In February 2015, the Czech Philharmonic will visit four concert halls in Spain. Lead by its Chief Conductor Jiří Bělohlávek and joined by widely-acclaimed Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk, the orchestra will perform pieces by Abril, Schumann, Strauss and Dvořák.
Truls Mørk’s compelling performances, combining fierce intensity, integrity and grace, have established him as one of the most pre-eminent cellists of our time. He has appeared with orchestras including the Orchestre de Paris, Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Staatskapelle Dresden, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras amongst others. Conductor collaborations include Myung-Whun Chung, Mariss Jansons, Manfred Honeck, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gustavo Dudamel, Sir Simon Rattle, Kent Nagano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and Christoph Eschenbach.
Truls Mørk continues to give regular recitals at major venues and festivals throughout the world. As part of the 2011 Bergen International Festival he performed the complete Beethoven Cello Sonatas over two evenings, together with the Variations for cello and piano – last presented at the Festival in this format by Jacqueline du Pré in 1970. Truls Mørk is a committed performer of contemporary music and in spring 2012 gave the UK premiere of Rautavaara’s Towards the Horizon with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Other premieres have included Pavel Haas’ Cello Concerto with the Wiener Philharmoniker (under Jonathan Nott), Krzysztof Pendereckiʼs Concerto for Three Cellos with the NHK Symphony Orchestra (Charles Dutoit) and Haflidi Hallgrimsson’s Cello Concerto, co-commissioned by the Oslo Philharmonic, Iceland Symphony and Scottish Chamber orchestras.
Rautavaara’s Towards the Horizon was recorded for Ondine with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under John Storgårds and nominated for a Grammy Award. Mørk’s recording of the highly acclaimed Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Cello Concerti disc for Virgin Classics with Les Violons du Roy under Bernard Labadie was awarded a 2011 ECHO Klassik Award. Other recordings include the Brahms Double Concerto with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Riccardo Chailly and Vadim Repin on Deutsche Grammophon, and Haflidi Hallgrímssonʼs works for cello and orchestra for Ondine. For Virgin Classics, amongst others he has also recorded Schumannʼs Cello Concerto with Paavo Järvi and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the complete Bach Cello Suites as well as the Britten Cello Suites, which won a Grammy Award in 2002. His recordings also include the Shostakovich Concertos with the Oslo Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko, works for cello and orchestra by Massenet with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Saint-Saëns Concertos together with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, both under baton of Neeme Järvi.
During the 2018/19 season engagements will include the San Francisco Symphony, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Bayerisches Staatsoper, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich. Following his appearance at the 2018 Baltic Sea Festival performing Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto (2016), also conducted by the composer, Truls Mørk will play the work again with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Salonen in London, and on tour to the US including the Lincoln Center in New York and CAL Performances in Berkeley. He continues to give regular recitals at major venues and festivals throughout the world. He has recently developed a collaboration with Behzod Abduraimov which will see them perform on tour in the US and Europe.
Initially taught by his father, Truls Mørk continued his studies with Frans Helmerson, Heinrich Schiff and Natalia Schakowskaya. His numerous awards include the Norwegian Critics’ Prize in 2011 and the 2010 Sibelius Prize. Truls Mørk holds a Professorship at the Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo. Truls Mørk plays on the rare 1723 Domenico Montagnana ‘Esquire’. It was bought by a bank in Norway (SR Bank), and is on loan to him.
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.
Composing the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor Op. 129 was preceded by the Schumann family moving again, this time to Düsseldorf, where in September 1850 Robert Schumann assumed the post of music director responsible for the operation of the orchestra, choir and church performances. At the time, he was going through a happy period, which reflected in the mood of the cello concerto. Written within two weeks in October 1850, its three movements make up a lyrical musical poem with palpable motivic relations. Although Schumann did not live to see its first public presentation (1860), the piece was a success and would establish itself on concert stages. Within the context of the composer’s oeuvre, it ranks beside the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor, which was premiered by his wife, the outstanding pianist Clara Schumann Wieck.
Strauss composed his most famous opera, Der Rosenkavalier, in 1913 as a huge waltz fantasy and indeed as a critique of the metropolitan, elegant, hedonistic life-style, the musical expression of which is the Viennese waltz of the Strauss name. However, according to all indications the arrangement of the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier is the work of the conductor Artur Rodziński, who also conducted its premiere with the New York Philharmonic. From the orchestral introduction, the composition presents an unbroken succession of the key scenes and personalities of the characters and their relationships, replacing vocal with instrumental parts. Brought to an ecstatic climax, it continues and concludes with one of the many waltzes.
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.
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