In April 2015, the Czech Philharmonic with the Chief Conductor Jiří Bělohlávek will tour six cities of the United Kingdom.
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 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.
Future highlights include return visits to the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI Torino and James Conlon and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht, as well as debuts with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo and Tomáš Netopil, the Orchestre Philharmonique du Capitole de Toulouse and Thomas Søndergård, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra and Christian Vasquez, the Sønderjylland Symphony Orchestra and Johannes Wildner and the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen and Adrien Perruchon. Highlights in 2016 included subscription concerts with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Valery Gergiev, 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 the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto and Gerard Korsten, as well as recital debuts in among others Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and La Jolla, San Diego. He also was the soloist of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek during their Asia tour.
Josef Špaček 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.
In addition to the aforementioned orchestras, Josef Špaček makes solo appearances with orchestras across Europe, the US and Asia, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Essener Philharmoniker, Tonkünstlerorchester Niederösterreich, Orchestre National de Belgique, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga, Kansas City Symphony and Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
He collaborates with conductors such as Christoph Eschenbach, Manfred Honeck, Asher Fisch, Roy Goodman, Eliahu Inbal, Jun Märkl, Giordano Bellincampi, Tomáš Netopil, Marco Angius and Rossen Milanov.
Josef Špaček gives numerous recitals in Europe (including at the Konzerthaus in Vienna and at Schloß Elmau), Asia and the USA.
April 2015 saw the Supraphon CD release of his highly praised recording of the violin concertos of Dvořák and Janáček, and of the Fantasy of Suk, with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek (among others “Recording of the week” of The Sunday Times, “Recording of the month and of the year” of MusicWeb International and 5* in Diapason). In 2013 Supraphon released his recording of works for violin and piano by Smetana, Janáček and Prokofiev with pianist Miroslav Sekera.
Josef Špaček plays a violin made in 1855 in the workshop of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.
The mezzo-soprano Jana Hrochová (Wallingerová), née Štefáčková, studied at the Prague Conservatory with Jarmila Krásová, in 2001 taking private study with the soprano Natalia Romanová. In 1998 she came second at the Czech Conservatories Singing Contest.
In 2000 she was invited to join the opera company of the National Theatre in Brno. Guest performances have taken the young mezzo to a number of opera houses, such as Prague National Theatre, Prague State Opera, Plzeň, Ostrava, Olomouc, State Theatre Košice and Theatre Freiburg. Mrs Hrochová Wallingerováʼs concert activities are an essential part of her repertoire and have brought her together with some leading Czech orchestras. She works with conductors such as Serge Baudo, Gerd Albrecht, Ondrej Lenárd, Petr Altrichter, Jakub Hrůša, Tomáš Hanus, Jiří Bělohlávek and others. She is a regular guest at opera houses and concert stages outside the Czech Republic (Japan, Spain, Mexico, Greece, Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Italy). In 2011 she sang the alt-solo in Dvořákʼs Requiem mass at a state funeral of Václav Havel. The Brno National Theatre awarded her with DIVA 2005, 2008 and 2010 Award. In 2012 and 2013 she was nominated for the Thalia award. In the years 2011 and 2015 she recorded CDs of songs by Bohuslav Martinů for Naxos Records.
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 his extensive oeuvre, consisting of nearly one hundred opuses, German composer Max Bruch developed the legacy of great masters of Romantic music, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Robert Schumann. A native of Cologne, he lived a long life and was considered an important figure not only as a conductor in a number of German and British cultural centers, but also as a teacher at the Berlin Academy in the years 1891–1910. Time, however, proved relentless, and soon almost all of Bruch’s music – perhaps with some exceptions in the composer’s homeland – fell into oblivion. At the same time it has to be admitted that Bruch had perfectly mastered the art of composing. The best proof of this are his violin concertos which have remained part of the musical life up to this day.
Especially Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G minor Op. 26 of 1866 has made Bruch into something more than just an encyclopedia item. In this concerto Bruch manifested substantial creative talent at the early stage of his career. It is a composition of great melodic richness, youthful enthusiasm and spontaneous musical expression. Like many other composers of the time, Bruch dedicated this concerto to the famous violinist Joseph Joachim, whose instrumental virtuosity directly provoked Bruch to compose a grandiose brilliant piece, in which the performer could show off the maximum range of his violin art. The solo part is so ample that Bruch did not consider it necessary to compose a cadenza.
Gustav Mahler worked on his Second Symphony with interruptions for six years from 1888 to 1894. He started the composition as the Kapellmeister of the Royal Opera in Budapest, and continued after being appointed the first Kapellmeister at the Hamburg Opera. At that time, Mahler called on the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow to play a sketch of the first movement of his Second Symphony to him. Büllow was greatly impressed by Mahler and ranked him among the best contemporary conductors, but did not have faith in Mahler’s ambitions as a composer. Mahler had to devote most of his time and energy to the conducting of operas and orchestral concerts, and again postponed the composition of the symphony, the problem being the finale. However, Bülow’s death on 12 February 1894 liberated Mahler from his inhibitions; Bülow even gave him an impulse in a posthumous sense. A funeral service for Bülow was held in Hamburg’s St. Michael Church, which Mahler attended. The choir sang Die Auferstehung after Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock with accompaniment of organ and Mahler decided to use this text in the final movement; at first being reluctant because of his fear of being considered a Beethoven’s imitator.
The first movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony opens with deep tremolo of the strings, joined by the woodwinds, and slowly builds up the heroic main theme. The secondary theme of a ceremonious character appears also in the fugue of the final movement, framing the whole composition. The second movement has the character of a delicate Ländler and represents the remembrance of “the joyful times in the life of the deceased”. The third movement is based on Mahler’s setting of poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn – Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt [St. Anthony preaching to the fish]. The same applies to the fourth movement, in which Urlicht [Primeval Light], sung by an alto, calls for relief from worldly woes. The final fifth movement is based on Klopstock’s verses which Mahler adapted. The premiere of the Second Symphony took place under composerʼs baton on 4 March 1895 in Berlin, albeit without the vocal movements. Mahler presented the complete symphony in Berlin on 13 December 1895. Mahler was accused by some critics of lacking the fundamental prerequisite of a symphony composer, namely having control over its form, but the vocal sections were accepted with understanding and the final choral movement was greeted as the best part of the symphony. The conductor Bruno Walter later stated that “it was a day which marked Mahler’s rise”. The Prague premiere of Mahler’s Second Symphony took place on 18 December 1903 with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Oskar Nedbal with additional musicians from the orchestra of Prague’s Neues Deutsches Theater and the Prague Hlahol and Hlahol Vinohrady choirs.
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70,one of Antonín Dvořák’s masterworks, was written at the invitation of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, which made the composer an honorary member in 1884. At that time Dvořák already enjoyed in England the unshakeable position as one of the greatest living composers. In late November 1884, he completed the score of his cantata, The Spectre’s Bride, and since the Philharmonic Society planned to present the world premiere of Dvořák’s new symphony – to be conducted by the composer – as early as the spring of the next year, he quickly started work on it. He completed the opus within three months and on 22 April 1885 he could introduce it at a Philharmonic Society concert in St James’s Hall, London.
The dramatic, sombre atmosphere of the Seventh Symphony, rich in ideas and a masterpiece of form, is often put into the context of the Czech nation’s struggle for identity within the multinational Habsburg Empire. Even if we abstract from the possible connections with the social, cultural and political situations of the Czechs at the time, we see that the symphony’s message is readily intelligible as a general statement about human existence.
The opening movement – Allegro maestoso – unusually starts in pianissimo with a plaintive, gloomy main theme in violas and cellos. The auxiliary theme, in B flat major, brings a sudden change of atmosphere, but its clarity is soon disrupted: the internal struggle continues and the doubts are far from being dispelled. Despite an airy melody presented by the clarinet, the lyrical second movement gradually develops an increasingly urgent and agitated aspect. The third movement that follows – Scherzo – is perhaps the work’s best-known. It is distinguished by a strong rhythm in its main theme, but its carefree dance character is dampened both by the D minor tonality and a contrasting countermelody, adding a certain melancholy to its liveliness. Like the opening Allegro maestoso, the final movement is in sonata form. After a dramatic surge, the gloomy atmosphere lightens up – it is as if the conclusion, in D major, symbolised a firm determination and a convincing victory of the will.
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