His Te Deum returns to the Prague Spring after a period of forty years, conducted by John Nelson, whom critics regard as one of the most sought-after specialists in Berlioz’s music.
Date of EventWednesday, 15. 5. 2019 from 20.00
Expected end of the concert 22.00
Event placeMunicipal House – Smetana Hall
- Hector Berlioz: Harold en Italie Op. 16
- Hector Berlioz: Te Deum Op. 22
- Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
- John Nelson - conductor
- Karel Untermüller - viola
- Nicholas Phan - tenor
- Slovak philharmonic choir
- Jozef Chabroň - choirmaster
- Kühn Choir of Prague
- Jaroslav Brych - choirmaster
- The Kühn Children´s Choir
- Jiří Chvála - choirmaster
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The programme of the Prague Spring´s 2019 edition is structured around the ambition to parade the opulent spectrum of colours making up the palette of French music…
…with combined focus on both composers and interpreters. Right at its beginning the festival therefore offers this concert rendering homage to the visionary genius of Hector Berlioz, marking 150 years from his death.
After a long hiatus of four decades, the festival audience will be treated, for only the second time in the event´s history, to a performance under the baton of a leading Berlioz specialist, the conductor John Nelson, of the composer´s towering Te Deum, written for three choruses, tenor, organ and orchestra. The sheer magnitude of this work is underpinned by the circumstances of its making. Berlioz anticipated its first performance to take place in London´s iconic Crystal Palace, sometime around the year 1851. He envisioned the involvement of one and a half thousand performers, including no fewer than a thousand singers! Although the London premiere never materialized, Berlioz´s Te Deum did eventually score a grandiose triumph in 1855, on the occasion of the World Exhibition in Paris. Berlioz was a composer of high ambitions, which duly projected into an unprecedented publicity campaign, with special trains bringing in audience from different parts to attend the event. They were rewarded by a previously unseen spectacle: the premiere featured the combined forces of nine hundred singers and players. The work´s extreme casting requirements have thus predetermined it for performance on special occasions transcending the standard concert season format. Just for illustration, the coming Prague Spring performance will bring together the Slovak Philharmonic Choir and the Kühn Mixed Choir. Here then is a true cherry to top the pie of the Prague Spring programme.
In its first half, the concert will bring Berlioz´s phenomenal symphony for viola and orchestra, Harold in Italy. It was inspired by the virtuoso playing of Niccolò Paganini, and by Byron´s eponymous poem in which the composer found philosophical correlations with his own life. The solo part will be performed by a leading Czech viola player, Karel Untermüller, whose recent successes have included a solo appearance with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra in the Berliner Philharmonie hall in the spring of 2018, or a concert at the Vienna Musikverein.
Every memory of my times in Prague is happily imprinted. I will never forget the first time back in 1981 with the Czech Philharmonic when I had to speak with the manager outside in the open air because every room in the hotel was bugged by the Communist regime! Fortunately I have had the privilege to return to Prague a number of times and I must say that every successive engagement has been a joy because of the brilliant playing of the Czech orchestras.
The conductor John Nelson is a true legend in the history of Berlioz productions, a status documented by countless critical accolades. To cite but a few, the London Daily Telegraph wrote: “The conductor John Nelson was clearly born with Berlioz in his genes…“; in his turn, the critic for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that “apart from John Nelson, we would find only very few conductors we might justifiably relate to as Berlioz specialists.” His new recording of Berlioz´s Les Troyens has been reaping one coveted award after another: the BBC Music Magazine commends it as the finest opera release of the year 2018, the New York Times has highlighted it as the recording of the year, and it finished first in the opera category of the prestigious Gramophone magazine poll, as well as winning the overall Recording of the Year title in the same 2018 poll. For Maestro Nelson, all this has come as a major token in recognition of his artistic endeavour and his essential contribution to the interpretation of Berlioz´s music. In the course of his career so far, he has conducted virtually all key US and Canadian orchestras, in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montreal, and Toronto, as well as prominent European forces, an impressive roster encompassing all of London´s leading orchestras, Dresden´s Staatskapelle, Leipzig´s Gewandhausorchester, the Orchestre de Paris, the Oslo Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, and all major Spanish orchestras.
An important part in Berlioz´s Te Deum is assigned to the tenor part. It will be performed here by American tenor Nicholas Phan, an artist whom the critic for the Boston Globe pinpointed as “one of the world’s most remarkable singers”, and the OperaNews magazine praised as “one of the most beautiful young lyric voices around”. He has won wide international acclaim ranking him among artists sought-after by opera houses and concert venues around the globe. His commitments in the current season will yet include several important debuts. He will create the part of Eumolpus in Stravinsky´s Persephone, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas; and the title role in Handel´s Jephtha, with the Boston Baroque under the baton of Martin Pearlman. He will likewise make his debut in Israel, in the title role of Bernstein´s Candide, with the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Marin Alsop. Beyond that, he will continue to work with leading American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, among others.
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