In March 2014, the Czech Philharmonic orchestra will perform with the world-renowned pianist Hélène Grimaud in the prestigious hall of Philharmonie Berlin. Conducting will be the Chief Conductor Jiří Bělohlávek.
She could be called a Renaissance woman for our times. Hélène Grimaud is a woman with multiple talents that extend far beyond the instrument she plays with such poetic expression and peerless technical control. The French artist has established herself as a committed wildlife conservationist, a compassionate human rights activist and as a writer.
Grimaud was born in 1969 in Aix-en-Provence where she began her piano studies at the conservatory with Jacqueline Courtin and subsequently under Pierre Barbizet in Marseille. She was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire at just 13 and won first prize in piano performance a mere three years later. She continued to study with György Sándor and Leon Fleisher until, in 1987, she gave her well-received debut recital in Tokyo. The same year the renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim invited her to perform with the Orchestre de Paris.
This marked the launch of Grimaud’s musical career; one highlighted by concerts with most of the world’s major orchestras and many celebrated conductors. Her recordings have been critically acclaimed and awarded numerous accolades, among them the Cannes Classical Recording of the Year, Choc du Monde de la musique, Diapason d’or, Grand Prix du disque, Record Academy Prize (Tokyo), Midem Classic Award and the Echo Award.
Despite her divided dedication to these multiple passions, it is through Grimaud’s thoughtful and tenderly expressive music-making that she most deeply touches the emotions of audiences. Fortunately, they have been able to enjoy her concerts due to her extensive touring programme with major orchestras around the world. Her 2013 calendar includes performances in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Russia, the USA, Brazil, China and Japan with, amongst others, the London Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Brahms features prominently in Grimaud’s programming repertoire throughout 2013. This past September Deutsche Grammophon released her album of the two Brahms piano concertos; the first concerto with Andris Nelsons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the second recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic.
Grimaud is also an ardent and committed chamber musician who performs frequently at the most prestigious festivals and cultural events with a wide range of musical collaborators that has included Sol Gabetta, Thomas Quasthoff, Rolando Villazón, Jan Vogler, Truls Mørk, Clemens Hagen and the Capuçon brothers.
An exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist since 2002, her album prior to the Brahms concertos was Duo, a collaboration with cellist Sol Gabetta, which won the 2013 Echo Award for “chamber recording of the year” and has been nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music / Small Ensemble Performance. The disc was released in October 2012 and that autumn the pair gave a series of concerts in Germany and France, performing the cello sonatas by Schumann, Brahms, Shostakovich and Debussy which are featured on the disc. Other DG recordings by Grimaud include Bach’s solo and concerto works in which she directed the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen from the piano bench, and a Beethoven disc with Staatskapelle Dresden and Vladimir Jurowski, Reflection and Credo (both of which feature a number of works linked thematically), a Chopin and Rachmaninov Sonatas disc, a Bartók CD with Grimaud playing the Third Piano Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez and a DVD release of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under the direction of Claudio Abbado.
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.
In 1854, Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) sketched a sonata for two pianos. Two years later, he brought the idea to fruition in the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in D minor Op. 15. The piece was premiered to great acclaim on 23 January 1859 in Hanover; four days later, it was performed at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig – on both occasions, Brahms himself played the piano and the concerts were conducted by his friend Joseph Joachim. The reception in Leipzig, however, was negative, with the critics denouncing the piece as unfinished, pointing out that “the motifs are undeveloped, the harmony maimed and the rhythm staggering on weak legs, the technique is schoolboyish...”
Two months later, on 24 March 1859, Brahms performed the concerto in his native Hamburg and it again met with a good reception. The work was further promoted by Clara Schumann, who first played it, with Brahms conducting, in Hamburg on 3 December 1861. The first movement opens with a long exposition of the orchestra, while the piano, besides the exposition themes, introduces its own theme, which is treated in the development. The calm of the second movement corresponds to the words “Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini” (Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord), which Brahms wrote at the head of its score. The concluding Rondo is dominated by an energetic idea, which is compensated by more lyrical passages and two piano cadenzas.
Franz Schubert (1797–1828) began writing his Symphony in B minor “Unfinished”,in the autumn of 1822. The autograph contains two full movements and one incomplete. Numerous theories have been posited as to why Schubert set the work aside. One such has it that the symphony was intended for the Music Society in Graz, where, much later, after Schubert’s death, the two complete movements were found. After their discovery, it was assumed that the composer had interrupted his work so as to study counterpoint, and never returned to it.
The “Unfinished” symphony (the two extant movements) was first performed in public, conducted by Johann Herbeck, on 17 December 1865 at Vienna’s Reduta, with the critics lauding it as a “pearl of rare beauty”. The first movement is opened by cellos and double-basses, which are joined by other strings, with the theme appearing in the thirteenth bar, as delivered by oboes and clarinets. The secondary theme is a stylised derivation of an Austrian country dance, the Ländler. Following a dramatic development, the repetition brings back the mood of the exposition. The second movement, akin to the first in terms of atmosphere, is made up of two thematic areas, variations of two-bar motifs. Comparison between the completed movements and the sketch of the Scherzo reveals a discrepancy that was not possible (nor necessary) to arch over, as Schubert himself evidently realised. That which he expressed in the two movements comes across as a self-contained whole.
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