In August 2014, the Czech Philharmonic orchestra will perform at the Edinburgh International Festival and festivals in Wiesbaden, Germany and Montreaux, Switzerland. At the concerts, the orchestra with its Chief conductor Jiří Bělohlávek will be joined by cellist Alisa Weilerstein, violinist Nicola Benedetti and mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink.
Bernarda Fink, daughter of Slovenian parents, was born in Buenos Aires and received her vocal and musical education at the Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón where she performed frequently.
Bernarda Fink is one of the most sought-after singers in concerts and recitals. She has been acclaimed for her musical versatility and invited by the leading orchestras and conductors in Europe and America. Her repertoire ranges from ancient music up to music of the 20th century. She frequently appears with such well-known orchestras as the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Staatskapelle Berlin and Dresden, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as with the best-known Baroque orchestras under such famous conductors as Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Blomstedt, Semyon Bychkov, Riccardo Chailly, Sir Colin Davis, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Valery Gergiev, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, René Jacobs, Mariss Jansons, Riccardo Muti, Sir Roger Norrington, Trevor Pinnock, Georges Prêtre, Sir Simon Rattle and Franz Welser-Möst.
Bernarda Fink has appeared to widespread critical acclaim in Argentina and at the most important opera houses in Europe. Recent highlights were the roles of Cecilio (Lucio Silla) at the Theater an der Wien, Idamante (Idomeneo) at the Teatro Real in Madrid, and Irene (Theodora) at the Salzburg Festival. She also sang Sesto (La clemenza di Tito) and Idamante in concert versions, both of which were recorded and highly praised.
Bernarda Fink regularly appears in recital at the Wiener Musikverein and Konzerthaus, Schubertiade Schwarzenberg, Berlin Philharmonie, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Edinburgh Festival, Carnegie and Alice Tully Hall in New York. Furthermore, Bernarda Fink performed Dvořák and Janáček songs together with the Pavel Haas Quartett at Londons Wigmore Hall, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, in Den Haag and in Madrid.
Highlights of the 2015/2016 season included Schmidtʼs Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln with Manfred Honeck, Debussyʼs Pelleas et Mélisande / Geneviève with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic in a semi-staged version by Peter Sellars in Berlin and with the LSO in London, Mahlerʼs Third Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra as well as Mahlerʼs Second Symphony with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Daniel Harding.
Bernarda Fink regularly holds master classes at the Wiener Meisterkurse, the Young Singers Project (YSP) in Salzburg, the Academy of the Festival in Aix-en-Provence, and the Schubert-Institute in Baden (near Vienna). She was also on the jury of the International Song Competition of London Wigmore Hall, Das Lied Song Competition in Berlin and the Bach Wettbewerb Leipzig and as expert at the BBC Cardiff Singers of the World.
Bernarda Fink has made numerous highly acclaimed recordings. Her discography comprises more than 50 releases, ranging from Monteverdi and Rameau to Schubert and Bruckner and Schumann. Many of them have been awarded coveted prizes such as the Diapason d’Or or the Grammy. Bernarda Fink has a close collaboration with Harmonia Mundi. In 2006, Bernarda Fink was awarded the Austrian Honorary Medal for Art and Science by the Austrian Chancellor and in 2013, together with her brother Marcos Fink, the most prestigious cultural award of Slovenia sponsored by the Prešeren-foundation for their recording Slovenija! and the related concerts. In September 2014 she received the title of Österreichische Kammersängerin.
“A young cellist whose emotionally resonant performances of both traditional and contemporary music have earned her international recognition, … Weilerstein is a consummate performer, combining technical precision with impassioned musicianship.” So stated the MacArthur Foundation when awarding Alisa Weilerstein a 2011 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. An exclusive recording artist for Decca Classics since 2010, she is the first cellist to be signed by the prestigious label in more than 30 years.
For her first album on the Decca label, Weilerstein recorded the Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin. The disc was named “Recording of the Year 2013” by BBC Music. Her second Decca release, on which she plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, topped the U.S. classical chart. Weilerstein released her fifth album on Decca in September 2016, playing Shostakovich’s two cello concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Pablo Heras-Casado, in performances recorded live the previous season.
Weilerstein has appeared with all the foremost orchestras of the United States and Europe, collaborating with conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Christoph Eschenbach, Alan Gilbert, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Yuri Temirkanov, and David Zinman. Her major career milestones include an emotionally tumultuous account of Elgar’s concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim in Oxford, England, for the orchestra’s 2010 European Concert, which was televised live and subsequently released on DVD by EuroArts. Other highlights of that time include her debut at the BBC Proms in 2010.
Committed to expanding the cello repertoire, Weilerstein is an ardent champion of new music. She gave the New York premiere of Matthias Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus, and has worked extensively with Osvaldo Golijov, who rewrote Azul for cello and orchestra (originally premiered by Yo-Yo Ma) for her New York premiere performance. At the 2008 Caramoor Festival, she gave the world premiere of Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violoncello and Piano with the composer at the keyboard. Joseph Hallman, a 2014 Grammy Award nominee, has also written multiple works for Weilerstein.
Weilerstein has appeared at major music festivals throughout the world, including Aspen, Edinburgh, Jerusalem Chamber Music, La Jolla Summer Fest, Mostly Mozart, Salzburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Tanglewood, and Verbier. In addition to her appearances as a soloist and recitalist, Weilerstein performs regularly as a chamber musician. She has been part of a core group of musicians at the Spoleto Festival USA for the past eight years and also performs with her parents, Donald and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein, as the Weilerstein Trio.
The cellist is the winner of both Lincoln Center’s 2008 Martin E. Segal prize for exceptional achievement and the 2006 Leonard Bernstein Award. She received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2000 and was selected for two prestigious young artists programs in the 2000/2001 season.
A graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Richard Weiss, the cellist also holds a degree in history from Columbia University. In 2008, Weilerstein, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was nine, became a Celebrity Advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
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.
The second composition from Dvořák’s legacy to be heard tonight is Biblical Songs Op. 99, which came into being during his second year on the American continent. Dvořák was homesick, and so he sought solace in the Holy Scripture. In the beginning of March 1894 it got reflected in his work when in just three weeks he set to music David’s Book of Psalms in the Czech translation of the Bible of Kralice. Dvořák apparently worked with its edition of 1863, published on the occasion of “the millennial celebrations of the conversion of the Slavs to the Christian faith,” as stated in its subtitle. Dvořák mentioned “Ten songs after David’s Psalms from the Holy Bible” to Simrock for the first time in his letter from April 1894, followed by another letter in the same month in which Dvořák described Biblical Songs as the best thing he had hitherto created in this area. And he was right. In addition to Dvořák’s typical music, they consist of a number of elements occurring in his other compositions of his “American period”, including pentatonic scales or other interesting features characteristic of African-American music. In Biblical Songs Dvořák also masterfully coped with the problem of a song based on free, almost prosaic verse of the Psalms. The seemingly simple structure of individual songs surprises by original harmonies and remarkable vocal lines ranging from ascetically simple declamation of the text to a broad lyrical cantilena.
In June 1924 Leoš Janáček heard a military band concert at a colonnade in Písek, South Bohemia, where among other compositions the band played fanfares. They made a considerable impression on him and remained in his memory until early 1926, when he was commissioned to compose a musical salute to the 8th Sokol Gymnastic Festival in Prague. At first Janáček intended to write a fanfare only, but the piece soon grew into an original symphonic work in five movements. The Czech Sokol Organization accepted the composition and put it on the cultural program of the festival, deciding that the fanfare is to be trumpeted from the tower of the Týn Church during the closing march of the Sokols through Prague.
In retrospective Janáček gave the Sinfonietta the content related to Brno. Under this concept, the second movement after the fanfares represents Špilberk Castle, the third, the monastery in Old Brno, the fourth, Brno’s bustling street life, and the final fifth refers to its town hall.
Sinfonietta has a closed circular form and as regards the tectonics, combines elements of suite and symphony. It opens with a pentatonic fanfare intrada played by nine C trumpets, two bass trumpets and two tenor tubas in the Allegretto tempo. The second movement, Andante, has the elements of sonata form. It features impressive motifs, fresh rhythms and a large number of orchestral colors. The third movement, Moderato, begins quietly with a lyrical theme in the strings, followed by a motif passed on successively to English horn, oboe and violin. The dark syncopated motif of trombones is joined in a high pitch by flutes and piccolos. Then a trombone plays a picturesque dance-like tune and the movement closes with a syncopated theme in the trombones. The fourth movement, Allegretto, has a character of scherzo. Its introductory (and really only) theme is constantly repeated in the woodwind instruments with contrasting interventions of the orchestra. The melancholy music in the flutes at the beginning of the final movement, Andante con moto, is punctuated by dramatic chords of the strings. After another exciting passage in the higher strings, the trumpets play verbatim in unison the opening intrada (actually a retirada now) from the first movement.
At the concert tonight, Sinfonietta will be performed for the first time from a new critical edition, prepared for Universal Edition by the musicologist Jiří Zahrádka from Brno.
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.
Symphony No. 7 in A major Op. 92, completed in 1812, represents atonement and a levelling of the different poles reflected in the dramatic Symphony No. 5 and the joyous Symphony No. 6. Beethoven’s contemporaries sought a “programme” back in the Third, Fifth and Sixth,and the Seventh too was subject to additional interpretations. Wagner branded it an “apotheosis of dance”, Beethoven’s biographer Herriot saw in it the composer’s retreat to intoxicating pleasure, while the philosopher Nietzsche sought in the music the secret of the origin of art.
The first sketches of Op. 92 date from 1806, yet Beethoven only began intensively dedicating to its composition in October 1811. In April of the next year, he drew up the definitive version of the score. Even though this period was a far from easy one, Beethoven imbued Symphony No. 7 with music teeming with joy and vital energy. The Allegretto of the second movement, however, seems to be from a different world, with the three-part form of the theme with variations in marching rhythm comprising something grievous and thus within the context of the other movements becoming the ideational centre of the entire piece. In its time, the gradated finale came across as the greatest surprise. The Symphony in A major was first performed in public on 8 December 1813.
In 1892 Dvořák accepted an invitation to the United States for three years and became the director of the National Conservatory in New York. After a short stay overseas, in the winter of 1893 he started working on his new Symphony No. 9 in E minor ‘From the New World’. This composition was conceived in order to prove Dvořák’s theory regarding the use of the characteristic elements of African-American and Native-American music for the emergence of the ‘American national school’, which did not exist at the time of Dvořák’s sojourn in the United States. Experts have debated for more than one hundred years about whether Dvořák used in his symphony specific tunes of Negro songs or not. Dvořák himself gave an ambiguous answer to this question. Once he said, “I’m just finishing a new Sinfonia in E minor. Well, everyone who has instincts must feel the influence of America.” At another time he made a seemingly contradictory statement: “It has been and always will be Czech music.” Another question is to what extent Dvořák could really get to know American music during such a short period of his stay in America, and how much he actually wished to create something for America, which in the beginning treated him so generously and which was certainly very fascinating for him. Structurally, the Ninth Symphony has a very precise, almost textbook form of individual movements. Subconsciously, however, Dvořák must have “quoted” at least one of the familiar tunes since the theme of the first movement is noticeably reminiscent of the Negro spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot. The second movement, Largo, might have been inspired by The Song of Hiawatha, while the third movement of the symphony has, according to Dvořák, “something of the Indian character”. In the final fourth movement Dvořák has combined all the themes of the symphony. This perfect management of form in connection with imaginative melodies, harmonies and instrumentation mastery form together a truly unique work of genius. Finally, let us quote from The New York Times in 1893: “We Americans should thank and honor the Bohemian master who has shown us how to build our national school of music.”
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