Antonín Dvořák: Saint Ludmila, Op. 71, B. 144
This year’s performance of Dvořák’s oratorio, Saint Ludmila, at St Vitus’s Cathedral will be an indispensable part of the commemoration of the 1,100th anniversary of Ludmila’s death on 15 September 921, when she was murdered at Tetín Castle. Ludmila and her grandson, Saint Wenceslas, are two of the most important Czech saints. Saint Ludmila was the wife of Bořivoj, Duke of Bohemia, and she played a key role in the conversion of the Přemyslid dynasty to Christianity. In the monumental oratorio, Dvořák and his librettist Jaroslav Vrchlický depict the destruction of pagan idols, the marriage of Ludmila to the first historically documented Přemyslid ruler, and the sacrament of baptism performed on them in Velehrad by Bishop Methodius. The Czech Philharmonic will join forces with the Prague Philharmonic Choir at St Vitus’s Cathedral, bringing together the top ensembles in the world of Czech music as a contribution to the dignified veneration of St Ludmila, for whom Mass will also be celebrated that afternoon, by Cardinal Dominik Duka at St George’s Basilica. The concert is a part of a week-long celebration, which culminates at Tetín. And one could scarcely imagine these celebrations without a performance of the most important work for vocal forces and orchestra devoted to this subject matter.
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 Conservatory of Music in Ostrava and the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts in Brno, he garnered serious attention at the Besançon International Competition for Young Conductors, where he won second prize as well as taking the special prize of the French Composers’ Union. During his career, he has worked with most of the leading Czech orchestras, including the Czech Philharmonic, the Brno Philharmonic, and the Prague Symphony Orchestra. The most significant stages of his professional career include his 11-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 principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Altrichter has intensively promoted Czech music in the United Kingdom. He is regularly invited to guest conduct orchestras around the world, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin Symphony Orchestra. His conducting style is characterised by a lively temperament and musical spontaneity.
The Slovak soprano Eva Hornyáková studied operatic singing at the Košice Conservatory and the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. In 2006 she made her debut at the Slovak National Theatre as Mimi in Puccini’s opera La bohème. In the years that followed, she sang a substantial number of major roles of the opera repertoire on the same stage, including Micaela (Carmen), Pamina (Magic Flute), Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Desdemona (Otello), and Marguerite (Faust). Since 2014 she has been performing at the National Theatre in Prague – among other things appearing again in the role of Desdemona, this time alongside star tenor José Cura. She also performs the concert repertoire, appearing in this country and also in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Japan, where her performances include the soprano parts in Dvořák’s Requiem and Stabat Mater, Bruckner’s Te Deum, Janáček’s The Eternal Gospel, and Verdi’s Requiem. At La Scala in 2010 she participated in the finals of Plácido Domingo’s international opera competition, Operalia.
Mezzo-soprano Jana Hrochová is a graduate of the Prague Conservatory. Since 2000 she has been a soloist at the National Theatre in Brno, where her roles have included Carmen, Laura (La Gioconda), Káča (The Devil and Kate), Rosina (The Barber of Seville), Suzuki (Madama Butterfly), Gold-Spur the Fox (The Cunning Little Vixen), Varvara (Káťa Kabanová), and many others. She has also appeared as a guest on numerous Czech stages, including Prague’s National Theatre, as well as in Freiburg, Germany. Her performances have repeatedly earned her the DIVA Prize, awarded by audience members. Her substantial concert activity has included collaborations with top conductors (Jiří Bělohlávek, Serge Baudo, Manfred Honeck, Jakub Hrůša) and orchestras (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic). In 2011 she sang the alto solo in Antonín Dvořák’s Requiem at Václav Havel’s state funeral, and from 2011 to 2018 she recorded five CDs of songs by Bohuslav Martinů for the Naxos label. Hrochová made her Proms debut in 2016, accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Tenor Richard Samek was born in Třebíč and graduated from the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts. In 2006, he made his debut on the stage of the National Theatre in Brno. At present he is a regular guest at the National Theatre in Prague, where his roles include Alfredo (La traviata), Werther (Werther), Tamino (The Magic Flute), and the Prince (Rusalka). He makes guest appearances on a number of stages abroad, including the Grand Théâtre de Reims, the Opéra de Limoges, the Opéra de Rennes, the Theater Magdeburg, and the Semperoper in Dresden. In 2015 he took part in a live recording of Smetana’s opera Dalibor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jiří Bělohlávek. He has worked with such outstanding orchestras as the Czech Philharmonic, the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. He appears regularly at international music festivals, including the Prague Spring Festival, the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Seefestspiele Mörbisch, and Smetana’s Litomyšl.
The Slovak bass Gustáv Beláček studied singing at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava under the guidance of Prof. Eva Blahová, and he has also learned from great artists including Ileana Cotrubaș, Carlo Bergonzi, and Helmuth Rilling. His numerous awards include an overall victory at the Antonín Dvořák International Competition in Karlovy Vary (1993) and Italy’s Gabardi Award for performances of Mozart and Rossini (2008). Besides appearing at the Slovak National Theatre, he has also performed on many stages in Europe (Geneva, Brussels, Strasbourg, Paris, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Munich, Verona, Florence, Copenhagen) as well as in the USA, Canada, Japan, Argentina, and Israel. He also devotes himself to the concert repertoire with appearances in London, Amsterdam, and Salzburg. He has worked with great conductors including Sir Charles Mackerras, Jiří Bělohlávek, Charles Dutoit, Mariss Jansons, Kurt Masur, and Seiji Ozawa. He has recorded for the Supraphon, Naxos, Harmonia Mundi, Brilliant Classics, BR-Klassik, and Arthaus labels, among others. He took part in a recording of Dvořák’s Requirem on the Delos label with the conductor Zdeněk Mácal, and it won a Grammy (USA) in 2000.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir is one of Europe’s most important choral ensembles. Founded in 1934 by the legendary choral conductor Jan Kühn, the choir’s original focus of activity as a radio ensemble soon expanded with regular concerts, while its recording activity showcased the choir’s excellence and diversity, earning it wide respect. The choir’s international renown is documented by its collaborations with many of the world’s top conductors (Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Manfred Honeck, Daniel Barenboim, Fabio Luisi, Sir Simon Rattle) and orchestras (Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic). The choir is a regular guest at prestigious music festivals abroad, and it has taken part in opera productions (La Scala, Bregenzer Festspiele). The choir also supports young talent: since 2012 it has been operating an Academy of Choral Singing with a two-year course of study for secondary-school and university students.
Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and musicology at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. From 1998 he was the choirmaster of the Foerster Female Chamber Choir, with which he won a number of awards at prestigious international competitions. From 2005 to 2007 he was the second choirmaster of the opera chorus at Prague’s National Theatre, where he directed rehearsals for several opera productions. Since 2007 he has been the chief choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir. His highly acclaimed work with that choir includes rehearsing and conducting a broad repertoire from various stylistic periods as well as making several recordings, including an exceptionally successful CD of cantatas by Bohuslav Martinů. Vasilek also works as an orchestral conductor and is the founder of the Martinů Voices chamber choir, where he focuses mainly on interpreting music of the 20th and 21st centuries. He actively works to popularise choral music, having served as moderator in 2012 and 2016 for two programmes on Czech Radio on the art of choral singing.
St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and the most important temple in Prague. Apart from religious services the coronations of Czech kings and queens also took place in here. The cathedral is a place of interment of remains of provincial patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen and archbishops.The Bohemian Coronation Jewels are kept in Crown Chamber of st. Wenceslas Chapel.