Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
Josef Suk: Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 14
“A manly, finished, powerful work, highly intellectually distinctive in its material, assured in its layout and form, confident in its mastery of the symphonic apparatus” – that is how a period critic described the Symphony No. 1 in E Major by Josef Suk. The Czech Philharmonic will be performing the work of the barely twenty-five-year-old composer under the baton of Jakub Hrůša, and this will remind us of not only the young Suk’s maturity, but also, indirectly, the music to the fairy tale Radúz and Mahulena performed at last year’s festival. The two works were composed at the same time, and there is no denying the musical features they have in common. This year, the Dvořák Prague Festival is devoting increased attention to the music of Josef Suk not only because he was Dvořák’s son-in-law, but also because Suk was a direct successor to his father-in-law’s compositional legacy. Dvořák was the first composer to create the canon of the Czech Romantic symphony, and Suk followed him in this, adding to that canon a certain emotional tremulousness, existential uncertainty, and decadent sorrow of the fin de siècle. One can hardly miss the Mahlerian echoes in Suk’s symphonic music. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major with the superb pianist Martina Kasíka shows us the image of music ninety-five years older than Suk’s symphony, which still stood firmly on the foundations erected by Beethoven, but which also took part in starting the process of calling those foundations into question.
The Czech Philharmonic is the foremost Czech orchestra and has long held a place among the most esteemed representatives of Czech culture on the international scene. The beginning of its rich history is linked to the name of Antonín Dvořák, who on 4 January 1896 conducted the ensemble’s inaugural concert. Although the orchestra performs a broad range of the core international repertoire, it is sought out most often for its superb interpretations of the classics by the great Czech composers in a tradition built up by great conductors (Talich, Kubelík, Ančerl, Neumann, and Bělohlávek). In 2008 the prestigious magazine Gramophone ranked it among the twenty best orchestras of the world. One of the orchestra’s most important recent projects has recording Tchaikovsky’s complete orchestral works for the Decca Label with Semyon Bychkov conducting. Since the inception of the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Czech Philharmonic has been its resident orchestra, and since 2018 it has been a holder of the Antonín Dvořák Prize for promoting and popularising Czech classical music abroad and in the Czech Republic.
Jakub Hrůša is one of the most active and influential representatives of Czech musical culture and of the Czech school of conducting around the world. He regularly conducts top orchestras in Europe and the USA. He is currently the chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic and of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. From 2009 to 2015 he served as the music director and chief conductor of the Prague Philharmonia. Among his most important engagements have been repeated invitations from the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. He guest conducts regularly at the BBC Proms, and awaiting him in the coming season is his Salzburg Festival debut. Maestro Hrůša has an equal affinity for the concert repertoire and opera. He appears regularly as a guest at the opera festival in Glyndebourne and with the Vienna State Opera, London’s Royal Opera, the Opéra national de Paris, and the Frankfurt Opera, while appearing occasionally at Czech opera houses as well. For his recording of compositions by Dvořák and Martinů and for a DVD recording of the opera Vanessa at the festival in Glyndebourne, he recently won a BBC Music Magazine Award. His active interest in the composer Josef Suk, Antonín Dvořák’s son-in-law, has been reflected in his activity with this year’s Dvořák Prague Festival and the subsequent season of the Czech Philharmonic. Suk’s complete orchestral music is now his priority recording project. A common denominator of his activity abroad has been his steadfast promotion of the music of Czech composers in particular. For this activity, the Academy of Classical Music has awarded him the 2020 Antonín Dvořák Prize.
Martin Kasík began playing piano at age four. A graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava and of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, he has won many competitions at home and abroad including the Prague Spring Competition and the Young Concert Artists Competition in New York, one of the world’s most prestigious events of its kind. In 2002 he won the Harmonie Award for the most successful young artist. He has given concerts in prestigious concert halls around the world including London’s Wigmore Hall, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Tonhalle in Zurich, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. He has made solo appearances with orchestras including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Tonhalle-Orchester in Zurich, and the Stuttgarter Philharmoniker. He collaborates regularly with the Czech Philharmonic and the Prague Symphony Orchestra, with which he has toured the USA and Japan. He has been teaching at the Prague Conservatoire since 2009, and he is also active as a pedagogue at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He has issued several CDs on the Supraphon, ArcoDiva, and Radioservis labels.
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.