Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in d minor "Ode to Joy", Op. 125
“Joy, lovely spark of the Divine, daughter of Elysium!” The opening verses of Schiller’s Ode to Joy in combination with Beethoven’s music have the effect of an electrifying appeal even on their thousandth repetition. It is so intense and captivating that most people do not even remember how the rousing motif first emerged from somewhere in the dark depths of the contrabasses, or that it was preceded by the marvellously melodious adagio third movement and by the lively exhilaration of the scherzo. Also forgotten at that moment are the open fifths at the very beginning, which for a moment create uncertainty as to whether the continuation will be in the major or the minor. In the last movement, the enormous dramatic arch of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 brightens with the joy motif, and in the course of its nine variations we are finally urged to gaze beyond the canopy of heaven, where the creator abides.
Introducing itself for the first time in this performance of one of the greatest works of the world’s cultural heritage will be the Dvořák Prague Youth Philharmonic – a symphony orchestra with a youthfulness that will bond with the revolutionary energy of the music itself.
The Dvořák Prague Youth Philharmonic is a musical ensemble with a basic focus on the education and development of talented young artists. It was created at the suggestion of the Dvořák Prague International Music Festival programming director Jan Simon as one of the new projects of the Academy of Classical Music. The players are students at conservatoires and academies of music up to age 24, and the orchestra’s membership base consists of participants in the Orchestral Academy, which was newly founded at the International Summer Music Academy in Kroměříž under the leadership of the exceptional conductor Tomáš Netopil. Top instrumentalists from the Czech Philharmonic serve as instructors for the individual instrumental sections. The project’s mission is to offer young, talented musicians qualified leadership and active professional experience with rehearsing selected symphonic works and performing them publicly. For the students, their appearance as part of the Dvořák Prague Festival will be a presentation of the results of their efforts, ability, and acquired skills.
Tomáš Netopil ranks among the most successful Czech conductors on the international musical scene. After graduating in violin from the P. J. Vejvanovský Conservatoire in Kroměříž then in conducting and choral directing from Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, he continued his education at the Royal Academy in Stockholm. A great leap in his career was victory in the Georg Solti International Conducting Competition in Frankfurt am Main in 2002. From 2009 to 2012 he was chief conductor of the National Theatre Opera in Prague, and since 2013 he has held the post of Music Director of the Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra of Essen, Germany. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic since 2018. He works with numerous renowned orchestras such as the Staatskapelle of Dresden and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, has appeared as a guest in the famous Semper Opera in Dresden, and has conducted repeatedly in the Salzburg Festival. During the past two seasons he has scored triumphs in the Vienna State Opera with Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen, Dvořák’s Rusalka, and Mozart’s Così fan tutte.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir, which has been appearing on concert stages for over eighty years, is one of Europe’s most important choral ensembles. It was established by the legendary Czech choirmaster Jan Kühn, who originally created the choir for Czechoslovak Radio broadcasts. The choir’s range of activities soon expanded to encompass regular concerts and recordings, and the extraordinary quality and breadth of its activities earned it widespread renown. The choir’s international prestige is 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 has also taken part in opera productions (La Scala in Milan). Since 2010 it has been the ensemble-in-residence at the famed Bregenzer Festspiele opera festival. The choir has long been working in close cooperation with the Czech Philharmonic; the recordings they have made together are among the finest releases of the Supraphon label.
Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and musicology at the Charles University Faculty of Arts. From 1998 he was the choirmaster of the Foerster Chamber Choral Association, with which he won 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 worked on several productions (The Kiss, Don Pasquale, La clemenza di Tito etc.). Since 2007, he has been the head choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir. His highly acclaimed work with this ensemble has included rehearsing and conducting a wide range of repertoire of a variety of stylistic periods as well as the realisation of several recordings. Vasilek also works as an orchestral conductor, and he is the founder of the chamber ensemble Martinů Voices, with which he devotes himself mainly to the interpretation of music of the 20th and 21st centuries. He also involves himself with the popularisation of choral singing. For example, in 2012 and 2016 he created two series about the art of choral singing for Czech Radio and served as the moderator for the programmes.
Soprano Simona Šaturová is from Bratislava, where she graduated from the conservatoire. She has built her outstanding reputation primarily upon the Mozart repertoire (including the roles of Donna Anna, Pamina, Konstanze, Susanna, and Despina), but she also devotes herself to Italian bel canto and the music of the Baroque and Romantic eras. She makes frequent guest appearances at such important European opera houses as the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, the Aalto-Musiktheater in Essen, the Oper Frankfurt, and the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. In the 2017/18 season, she made her successful debut at the prestigious Semperoper in Dresden. She also dedicates herself intensively to the concert repertoire, with performances the Salzburg Festival, New York’s Carnegie Hall, and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Her discography includes works by Mozart, Haydn, and Mysliveček as well as music of the twentieth century. Her most recent CD recordings include a noteworthy 2018 release of Dvořák’s Moravian Duets using the composer’s own piano for the accompaniment.
Mezzo-soprano Markéta Cukrová has long been an especially sought-after performer of early music. In that field, she has collaborated with such leading specialist ensembles as Collegium 1704, Collegium Vocale Gent, La Risonanza, Mala Punica, and Musica Florea. Her scope as a performer is much wider, however. She has appeared with the Czech Philharmonic, Brno Philharmonic, and Warsaw Philharmonic in repertoire of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in collaboration with the conductors Jiří Bělohlávek, Jakub Hrůša, and Jan Latham-Koenig. Besides her extensive concert repertoire, she also has to her credit a number of roles in operas by Handel, Rossini, and Monteverdi. She has taken part in a number of dramaturgically revelatory recording projects, including a recording of Italian arias by Jan Dismas Zelenka and of the Stabat Mater by Jakub Jan Ryba. She also teaches master classes for young singers. In 2018 she was nominated for a Thalia Award, and she made her first appearance at the Dvořák Prague Festival in a performance of Dvořák’s Mass in D Major.
Petr Nekoranec, a rising star of the tenor firmament, graduated from the Pardubice Conservatoire. He launched his meteoric artistic career at the age of twenty, when he won two prizes at the Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary. Two years later, he won several prizes at the Prague Spring International Music Competition, and in 2014 he won second prize at the Concours International de Chant in Toulouse, France. In 2017 he was the overall winner of the prestigious Francesco Viñas International Competition Singing in Barcelona. From 2014 to 2016 he was an ensemble member with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where he sang several parts, including the title roles in Rossini’s Le comte Ory and in Britten’s Albert Herring. For the latter role, he was awarded the Bavarian Arts Prize. In 2016 he took part in the Lindemann Programme at New York’s Metropolitan Opera as the first Czech in history to do so. Since September 2018 he has been engaged as a soloist with the Stuttgart Opera, where he is appearing as Rossini’s Count Almaviva (Barber of Seville) and Ramiro (La Cenerentola) and Donizetti’s Ernesto (Don Pasquale).
Bass Jan Martiník is a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava. In 2003 he won first prize at the Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary, and in 2007 he became the youngest finalist in Plácido Domingo’s competition Operalia. Two years later, he won first prize in the Lieder category at the prestigious Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He is a regular guest at the Opera of the National Theatre in Prague, and from 2008 to 2011 he was an ensemble member with the Comic Opera in Berlin. Since the 2012/2013 season, he has been engaged as a soloist with the Berlin State Opera Unter den Linden. His repertoire spans from Mozart roles (Leoprello, Sarastro, Masetto) and Verdi characters (Pistola in Falstaff, Dottore Grenvil in La traviata) to parts in Italian verismo operas (Colline in La bohème, Betto in Gianni Schicchi). He has appeared on the concert stage with many top orchestras such as the Staatskapelle Dresden and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the conductors Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Fabio Luisi, and many others. His discography includes a recording of Donizetti’s Requiem with Collegiem 1704.