemens Hagen.
Born in Nishinomiya (Japan), moved to Düsseldorf (Germany) with the family in her childhood, she identifies herself with the european and japanese culture. Strongly affected by her teachers – Vladimir Krainev from Russia and Malgorzata Bator-Schreiber from Poland – Slavic Music became one of her special subjects. She proves that on her CDs which have been excellently received by the public (the Debut-CD Disc Auvers with works a.o. by Prokofiev, two recordings released by RCA Red Seal with works of Chopin and Schumann). She became prizewinner at important international piano competitions like the ARD International Music Competition in Munich and the Concours Géza Anda in Zurich. After winning the Concours Clara Haskil in Vevey, she got numerous invitations from orchestras and conductors (The Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, the Wiener Symphoniker, the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra Dublin, the Radio Symphony Orchestra Moscow, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra under Alan Buribayev, Alexander Dmitriev, Vladimir Fedosseyev, Junichi Hirokami, Eliahu Inbal, Kenichiro Kobayashi, Alexander Lazarev, Erwin Lukac, Tatsuya Shimono, Yuri Temirkanov). Kawamura's musical and artistic activity was awarded by several important Music Prizes in Japan; the Fresh Artist Music Prize of the Nippon Steel Corporation, the IDEMITSU Music Prize of Idemitsu Kosan, the Prize of the Chopin Society Japan, the IUE-Culture Prize/Hyogo and the Hotel Okura Music Prize. In March 2012, she received the Art Encouragement Prize for New Artists of Music from the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Japan. Motivated by the enthusiastic pedagogical activity of her mentors, she teaches as associate Professor at the Folkwang University of Arts in Essen since May 2011 and as special representative tutor at the Tokyo College of Music.
Narek Hakhnazaryan was propelled on to the international scene when, at the age of 22, he won the Cello First Prize and Gold Medal at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011, having impressed distinguished jury members such as Sir Clive Gillinson, Mario Brunello, David Geringas, Ralph Kirschbaum and Krzysztof Penderecki. He has since received critical press from both sides of the Atlantic, with the Daily Telegraph describing his playing “a marvel of musicality and technique combined” and the Washington Post describing him as “a seasoned phenomenon”.
Since winning the competition, Hakhnazaryan has won over audiences across the globe. His many high-level debuts have included concerto appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra/Gergiev, Chicago Symphony/Koopman, Tonkünstler Orchestra/Fedoseyev, Mariinsky Orchestra/Gergiev, Filarmonica della Scala Milan/Valcuha, Dallas Symphony/van Zweden, Seoul Philharmonic/Wolff, Rotterdam Philharmonic/Gergiev and with the Orchestra of St Luke’s at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, New York. In chamber and duo recitals he has performed at the Salle Pleyel Paris, Berlin Konzerthaus, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Boston, Vancouver Recital Series and at the Tivoli, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, City of London and Verbier Festivals.
Highlights of Hakhnazaryan’s 2013/14 season include further significant debuts including with Toronto Symphony/Lehninger, Czech Philharmonic/Bělohlávek on tour across Japan, Estonian National Symphony/Neeme Järvi on tour in North America, Aspen Festival Orchestra/Robertson, and his South American debut with the Sao Paulo Symphony, performing Lera Auerbach’s Last Letter with the composer. In addition he returns to Filarmonica della Scala/Gergiev to perform the Dutilleux Concerto and to the Mariinsky Orchestra/Gergiev to perform the Brahms Double Concerto with Sergey Khachatryan. Recital highlights include debuts at Oji Hall Tokyo, London’s Wigmore Hall, in Glasgow for BBC Radio 3, and in the USA at the Ravinia Festival and Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall.
Narek Hakhnazaryan was born in 1988 in Yerevan, Armenia, into a family of musicians: his father is a violinist and his mother a pianist. Hakhnazaryan’s early studies were at the Sayat-Nova School of Music in Yerevan with Zareh Sarkisyan and subsequently at the Moscow Conservatory with Alexey Seleznyov. Hakhnazaryan has received scholarships from the Rostropovich Russian Performing Arts Fund, and his prizes include First Prize in the 2006 Aram Khachaturian International Competition in Armenia and First Place in the 2006 Johansen International Competition for Young String Players. As First Prize winner in the 2008 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, Hakhnazaryan made his debut in the Young Concert Artists Series in New York at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, sponsored by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation Prize, and in Washington, DC. In 2011 he received an Artist Diploma from the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with Lawrence Lesser.
The year 1896 was important for the history of Czech music for two reasons: on 4 January, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was founded, and on 19 March, Antonín Dvořák conducted the premiere of his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 during his ninth and final concert tour in England. Although Dvořák was very happy about this composition, even writing about the “pure joy” which this work brought to him, in his modesty he could not know or guess that it would become one of his most frequently performed pieces, and for many people the best cello concerto ever, sometimes called the “king”. The paradox is that Dvořák had never been particularly drawn to the concertante form and did not recognise the cello as a solo instrument: he actually complained that it “whinges up above, and grumbles down below”. Nevertheless, by serendipitous circumstances, in the autumn of 1894 he decided to compose a concerto for cello. His first attempt at a solo concerto for this instrument was made almost thirty years ago, but Dvořák held this early concerto in such low regard that he did not mind the loss of its autograph (found after the composer’s death) and never included it in any list of his works.
The first and the most important impulse for Dvořák to choose this genre was a cello concerto by the American composer and cellist Victor Herbert. At that time, Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory in New York; Herbert taught the cello there and was also the principle cellist with the New York Philharmonic Society. Dvořák was so excited by Herbert’s work that he studied its score in great detail and several months later began to compose his own cello concerto. Perhaps in line with the deeply intimate Biblical Songs created in the spring of 1894, Dvořák continued on this personal level, revealing in his new work his experiences at that particular time in his life: being homesick and missing his children (except for his son Otakar who was with him in the U.S., his other five children remained in Bohemia), longing after his summer home in Vysoká, where he could work undisturbed, and reminiscing about gravely ill Josefina Kounitzová, his sister-in-law and friend, whom Dvořák had loved in the past. The combination of Dvořák’s creative élan and inner melancholy gave rise to his innermost composition, dominated by a firm compositional order, which is not without hope. Josefina is memorialized in the concerto by the melody of Dvořák’s song Leave Me Alone from the cycle Four Songs, Op. 82, of which Josefina was particularly fond.
The concerto is in three movement. It opens with a grandiose orchestral introduction, expanding from two main themes. While the first is characterized by bigger melodic intervals, the second theme consists of a sweet, gentle melody. A seemingly spontaneous idea was born after a long and laborious struggle, after which Dvořák found its correct form. He himself admitted that the lyrical theme of the introductory Allegro made him tremble. In the second movement he went even further, creating one of his most impressive lyrical expressions. This is where the quotation from the song Leave Me Alone is heard. Then comes the rondo, which represents the symbol of hope, of resurrection after a dark night on the cross, an image of the pain transformed. Dvořák wrote it a few weeks before he left New York for good; this might be why it is elated by an eager expectation, which, however, was spoiled upon Dvořák’s return to Bohemia by the news of Josefina’s premature death. In response to this sad fact, Dvořák radically changed the conclusion of the whole concert, inserting a new section of sixty bars before the original short coda, after which the solo violin again quotes Josefina’s favourite song.
The world premiere of the concerto was held in London’s Queen’s Hall on 19 March 1896 and was conducted by the composer himself. Originally, the composition was to be premiered by Dvořák’s close friend and mentor of the cello part, Hanuš Wihan, to whom the work was dedicated, but in the end its performance was entrusted to a young English cellist, Leo Stern. It is rumoured that the change of cellists was caused by Wihan’s rather insensitive insistence to play his own virtuoso cadenza, which Dvořák resolutely rejected, but the real reason was probably bad timing. Stern went to see Dvořák in Bohemia and worked hard with him, practising almost seven hours a day in order to master it because the composition was extremely difficult for him in terms of intonation. Stern also presented the work at the Prague premiere on 11 April 1896 and later in Leipzig, Chicago and New York.
Owing to his singular phraseology, Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804–1857) is considered the founder of modern Russian music. Although he wrote merely two operas, his works served as models of musical drama for the next generations of Russian composers. Glinka’s second opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), is a fairy-tale work in five acts based on A. S. Pushkin’s eponymous poem. The sprightly Overture possesses the classical structure of the sonata form and its themes draw upon the musical material of the opera itself. The main theme, first appearing immediately after the introduction made up of several bars, is taken over from the final chorus scene, in which the Russian people rejoice at Lyudmila’s escape from the clutches of the evil sorcerer Chernomor. The Overture to the opera Ruslan and Lyudmila reveals Glinka’s pure harmonic thinking and ability to orchestrate colourfully, salient traits of his operas and symphonic works.
One of the finest composer-pianists of all time, Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) did not have a carefree childhood – an unfavorable family situation had a negative effect on his mental health. After the poor reception of his First Symphony in D minor in October 1897 young Rachmaninoff fell into a period of deep depression and had to undergo medical treatment for several years. When at the turn of the century Rachmaninoff completed Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in C minor Op. 18, he dedicated it with gratitude to his doctor Nikolai Dahl, thanks to whom he recovered his confidence and was eventually able to compose again.
The first performance of the concerto, at which only the second and third movements were heard, took place in Moscow in December 1900 with Rachmaninoff at the piano and Alexander Siloti as the conductor. The full piece was enthusiastically received a year later at its premiere given by the same musicians and this piano concerto in three movements has since become one of the most popular and frequently played concertos by Rachmaninoff.
The swan song of the Russian Romantic genius Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) is Symphony No. 6 in B minor Op. 74, “Pathétique”. According to some interpreters of his work, its music reflects a fear of impending death and even preparation for his alleged enforced suicide in order to prevent disclosure of the composer’s homosexuality. Others claim that Tchaikovsky died of natural causes and refute the seeking of a connection between his sudden demise and the symphony itself. Whatever the case may be, on 28 October 1893 in St. Petersburg Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of Symphony No. 6 and nine days later died of cholera. Whether he contracted the disease by chance or whether he drank contaminated water on purpose may remain for ever the subject of speculations on the part of romanticising writers and earnest researchers alike.
As is known, Tchaikovsky did not reveal anything about the symphony’s programme. The grim introduction of the first part is followed by the main allegro theme. The first movement abounds in tempo and expression contrasts and has been traditionally construed as a portrait of a person exposed to his fate in both its joyous and tragic aspects. The second part, which we would expect to be slow, is composed as merry dance, almost ballet, music. The whole movement is in 5/4 time, which is common in the folk tradition of Eastern Slavs. The scherzo of the third movement is in allegro too and comes across as a nimble march. Tchaikovsky concluded his previous symphonies in a fast tempo, with grandiose and forcible codas, yet in the case of his Sixth for the first and last time he chose plaintive, slow music that ultimately peters out. Some claim that the music expresses grievous outcries and the agony of a dying person.
Ludwig van Beethoven, a crucial figure in the culmination of Viennese Classicism, wrote his one and only completed Violin Concerto in 1806, when he was also putting the finishing touches to his “Razumovsky” String Quartets Nos. 7–9, the second version of the opera Leonora, and while working on Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 too. At the time, the composer was giving a great deal of thought to heroism and high humane ideas of the final salvation of the universe, which was duly reflected in the enhanced pathos of his music. Beethoven was at the peak of his creative powers and was producing one superior work after another. Concurrently, however, he faced the first serious mental crisis, waging a lacerating inner struggle with the progressing deafness, which would later on prevent him from active and even passive participation in music events. Consequently, Beethoven could only seek the sense of life in composing.
The Violin Concerto has the traditional three-movement structure (fast-slow-fast). Although Classicist in its nature, owing to some of its traits (including the duration), it already anticipates the new, Romantic style. The piece starts unconventionally, with five strokes of the timpani. In the first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, the solo instrument dominates with a brightened cantilena, primarily palpable in the cadenzas. The second movement, Larghetto, is of a wistful nature, yet the violin part again captivates the listener with its jubilant cantability. The piece culminates in the brisk Allegro, written, in line with the tradition, in the rondo form. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was premiered on 23 December 1806 in Vienna but did not meet with a warm reception. Yet over time it has assumed a richly deserved position among the major concertante violin works.
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