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.
Petr Altrichter made his debut with the Czech Philharmonic in 1979, and has subsequently conducted the Orchestra on numerous occasions in Prague, on tour in China, Germany, in Japan and Taiwan.
He was raised in a musical family, and he played musical instruments from a young age. Having graduated from the conservatory in Ostrava as a French horn player and conductor, he continued his studies at the Janáček Academy of the Performing Arts in Brno in the fields of orchestral conducting under the guidance of Otakar Trhlík and František Jílek and choral conducting with the teachers Josef Veselka and Lubomír Mátl. After his studies in Brno, he worked as a choirmaster and conductor with the Brno Academic Choir, and he played a part in the earning of many prizes at foreign choral competitions and festivals (Middlesbrough, Debrecen…).
Altrichter attracted international attention in 1976, when he earned the title of laureate and a special prize from the jury at the renowned conducting competition in Besançon, France. On the basis of that prize, he became Václav Neumann’s assistant conductor with the Czech Philharmonic, and he started his own artistic career. Not long after that, he began to receive invitations to conduct orchestras abroad.
After a period of activity with the Brno Philharmonic, in 1988 he became a conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, and in 1990 he became its principal conductor. With that orchestra, he made frequent foreign tours to Japan, the USA, Switzerland, Germany, France, and other countries. At the same time, he was engaged in long-term collaboration with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra in Pardubice, with which he often gave performances abroad introducing many gifted young soloists (such as Isabelle van Keulen and Radek Baborák) who are now firmly established on concert stages around the world.
From 1993, he was the music director of the Southwest German Philharmonic Orchestra of Constance, with which he gave concerts regularly at the Tonhalle in Zurich and at the KKL in Lucerne, and he also toured Switzerland and Italy.
Petr Altrichter made his debut in the United Kingdom with the Prague Symphony Orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival in 1993, and his London debut with the English Chamber Orchestra followed soon thereafter. In 1997 he was appointed as the principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic after having guest conducted the orchestra with great success during the previous season. He also made an appearance with that orchestra in 2000 at the BBC Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and he made a number of highly acclaimed recordings for the orchestra’s own label – RLPO Live.
In 2001 Altrichter was invited to take the helm of the Brno Philharmonic, and he remained there for seven years, returning to the orchestra with which he had been associated since his student days, and he still continues to guest conduct there regularly.
In 2015 he toured Germany with the Czech Philharmonic, and in late 2015 and early 2016, he toured China with the same orchestra. In the spring of 2017 he toured Japan with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, and his 2018 calendar included a tour of the United Kingdom with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
He has guest conducted major orchestras abroad, including Japan’s NHK Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Bruckner Orchestra in Linz, Warsaw Philharmonic, Krakow Philharmonic, Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Baden-Baden, Latvian National Symphony Orchestra in Riga, Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra, Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, and Odense Symphony Orchestra. In the United Kingdom he has collaborated with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
He has made guest appearances at major festivals in Salzburg, Edinburgh, Avignon, Athens, Cheltenham, Paris, Madrid, Chicago, Zurich, Lucerne, Vienne, Seville, Palermo, and elsewhere.
The bulk of Petr Altrichter’s repertoire consists of Czech music – Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, and Bohuslav Martinů, Russian music – especially Dmitri Shostakovich, and the works of Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. Important soloists and performers from around the world (Garrick Ohlsson, John Lill, Tabea Zimmermann…) value his flexibility in leading orchestral accompaniments, and they seek out collaboration with him.
Source: Petr Altrichter
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 (PPC) is a leading European vocal ensemble, and as one of the Czech Republic’s foremost artistic institutions operates under the trusteeship of the Czech Ministry of Culture. During the choir’s long history since its foundation in 1935, it was directed by a succession of some of the most distinguished Czech choirmasters (including Jan Kühn, Josef Veselka and Lubomír Mátl). Since 2007 its principal conductor has been Lukáš Vasilek.
The PPC’s repertoire is centred primarily around oratorios and cantatas. The choir has worked with eminent international orchestras (the Czech Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or Wiener Symphoniker, among others), and conductors (including Daniel Barenboim, Semyon Bychkov, Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Manfred Honeck, Jakub Hrůša, Philippe Jordan, Fabio Luisi, Zubin Mehta, Tomáš Netopil, Gianandrea Noseda, Sir Simon Rattle). As the choir in residence at the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria, the PPC is likewise active in the domain of opera.
Apart from these commitments, the PPC engages in several own projects. Since 2011 it has organised its own concert series in Prague, with a programme focused on technically demanding and/or lesser-known choral works, either a cappella or with chamber-scale instrumental accompaniment. The PPC has taken some of these choral projects abroad (including within its tours in the USA and Mexico – 2014, in Russia – 2018). The choir regards as an inseparable part of its activity educational endeavours targeting the young. In this context, it has been involved in organising a Choral Academy for voice students, a project aimed at enabling young artists to acquire practical skills through work with a professional vocal ensemble; and with focus on young children, running a series of educational concerts and a programme of voice workshops in schools.
The PPC has to its credit an extensive discography, with many titles released by major international labels (e. g. Decca Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classical and Supraphon). In recent years the choir has taken part in several unique recording projects, two of them in association with the Czech Philharmonic. The first of these, a recording of Antonín Dvořák’s Stabat Mater (Decca, 2017), with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting, received the coveted Diapason d’Or de l’Annèe award for the year’s best album in the sacred music category. The second, a recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s The Epic of Gilgamesh (Supraphon, 2017), under the baton of Manfred Honeck, won several awards in the United Kingdom in 2017, plus another Diapason d’Or. Its album featuring chamber cantatas of Bohuslav Martinů (Supraphon, 2016), received top accolades of the prestigious British magazines Gramophone (Editor’s Choice) and BBC Music Magazine (Choral and Song Choice). In the latter, it was also nominated for its annual award in the choral music category. In 2020, Decca Classic released an album of Antonín Dvořák’s music (Te Deum, Requiem), in which the Prague Philharmonic Choir participated.
In the 2022/2023 season, the Prague Philharmonic Choir’s activities in the Czech Republic include concerts at several festivals such as the Dvořák Prague, Smetana’s Litomyšl, and the Prague Spring. The choir will also appear in performances together with the Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony Orchestra, or Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and will perform under renowned conductors such as Semyon Bychkov or Daniel Harding. The international activities include a performance at Bruckner National Festival in Linz and the choir will also return to the opera festivals in St. Gallen and Bregenz.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir is the recipient of the 2018 Classic Prague Award for Best Vocal Concert, and Czech Television’s Classical Music of the Year Award. In 2022, the choir was awarded the Antonín Dvořák Prize.
Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting and musicology. As a conductor, he first worked with the Foerster Female Chamber Choir and subsequently served as the second choirmaster of the National Theatre Chorus, Prague. Since 2007, Lukáš Vasilek has been the principal conductor of the Prague Philharmonic Choir, with his work entailing exploration and performance of the a cappella repertoire, as well as the ensemble’s preparation for singing in great cantata, oratorio and opera projects, implemented in collaboration with major orchestras and conductors.
Lukáš Vasilek has guided the PPC in the majority of their activities in the Czech Republic and abroad, cooperating with world-renowned conductors (over the past few years, they have included Semyon Bychkov, Manfred Honeck, Jakub Hrůša, Philippe Jordan, Fabio Luisi, Tomáš Netopil, Gi anandrea Noseda and Sir Simon Rattle) and orchestras (for instance, the Berliner Philharmoniker, Czech Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony). Besides leading the Prague Philharmonic Choir, Lukáš Vasilek has pursued other artistic activities. In addition to occasional returns to his original discipline, orchestral conducting, he has regularly worked with Martinů Voices, a vocal ensemble he himself founded in 2010.
As a conductor or choirmaster, he has participated in nu-merous recordings the PPC has made for prestigious labels, including Decca Classics and Supraphon. In recent years, Lukáš Vasilek has systematically devoted to recording Bohuslav Martinů’s choral music. His albums met with great international critical response and received prestigious accolades from Gramophone, the BBC Music Magazine and Diapason.
In 2021 Lukáš Vasilek started teaching conducting of a choir at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. In early 2022 Vasilek was a guest conductor to the French choir Accentus and later that year he prepared the Prague Philharmonic Choir for the performances of Dvořák’s Rusalka, Stabat Mater, etc.
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.