Antonín Dvořák: Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191
Antonín Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, B. 178, 'From the New World'
The Cello Concerto in B Minor and the New World Symphony are emblematic works by Antonín Dvořák, and they demarcate the nearly three years he spent in the USA. At the beginning is the New World Symphony – the first work Dvořák finished in America. It is an outpouring of the intoxication he felt from powerful stimuli influencing him in the “New World”. The spirit of the songs of the African Americans and Native Americans imbued Dvořák’s compositional mastery with a new atmosphere, which one hears in an extraordinary balance of lyricism with surges of unbridled energy. On the other hand, the Cello Concerto in B Minor is the work with which Dvořák said farewell at the end of his stay in America. Although the initial inspiration was a cello concerto by the American composer Victor Herbert, Dvořák created an original work full of poignant melancholy and yearning for his family and friends in Bohemia. The cello employs all of the colours of the instrument’s baritone register to express the manly sorrow of a person who, while longing for his homeland, succumbs neither to sentimentality nor to passive resignation.
The Czech Philharmonic and its chief conductor Semyon Bychkov will open the festival with the cellist Maximilian Hornung.
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). The ensemble has won many international honours for its recordings, the first of which it made already in 1929: Smetana’s My Homeland with Talich. In 2008 the prestigious magazine Gramophone ranked it among the twenty best orchestras of the world. Since the inception of the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Czech Philharmonic has been its resident orchestra, and since last year it has been a holder of the Antonín Dvořák Prize for promoting and popularising Czech classical music abroad and in the Czech Republic.
The Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov is one of today’s most sought-after conductors because of his clear opinions on interpretation and his emphasis on beauty of sound. He was born in 1952 in what was then called Leningrad, and he graduated from the conservatoire there. After emigrating from the Soviet Union to the United States in the 1970s, he soon earned an outstanding international reputation. He has been a long-term collaborator with the world’s best orchestras, including the philharmonic orchestras in Vienna, Berlin, and Munich, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. He also devotes himself intensively to opera, conducting at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Vienna State Opera, the Teatro Real Madrid, La Scale in Milan, and the Opéra national de Paris, where he has conducted productions of operas ranging from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to Strauss’s Elektra. He also has a vast discography, including highly acclaimed recordings of Verdi’s Requiem and Wagner’s Lohengrin and the complete symphonies of Brahms. Since the 2018/19 season, he has been the chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic.
Maximilian Hornung, who turns thirty-four this year, is a native of the Bavarian city Augsburg and comes from a musical family. He began playing cello at the age of eight, and his teachers have included Rostropovich’s pupil David Geringas. In 2005, at the age of nineteen, he won the nationwide German Music Competition, and two years later with the Tecchler Trio, which he founded, he won first prize at the prestigious ARD Music Competition. At the age of twenty-three he became the first solo cellist of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Although still young, he has already appeared on many of the world’s stages with a remarkable number of internationally famous orchestras, conductors, and soloists including Bernard Haitink, Manfred Honeck, Mariss Jansons, Daniel Harding, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and Hélène Grimaud, to name just a few. So far, he has made nearly twenty CD recordings. He has earned the greatest acclaim for a recording of Schubert’s Trout Quintet and an outstanding recording of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, for which he won an ECHO Klassik Prize in 2012.
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.