Sergej Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, op. 18
Antonín Dvořák: In Nature's Realm, Op. 91, B. 168
Antonín Dvořák: Te Deum, Op. 103, B. 176
This year’s Dvořák Prague Festival will conclude with a celebration of nature as divine creation and with a hymn of praise to God. Preceding them will be the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff played by Lukáš Vondráček – the curator of the Chamber Series will say farewell this year’s festival as the soloist at a symphonic concert. The entire programme can be seen not only as a farewell, but also, above all, as an expression of thanks, concealing within it a reminder of the fundamental values for which the Dvořák Prague Festival stands. The Czech Philharmonic has been the orchestra-in-residence of the festival since its inception, and its participation has come to feel like a matter of course. With artistic life having been silenced this spring because of the coronavirus epidemic, it is now important to realise how extraordinary the things are that we sometimes take for granted. Related to this is the music of Antonín Dvořák, upon whose legacy the festival is building its name and reputation. The overture In Nature’s Realm and the oratorio Te Deum are among Dvořák’s most popular compositions, but playing them together adds a new dimension of content in the atmosphere of a world trying to find its way back from uncertainty to at least relative stability.
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.
For many years, Petr Altrichter has been one of the top Czech conductors. After studying at the Ostrava conservatoire and the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts in Brno, he attracted serious attention to himself at the Besançon International Conducting Competition, where he won second prize and the special prize of the French Composers’ Union. During his career, he has worked with most of the leading Czech orchestras including the Brno Philharmonic, the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra in Pardubice, and the Czech Philharmonic. The most important stages of his professional career include his eleven-year tenure at the helm of the Southwest German Philharmonic Orchestra of Constance from 1993 to 2004, where he served as artistic director and chief conductor. From 1997 to 2001 he was also the chief conductor and artistic director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He has promoted Czech music very intensively in the United Kingdom. He is regularly invited to guest conduct orchestras around the world, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. His conducting style is characterised by a lively temperament and musical spontaneity.
Lukáš Vondráček, who turns 34 this year, is known internationally as one of today’s most distinctive Czech performers. He is followed by his reputation as a prodigy: he began playing piano at age two, and a year later he gave his first public performance. At age eleven he issued his first CD, and two years after that he gave his first concert tour of the USA. At thirteen he began his university studies, and at fifteen he made his debut with the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy. A highpoint of his artistic career so far was his triumph at the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 2016, where he became the first Czech winner in history. He has appeared in solo recitals at a number of famed concert halls including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Elbephilharmonie in Hamburg, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. His appearances in the Czech Republic include this past January at the Municipal House in Prague with the Piano Concerto in F Minor by Frédéric Chopin. He is a long-time resident of Boston.
The soprano Kateřina Kněžíková is one of the most prominent Czech figures in the world of opera and concert performing. She is a graduate of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and is a laureate of numerous competitions and exhibitions including the Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary, the 2018 Classic Prague Award for the best chamber music performance, and a 2019 Thalia Award for her exceptional on-stage performance in the production of Julietta or The Key of Dreams by Bohuslav Martinů. Since 2006 she has been an opera ensemble member at the National Theatre in Prague, where she has sung roles including Mozart’s Susanna (The Marriage of Figaro), Mysliveček’s Aristea (L’Olimpiade), and Dvořák’s Terinka (The Jacobin). She also makes guest appearances on other opera stages in this country and abroad (National Moravian – Silesian Theatre in Ostrava, Opéra Royal de Versailles, Theatre Royal de La Monnaie). She has collaborated with important conductors (Serge Baudo, Manfred Honeck, Tomáš Netopil et al.) and ensembles (incl. BBC Symphony orchestra, Collegium 1704, Czech Philharmonic). She has taken part in a number of recordings including Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride and Bouquet of Flowers by Bohuslav Martinů.
The Czech baritone Svatopluk Sem is a graduate of the České Budějovice Conservatoire. He is a regular guest on the most important Czech opera stages including the National Theatre in Prague, the J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen, the National Theatre in Brno, and the National Moravian – Silesian Theatre in Ostrava. He also devotes himself to the concert repertoire, appearing not only in the Czech Republic, but also on many concert stages abroad (Japan, Denmark, South Korea, Austria, Spain, Germany, Russia, England), where he has collaborated with renowned conductors including Jiří Bělohlávek, Heiko Mathias Förster, and Tomáš Netopil. He took part in recording Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jiří Bělohlávek for the Harmonia Mundi label, and he performed in the BBC documentary Rolando meets Don Giovanni, where he appeared together with Rolando Villazón in the title role of Don Giovanni. He is a frequent guest at such prestigious festivals as the BBC Proms, the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Open-Air Gars am Kamp Festival in Austria, the Prague Spring Festival, and Smetana’s Litomyšl.
Last year, the Prague Philharmonic Choir celebrated its 85th year of activity as one of Europe’s most important choral ensembles. Its founder, the legendary Czech choirmaster Jan Kühn, originally created the choir for Czechoslovak Radio broadcasts. Soon, however, the choir expanded its activities to include regular concert appearances and recordings of an exceptional quality and broad scope that made the ensemble widely respected. The choir’s international prestige can be documented by its collaborations with many of the world’s top conductors (Erich Kleiber, Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Simon Rattle) and orchestras (Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic). The choir is a regular guest at prestigious music festivals around the world, and it even takes part in opera productions (La Scala in Milan). It has long been in close cooperation with the Czech Philharmonic. The choir also supports young talents: since 2012 it has regularly held the Academy of Choral Singing, a two-year study programme intended for students and secondary schools and universities.
Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts and musicology at the Charles University Faculty of Arts. Since 1998 he has served as the choirmaster of the Foerster Chamber Choir Association, with which he has earned a number of awards at prestigious international competitions. From 2005 to 2007 he was the second choirmaster of the National Theatre opera chorus in Prague, where he trained the chorus for several operas (The Kiss, Don Pasquale, La clemenza di Tito etc.). Since 2007 he has been the chief choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir. His highly acclaimed work with this ensemble encompasses the rehearsing and conducting of a broad repertoire of various stylistic periods as well as the making of many recordings, including an exceptionally successful CD with the cantatas of Bohuslav Martinů. Vasilek also works as an orchestral conductor, and he is the founder of the chamber choir Martinů Voices, with which he devotes himself mainly to the interpretation of music of the 20th and 21st centuries. He is also involved with the popularisation of choral singing, including the creation and moderating of two series on the art of choral singing for Czech Radio in 2012 and 2016.
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.