The Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola in E flat major K 364 is the only work of its kind among the wealth of music composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). Although the exact circumstances of its composing are not known, the source of Mozart’s inspiration was probably the work of the Mannheim composers, whom he had encountered on his last concert tour around Europe. Based on the Baroque concerto grosso, the form served for presenting the artistic skill of multiple soloists, in this case violin and viola. In accordance with period tradition, the viola part was written a half step lower, with the expectation that the instrument would be retuned accordingly. At the age of 23, Mozart composed the work during one of the “interludes” in his life, returning to his father in his native Salzburg after a series of concert tours. There, as a violinist in the court ensemble, he interspersed his daily duties with the little pleasures of his bourgeois existence and dreamed of a life as a free-lance musician, something which he achieved two years later.
The second half of the programme will belong to the massive Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor Op. 113 (“Babi Yar”) by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). This vast vocal symphony in five movements provides musical settings for texts by the young poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (*1932), one of the leading critics of Stalinism, whose poetry was openly critical of Russian anti-Semitism. In conjunction with Shostakovich’s unusual vocal style, reminiscent in places of Orthodox plainchant, the work became a target of the authorities, who did all they could to prevent its premiere in 1962. For example, the Russian culture minister Kukharsky telephoned the conductor Kondrashin, asking him to cancel the concert, and an embargo was also placed on the texts, which were never allowed to be published. The symphony reached the outside world thanks to a recording of a repeat performance of the work two days later. That recording was smuggled to the West. The symphony is a part of a line of dramaturgy with the title “Prejudice, hindrance, persecution”, which winds its way through the programming for this year’s festival.
Jiří Bělohlávek began his illustrious career in 1968 by accepting a post as an assistant to the great Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache. As a winner of a national conducting competition (1970) and a finalist in the prestigious Herbert von Karajan Competition (1971), from 1972 to 1978 he was at the helm of the Brno Philharmonic and of the Prague Symphony Orchestra (1977–1990). In 1990 he became the principal conductor of the Czech Philharmonic for the first time, and he returned to that orchestra in 2012 after a long tenure with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. His noteworthy discography includes, among other things, a recently released complete set of the Dvořák symphonies (Decca). He is a winner of two prestigious Gramophone Awards and has the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire, which Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II conferred on him in 2012.
Jiří Vodička, a leading Czech violinist, is a graduate of the Institute of Arts Studies at the Ostrava University (Prof. Zdeněk Gola), to which he had been admitted at just 14 years of age. A laureate of a large number of Czech and international competitions (Beethoven’s Hradec, Louis Spohr International Violin Competition, Young Concert Artist), since 2002 he has been a soloist with the Janáček Philharmonic in Ostrava, and he also appears regularly with the Prague Philharmonia and the Prague Symphony Orchestra. As a member of the Smetana Trio, he is active in the realm of chamber music. He has been a concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic since September 2015.
Jakub Fišer graduated from the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He has been a successful participant at a number of international competitions (Beethoven’s Hradec, Kocián Violin Competition) and master classes (Shlomo Mintz, Stephen Shipps). He has been a concertmaster of the Prague Philharmonia and a guest concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern. In 2011 he received the Josef Hlávka Foundation Prize, and since 2013 he has played first violin in the Bennewitz Quartet.
The Lithuanian bass-baritone Kostas Smoriginas made his debut as Escamillo (Carmen) at the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin. He is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and of the Jett Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House in London, and he has also sung on stages including the Teatro alla Scala, Dreseden Semperoper, Washington National Opera, and San Francisco Opera. In his native Vilnius, he has appeared in a number of productions, foremost among which have been the title role in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Guglielmo in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. As a concert singer, he has collaborated with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, and many other orchestras.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir launched its activities in 1935 under the leadership of its founder Jan Kühn as the Prague Radiojournal Choir and later as the Czech Choir. At first an amateur ensemble, it became professional over time, and from 1953 to 1990 it was a part of the Czech Philharmonic. Besides collaborating with leading Czech and foreign orchestras (Czech Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, BBC Symphony), the choir has performed under the leadership of such eminent conductors as Daniel Barenboim, Sir Simon Rattle, and Pierre Boulez. Its large discography numbers over a hundred titles. The choir’s principal conductor since 2007 is Lukáš Vasilek.
The Kühn Choir of Prague has been part of the classical music scene for the past fifty years. The choir’s founder, Pavel Kühn, who had a profound influence on choral singing and the development of its ideal tone colour, worked with the ensemble continually for nearly forty-five years until his untimely death. The role of choirmaster was subsequently taken up by Jan Rozehnal who headed the choir for almost four concert seasons (2003-06). The choir is currently led by Marek Vorlíček. Under his direction the ensemble has also been organising its own series of choral concerts at the Czech Museum of Music since 2009. The Kühn Choir of Prague appointed Lenka Navrátilová as second choirmaster in 2014.
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