The 1989 Velvet Revolution – in what was then Czechoslavakia – marked the non-violent nationwide protest movement in November and December of that year, which ended more than 40 years of communist rule in the country. To commemorate this event, the Czech Philharmonic under Principal Conductor Jakub Hrůša, performs Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2, with Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček stepping in as soloist for Yuja Wang who was scheduled to appear, but has had to withdraw due to illness. Also on the programme are Leoš Janáček’s Suite for Orchestra and Witold Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra.
Also Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Jakub Hrůša is a frequent guest of many of the world’s finest orchestras – such as the Berlin and New York philharmonics, the Chicago Symphony and the Royal Concertgebouw, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Mahler Chamber and Cleveland orchestras. Maestro Hrůša has recently made successful debuts with the Vienna Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Orchestre de Paris, and NHK Symphony. He also regularly appears with the Glyndebourne Festival, and has led performances of Carmen at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, The Makropulos Case at the Vienna State and Zurich operas, and Rusalka at the Opéra National de Paris.
Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček, described by The Straits Times as “…. the master of perfectly voiced textures”, has appeared in concert across the world with orchestras such as the Tasmanian, Sydney and Tokyo Metropolitan symphony orchestras, the Frankfurt Symphony Radio Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Oslo and Netherlands philharmonic orchestras. Having recently made his debut with the Chicago, Pittsburgh and London symphony orchestras, he will this season add the Los Angeles Philharmonic to this list.
Also a keen recitalist, Mr Vondráček has performed at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, the Wiener Konzerthaus and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and will this season perform at the Rudolf Firkusny Piano Festival at Prague’s Rudolfinum and the Kissinger Summer Festival. He also continues his residency with the Janáček Philharmonic and his recording cycle of all Rachmaninoff piano concertos with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 18, is surely one of the most popular works in the piano repertoire, but fiendishly difficult to play, and tackled only by the most skilful pianists. The work had a highly successful premiere in Moscow on 9th November, 1901, with the composer himself as soloist. This was a particularly important event, since it was the first work which Rachmaninoff had composed following the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony in 1897, and a period of deep depression for the composer. The work is dedicated to Russian neurologist and musician Dr Nicolai Dahl who enabled Rachmaninoff to begin composing once more.
Leoš Janáček’s Suite for Orchestra, Op 3, was composed in the year 1891, but wasn’t premiered until 23rd September, 1928, after the composer’s death. That performance was given by the combined Prague and Brno radio orchestras towards the culmination of the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture, which was held to mark first successful decade of the existence of Czechoslavakia as an independent state. The delightful Orchestral Suite is referred to as belonging to the group of folkloristic works which Janáček wrote – a theme particularly evident in the adagio, in which a characteristically Moravian melody can be heard, one which the composer is said to have used in a number of other compositions.
The Concerto for Orchestra by Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski is another work which has drawn inspiration from folk melodies – in this case from Polish folklore. In 1950, Lutoslawksi was commissioned by conductor Witold Rowicki to compose a piece based on folk material for the Warsaw National Philharmonic which Rowicki had founded that same year. What started out as simply a piece of music, ended up four years later as a full three-movement composition, described by Gramophone magazine as “…. an exuberantly inventive” showpiece, and “.… sheerly enjoyable” orchestral showpiece. It premiered in November 1954 in a performance led by Witold Rowicki.
Jakub Hrůša leads the Czech Philharmonic in a programme of works by Rachmaninoff – with guest artist Lukáš Vondráček – Janáček and Lutoslawski, in the Dvořák Hall at the Prague Rudolfinum, on 17th and 18th November. Tickets may be booked online.
Information sourced from:
Czech Philharmonic programme notes