The American composer of Czech origin Tomáš Svoboda (*1939) studied composition at the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. From there, he and his entire family emigrated to the USA in 1964 for political reasons. Thereafter, he completed his studies at the University of Southern California under the instruction of Ingolf Dahl and Halsey Stevens. Of his over two hundred compositions, his Overture of the Season Op. 89 (1978) is the best known and most frequently played. It was commissioned by the Oregon Symphony, and it has been played by most of the leading orchestras of North America, Europe, and Japan (including, to name just a few, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony, where Libor Pešek conducted the piece).
The soloists Jan Mráček and Radek Baborák will be presenting themselves to the Prague Spring public playing the Concerto for Violin and Horn by the British composer Ethel Smyth (1858–1944). A native of London who chose the career of a composer although her family objected, she studied composition at the Leipzig Conservatory. Just a year after beginning her studies, however, she decided to leave because of disappointment with the school environment, and she continued her studies privately with Heinrich von Herzogenberg. In addition, she soon became a part of the artistic circles of Leipzig society, among whom she found a number of supporters, including Brahms, Grieg, Joachim, and Clara Schumann. She did not return to her British homeland until ten years later, and she struggled to gain recognition for her work almost until the time of her death. Smyth’s Concerto for Violin and Horn (1927) is from her late creative period, during which she discovered a new, more lyrical language, but she was later prevented from further developing her style because of deafness.
The Symphony No. 4 Op. 29 (“The Inextinguishable”) by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865–1931) dates from 1914–1916, and it comes from what was a difficult period for the composer in many respects. The war, in which Nielsen’s native Denmark chose to remain neutral, raised a number of questions in the composer’s mind concerning his identity, and he was facing crises in both his professional and personal life that were very difficult to resolve. These circumstances led him to reflect on his own life, but also on life as such, and to wonder what it was that drove and motivated him to compose. His way forward ultimately turned out to be his Fourth Symphony. The composer explained the work’s subtitle in a brief explanatory comment in the introduction to the score: “Through the title ‘The Inextinguishable’, the composer has attempted to express in a single word that which music can express in all of its breadth: the elemental Will to Live. Music is life, and like life, it is inextinguishable.”
Jan Mráček is one of the greatest talents of the young generation of violinists. A graduate of the Prague Conservatory (Jiří Fišer) and a student at the prestigious Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna (Jan Pospíchal), he is a laureate of several international competitions (the Beethoven’s Hradec International Violin Competition, the Jaroslav Kocian International Violin Competition, and above all, the famed International Fritz Kreisler Competition in Vienna). He has collaborated with several leading orchestras (the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, the Janáček Philharmonic in Ostrava, and the Moravian Philharmonic in Olomouc), and he is also active in the area of chamber music.
The horn player and conductor Radek Baborák is one of the most remarkable figures in the world of classical music. After leaving the post of first horn with the Czech Philharmonic, he served from 1996 to 2006 as the solo horn player with the Munich Philharmonic, then in 2001 he signed an exclusive contract with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. The climax of his work as an orchestral player was his tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic during the 2003–2010 seasons. He has been a guest of a number of prestigious festivals (Salzburger Osterfestspiele, Pacific Music Festival, Suntory Hall Chamber Music Garden), and he is extraordinarily popular in Japan, where he has been giving concerts and making recordings regularly since 1994. He teaches at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and he appears regularly as a guest professor at the TOHO University in Tokyo and the Escuela superior de Musica Reina Sophia. He has led horn courses in Germany and Switzerland.
As part of a special Prague Spring series that gives young conductors at the beginning of their artistic careers an opportunity to present themselves against the top competition, Jonathon Heyward will be appearing this year. At the age of just twenty-three, he won the prestigious 54th-annual Besançon International Competition for Young Conductors in France. A graduate of the Boston Conservatory and the Royal Academy of Music, during the current season he is with the Hallé Orchestra as the assistant to the music director Sir Mark Elder. From 2012 to 2014 he held the same post in the opera department of the Boston Conservatory, where he had the opportunity to conduct a number of productions (La bohème, Die Zauberflöte, The Rape of Lucretia). In 2013 he became the youngest semifinalist in the Blue Danube International Opera Conducting Competition.
The Prague Symphony Orchestra is one of the leading Czech music ensembles with a remarkable tradition. Among the important Czech and foreign conductors who have stood at its helm have been Václav Smetáček, Jiří Bělohlávek, Petr Altrichter, and Serge Baudo, to name a few, and the orchestra had long periods of collaboration with Václav Neumann, Zdeněk Košler, and Vladimír Válek. Besides a number of internationally recognized guest conductors (Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, Sir Charles Mackerras) and soloists (Reneé Fleming, Mischa Maisky, Murray Perahia), the orchestra boasts extensive recording activities both for radio and television. On its frequent concert tours, it has been heard by audiences in most European countries, the United States, South America, and Asia. Its present principal conductor is Pietari Inkinen, whose inaugural concert with the orchestra took place at Prague Spring in May of 2015.
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