Felix Mendelssohn–Bartholdy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, Op. 21
Antonín Dvořák: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 53, B. 108
Georges Bizet: Symphony No. 1 in C Major
The concerts of the orchestra of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under the baton of its musical director, the violinist Joshua Bell, demonstrate a quality that can be regarded as first class in the context of chamber music. Since the death of its legendary chief conductor Neville Marriner, the orchestra has continued its rich history of recording with studio-quality performances. At the heart of their festival appearance will be a performance of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, which is a key repertoire item – it is a work that bears repeating when played by top artists. As a violinist and conductor, Bell takes a detailed approach. As he himself says, he persuades the orchestra to view even Beethoven’s symphonies as large string quartets. Besides Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, they will also give transparent performances of Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which intricate interplay alternates with moments of pure joy. The concert will conclude with Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C Major, his only work in the genre, which bears eloquent witness to the talent of the man who composed the passionate opera Carmen.
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields is a chamber orchestra founded in 1959 in London by conductor Neville Marriner, who was also its president until his death in 2016. The ensemble’s unusual name is taken from the London church where it gave its first public concerts. With its polished ensemble playing, perfection of style, and highly cultivated sound, during its more than 60 years of existence it has established itself as one of the world’s best chamber orchestras, and it has long been unparalleled in its interpretations of Mozart’s music, in particular. It gives concerts regularly across most of Europe, with illustrious conductors and soloists. One of the world’s most-recorded ensembles, it has more than 500 recordings to its credit on several different labels. Its best-selling album remains the soundtrack to Miloš Forman’s film Amadeus. Its present music director is the violin virtuoso, Joshua Bell.
The violinist Josef Špaček is one of the most prominent performers of his generation, and his playing is acclaimed for secure technique and virtuosity combined with distinctive expressiveness and a great range of tone colours. He studied violin first at the Prague Conservatoire, then at the age of 18 he was admitted to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and from 2009 he continued his studies at New York’s Juilliard School in the studio of Itzhak Perlman. From 2011 to 2020 he held the post of concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic, and in 2016 the orchestra appointed him as its artist-in-residence. He has made solo appearance at many important concerts halls of Europe, the USA, Japan, and New Zealand, and he has collaborated with many renowned conductors (Christoph Eschenbach, Manfred Honeck, Jiří Bělohlávek). He has appeared as a soloist with leading orchestras around the world including the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, and the Netherlands Philharmonic. He also devotes considerable attention to chamber music alongside the world’s leading instrumentalists, such as Gil Shaham, Kian Soltani, Gerhard Oppitz, and Sharon Kam. He has won many international awards including the title of laureate at the famed Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 2012. He has made highly acclaimed recordings of works by Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček, Suk, and Prokofiev as well as the complete sonatas of Eugène Ysaÿe. He plays the “LeBrun; Bouthillard” violin made by Guarneri del Gesù (1732).
The Rudolfinum is one of the most important Neo-Renaissance edifices in the Czech Republic. In its conception as a multi-purpose cultural centre it was quite unique in Europe at the time of its construction. Based on a joint design by two outstanding Czech architects, Josef Zítek and Josef Schultz, a magnificent building was erected serving for concerts, as a gallery, and as a museum. The grand opening on 7 February 1885 was attended by Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, in whose honour the structure was named. In 1896 the very first concert of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra took place in the Rudolfinum's main concert hall, under the baton of the composer Antonín Dvořák whose name was later bestowed on the hall.