Czech Philharmonic on 11-city tour of the United States


Jiří Bělohlávek leads the Czech Philharmonic in the magnificent Dvořák Hall    Photo: Courtesy Czech Philharmonic website

The Czech Philharmonic begins an 11-city tour of the United States on November 4, six years after the orchestra’s last US visit. Led by Music Director Jiří Bělohlávek, the Philharmonic will appear in centres on both the West and East Coasts, the tour culminating in performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the National Cathedral in Washington DC. The featured guest artists are French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Czech violinist Josef Špaček and the Prague Philharmonic Choir and Soloists.

The performance in Washington’s National Cathedral on November 17th has a special significance, as it marks the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution which ended 41 years of Communist rule in Czechoslavakia and saw Vaclav Havel elected as President of the Czech Republic. The Philharmonic will play Dvořák’s Symphony No 9, From the New World, and Smetana’s Vltava (My Homeland), in a performance forming part of a wider celebration which also includes the unveiling of a bust of Vaclav Havel in the US Capitol Building.

The Czech Philharmonic has been in existence since June 7, 1894.  Initially founded as an organization “for the enhancement of musical art in Prague”, it was also a means of providing pensions for its musicians – who were members of the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague – and their widows and orphans. The orchestra gave its first concert on January 4, 1896, at the Rudolfinum cultural center in Prague, under the baton of Antonin Dvořák, with a performance of three of the conductor’s own works – the third Slavonic Rhapsody, the world premiere of Biblical Songs Nos. 1-5, the Othello overture, and his New World Symphony.


Maestro Bělohlávek with the Czech Philharmonic Photo: Courtesy Czech Philharmonic website

Until 1901, the Philharmonic was little more than what was referred to as “a noble outlet for the leisure time activities of the musicians of the National Theatre”, who were committed to giving at least four large symphonic concerts each year. In February of 1901, following a disagreement with the head of the National Theatre Opera, the musicians were dismissed, so they established the Czech Philharmonic as a self-standing symphony orchestra, with Ludvík Vítězkav Čelanský as its first Chief Conductor.

The fledgling orchestra wasn’t short of impressive guest conductors – Edvard Grieg led the orchestra for a performance in April 1903, and Gustav Mahler conducted the world premiere of his Symphony No 7 in 1908. In later years, marking auspicious occasions, a rehearsal for Josef Suk’s new work, Zráni was taking place on the day that Czechoslovakia declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (October 28, 1918), Igor Stravinsky, appeared as piano soloist in 1930 for a concert in honor of the 80th birthday of Tomáš Masaryk (President of the First Czechoslovak Republic), Rafael Kubelík, at the age of 19, made his first appearance with the orchestra in autumn 1941, (he later became Chief Conductor), Karel Ančerl led the Philharmonic in the Czechoslovak premiere of Bohuslav Martinů’s Symphony No 6 in February 1956, and in May 1966, Darius Milhaud conducted his Music for Prague.

Amongst the numerous awards and nominations received by the Czech Philharmonic are ten Grands Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles-Cros, five Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie française, several Cannes Classical Awards, a position in Gramophone’s Top 20 Best Orchestras in the World (2008), as well as nominations for Grammy and Gramophone Awards.


The Rudolfinum cultural centre in Prague Photo: Courtesy Czech Philharmonic website

The Rudolfinum is still home to the Philharmonic. It houses the Dvořák Hall, one of the world’s most beautiful concert halls, and is also the centre for the ensemble’s new Orchestral Academy. Founded in 1885 as a multipurpose cultural facility, the Rudolfinum occupies a position central to artistic life in the Czech Republic, hosting concerts, exhibitions and education programmes – all of which are vital to the heritage of the nation.

Under Music Director Jiří Bělohlávek, the Czech Philharmonic is now entering its 119th season. Maestro Bělohlávek returned to the orchestra as its Chief Conductor in 2012, following an absence of 20 years, to resume a partnership which is considered to be amongst the most celebrated in the history of the Philharmonic.


Jiří Bělohlávek, Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic Photo: Courtesy Czech Philharmonic website

During his career, Jiří Bělohlvek has conducted performances in the major opera houses of the world, and, from 1995, served as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra for five years. He was appointed its Chief Conductor in 2006, conducted the orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms in 2007 and again in 2010, and in 2012 was given an honorary CBE for services to music by H M Queen Elizabeth II. His list of recordings is extensive, and he was the first conductor since Herbert von Karajan to receive the Gramophone Award for Orchestral Recording two years running.

Perhaps the most auspicious achievement by Maestro Bčlohlávek and the Philharmonic has been the recording, between 2012 and 2014, of the complete symphonies and concertos of Antonin Dvořák on the Decca label. A documentary, Sketches of Dvořák, by renowned arts director Barbara Willis Sweete, has recently been released, covering the recording of these works. It features live performances, studio work and interviews with Maestro Bělohlávek, the musicians, administration and surviving members of Antonin Dvořák’s family.

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Jean-Yves Thibaudet Photo: Decca – Kasskara

French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet has been a much sought-after performer on the concert stages of the world for the past 30 years. Elegant and stylish, and possessing an enviable combination of technical expertise and musical sensitivity, Mr Thibaudet has a repertoire which ranges from the classics to jazz to scores for film and television, drawing reviews such as “A virtuoso with pronounced musical depth” (Los Angeles Times), “Elegance, color, and imagination” (The New York Times) and “Sensitivity and effortless virtuosity are the hallmarks of his style” (The Sunday Times, London). On this tour, he will perform the only work on the programme not by a Czech composer – the Liszt Piano Concerto No 2.


Violinist Josef Špaček Photo: Martin Kabát

The violin soloist, Josef Špaček, is also concert master of the Czech Philharmonic. Described as one of the most talented virtuosos of his generation, he has performed with orchestras in Europe, the US and Asia, and as a recitalist at music festivals around the world. Following his appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philadelphia Enquirer wrote of “his high-charisma playing …. fueled by priceless musical comprehension”.

The Prague Philharmonic Choir, led by principal conductor Lukáš Vasilek, is a professional choral ensemble of almost 70 members with a history, going back 80 years, of performing and recording all over the world. It collaborates with renowned orchestras and conductors of the international music scene, and is regarded as one of the most popular choirs in Europe.


The Prague Philharmonic Choir Photo: Petra Hajska

Full details of the Czech Philharmonic’s US itinerary and programmes can be found on:


Czech Philharmonic

Jiří Bělohlávek

Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Josef Špaček

Prague Philharmonic Choir

Barbara Willis Sweete


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Bolshoi opens season of world cinema broadcasts with Grigorovich ballet


‘The Legend of Love’ – Svetlana Zakharova as Queen Mekhmene Banu Photo: Damir Yusupov

A new season of worldwide cinema screenings from the Bolshoi Ballet opens on October 26th with a revival of Yuri Grigorovich’s The Legend of Love, the work that confirmed an entirely new approach to classical ballet in Russia, and set a trend for its future development.

Regarded as one of the most outstanding Russian choreographers of the 20th century, the enigmatic but brilliant Grigorovich dominated Russian ballet for over 30 years.  He choreographed A Legend of Love for the then Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet) in 1961, following his first creation for the Company – The Stone Flower, written in 1957 – which was acknowledged as an unqualified success, and also gave an indication of the path which Grigorovich was to pursue.

Yuri Grigorovich joined the Kirov Ballet straight from the Leningrad Ballet School (now the Vaganova Russian Ballet Academy), rapidly rising to the position of lead dancer, which he held for 18 years.  In 1961, he gave up his dancing career to concentrate on choreography, but within  three years he fell foul of Konstantin Sergeev, artistic director and choreographer of the Kirov, who vehemently opposed any drastic changes.

Fortunately for him – and for Russian ballet – Grigorovich was appointed chief choreographer of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1964, an appointment which heralded some of the greatest artistic achievements by the Company.  As its Director, Grigorovich established a position of international authority for the Bolshoi Ballet, initiating over 90 tours during his 30-year tenure, and taking the widely acknowledged brilliance of its dancers to the stages of the world.


Anna Nikulana as Princess Shyrin Photo: Mikhail Logvinov

The Legend of Love returns to the Bolshoi stage after a long absence from the Company’s performance repertoire – the premiere of this major revival having taken place at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on October 23rd.  With a Middle Eastern setting, the ballet tells of the conflict between its two heroines – Queen Mekhmene Banu and her younger sister, Princess Shyrin – who is dying.  To save her sister, the Queen is instructed by a stranger to sacrifice her beauty to Princess Shyrin, which she does out of love for her, but when both sisters fall in love with the same man – the court painter Ferkhad – Queen Mekhmene Banu realises that without her beauty, she cannot win his heart.  This sets in train a sequence of events involving jealousy, forbidden love and heartbreak.

Bolshoi principal dancer, Svetlana Zakharova dances the role of the Queen, leading Bolshoi soloist, Anna Nikulina, is Princess Shyrin, Ferkhad is danced by Denis Rodkin, and the Vizir by Vitaly Biktimirov.


Svetlana Zakharova as Queen Mekhmene Banu and members of the Bolshoi Ballet Photo: Damir Yusupov

The Legend of Love is set to a score by Azerbaijani composer, Arif Melikov, libretto is by Turkish poet and writer Nazym Hikmet and Yuri Grigorovich, design is by Simon Virsaladze and the Music Director is Pavel Sorokin.

The first of seven HD productions by the Bolshoi this season, The Legend of Love is brought to the cinema screen by BY Experience and Pathe Live. Tickets are now on sale for all seven productions – The Pharaoh’s Daughter on November 23, La Bayadere on December 7, The Nutcracker on December 21, Swan Lake on January 25, 2015, Romeo and Juliet on March 8, and Ivan the Terrible on April 19.  They can be bought at participating cinemas or at, where complete listings of theatres and schedules can be found, as well as more information on the productions, cast lists and exclusive videos.

Bolshoi Ballet

Svetlana Zakharova

Anna Nikulina 

Denis Rodkin

Vitaly Biktimirov

Nazym Hikmet

Arif Melikov

Simon Virsaladze

Pavel Sorokin



Bolshoi Ballet



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‘On the Town’ lights up Broadway once again


On the Town has just opened on Broadway, and it’s clear that the Lyric Theatre on West 42nd Street is the place to be for what the critics are calling “a helluva show”.

“An exuberant, dazzling revival … with big, crowd-pleasing dance numbers, lavish and clever visuals and superb performances from a massive cast”, says Associated Press.  “Takes your breath away – as fresh as first sunlight” writes The New York Times.  The Wall Street Journal refers to it as “Everything a great show should be”, the Daily News describes the revival of this American classic as “a love song to New York City with a great cast, classic score by Leonard Bernstein and wonderful dancing”, while NBC New York calls it “a joyous production that’ll make you want to fall in love with the city — and musical theater — all over again”.

Convinced?  It seems you should be, for not only was the original 1944 production created by the combined brilliance of Leonard Bernstein (music) and Jerome Robbins (choreography), with scenic design by Oliver Smith, and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, but for this production, director John Rando (Tony Award® for Urinetown) has assembled a cast and creative team with a wealth of awards and accolades between them.


Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck and Clyde Alves

The three sailors are played by Tony Yazbeck (Gypsy, A Chorus Line), Jay Armstrong Johnson (The New York Philharmonic’s Sweeney Todd, Hands On A Hardbody, Hair), and Clyde Alves (Bullets Over Broadway, Nice Work If You Can Get It).

Megan Fairchild (Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet, making her musical comedy debut), Alysha Umphress (American Idiot) and Elizabeth Stanley (Company) are the women who steal their hearts, and Jackie Hoffman (Hairspray, Xanadu) takes the role of Madame Dilly.


Megan Fairchild (Ivy Smith) and Jackie Hoffman (Madame Dilly)

Scenic design and projection is by Tony Award® winner Beowulf Boritt (Act One, Chaplin, Rock of Ages), lighting by Drama Desk nominee Jason Lyons (Bring it On, Rock of Ages), costumes by Tony Award® winner Jess Goldstein (Newsies, Jersey Boys, The Rivals), sound by Tony® nominee Kai Harada (Follies, Million Dollar Quartet), and hair and makeup by Leah Loukas (A Night with Janis Joplin, Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike).  The producers are Howard & Janet Kagan (Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess).

The score of On the Town features standards such as New York, New York, I Can Cook Too, Lonely Town, and Some Other Time – played in this production with their original orchestrations, and performed by the largest orchestra on Broadway – 28 musicians led by musical director James Moore (Follies, Ragtime).

On the Town is based on Jerome Robbins’ 1944 ballet, Fancy Free, which he choreographed for American Ballet Theatre to a score by Leonard Bernstein.  It tells of three young sailors on 24 hours’ shore leave in New York, eager to experience everything that the big city has to offer  – while (as Robbins said) “hanging over them all the time is this war, this catastropohic fierceness going on”, * to which they know they’ll need to return when they ship out of Brooklyn Navy Yard the following day.


Clyde Alves, Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and the cast of ‘On the Town’

The musical opened at Broadway’s Adelphi Theater later that year, directed by George Abbott, and it played through February 2, 1946, for a total of 462 performances, transferring to the 44th Street Theatre and Martin Beck Theatre along the way.

Designer Oliver Smith was quoted as saying that On the Town “wasn’t about three sailors, it was about the enormous love each of us felt for New York … the place where anything could happen, where two cabaret comics [Betty Comden and Adolphe Green] could write a Broadway show, where a musical arranger [Leonard Bernstein] could conduct the New York Philharmonic, where a corset-cutter’s son from Weehawken [Jerome Robbins] could metamorphose from chorus boy to choreographer” * – which probably tells you all you need to know about why the show has a special place in the heart of the city.

On the Town is playing at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre (213 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). Tickets are available at, and more information can be found by visiting


Jay Armstrong Johnson, Alysha Umphress, Tony Yazbeck, Elizabethe Stanley and Clyde Alves



Megan Fairchild and the cast of ‘On the Town’


Megan Fairchild and members of the cast


All photographs © Joan Marcus


Leonard Bernstein

Jerome Robbins

Oliver Smith

Betty Comden and Adolph Green

John Rando


*  Source:  Somewhere – The Life of Jerome Robbins by Amanda Vaill


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