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Opening Concert

Opening concert

“A birthday present for the Prague Spring,” was how the festival director Roman Bělor responded to news of the exclusive guest appearance of the Berliner Philharmoniker, which will perform with its chief conductor Kirill Petrenko at the extraordinary opening concert of the festival’s 75th jubilee. Furthermore, the world-leading orchestra will present a programme consisting of the works of Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) – a repertoire that it has mastered with absolute conviction.

Date of Event

Thursday, 7. 5. 2020 from 20.00
Expected end of the concert 21.50


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  • Gustav Mahler: Rückert-Lieder
  • Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G major


  • Berliner Philharmoniker
  • Elisabeth Kulman - alto
  • Christiane Karg - soprano
  • Kirill Petrenko - conductor
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His only true love song

Mahler started composing his Rückert-Lieder (Songs to Words by Friedrich Rückert) in 1901. He completed four of the five songs in August, adding the fifth – “Liebst du um Schönheit” – a year later as a wedding gift for his young wife Alma Schindler. Mahler allegedly hid his only true love song in the vocal score of Wagner’s opera Siegfried and then waited several days until Alma discovered it. The audience can enjoy this endearing declaration of love as interpreted by one of the most sought-after mezzo-sopranos of our time, Elisabeth Kulman.

The second half of the evening will see the interpretation of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, a work that differs significantly from the composer’s preceding oeuvre. The lighter instrumentation, the absence of the grandeur and meditativeness of the previous symphonies met with misapprehension during the composition’s premiere in the winter of 1901, both from the public and from the critics. The work was deemed “incomprehensible and without programme”, and Mahler was even accused of making fun of his audience. In actual fact, his “Fourth” was a deliberate departure from the programme symphony concept, which may have been brought about by the desire to differ from his contemporaries. Mahler also offered new, more “chamber-like” quality of sound, to which he returned on several later occasions. All the same, he included a song from The Boy’s Magic Horn in the final movement of the symphony – like in his second and third ones. The soprano part will be rendered by the superb Christiane Karg.

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The Austrian mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Kulman is a graduate of the famous Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna. She made her debut at the dawn of the millennium as a soprano in the role of Pamina at the Viennese Volksoper. However, she soon switched to her current voice type and has since been cast in a number of prominent mezzo-soprano roles in operas by Gluck, Wagner, Verdi, or Weill. Her wide-ranging concert repertoire reaches from J. S. Bach to Alfred Schnittke. She has worked with numerous eminent conductors (Kent Nagano, Mariss Jansons, Zubin Mehta). The Prague Spring audience will easily remember her performance in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 under the baton of Iván Fischer and accompanied by the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 2018. Interestingly enough, she sang alongside Christiane Karg on that occasion as well.

Christiane Karg studied singing in Salzburg and Verona. As a member of the international opera studio of the Hamburg Opera and later as a core member of the Frankfurt Opera, she played the roles of Susanna (The Marriage of Figaro), Musetta (La bohème), Zdenka (Arabella), or Mélisande (Pelléas and Mélisande). She has also sung on the stage of the Bavarian State Opera, the Semperoper in Dresden, La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera in London, or the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 2009 the German magazine Opernwelt accorded her the title of Young Artist of the Year; 2010 and 2016 saw her win the prestigious Echo Klassik award for her recordings.

The Berliner Philharmoniker is one of the very best symphony orchestras worldwide. The ensemble rose to international fame under the direction of the legendary Herbert von Karajan, who held the post of chief conductor in 1954–89. Their joint recordings for Deutsche Grammophon rank among the most successful albums of classical music to this day. Other famous figures to head the ensemble include Claudio Abbado or Simon Rattle, who was succeeded as chief conductor by Kirill Petrenko in 2019. “Unmistakable sound, no matter the melody,” is how they are epitomised by The New York Times. Besides their concert activities, the Berliner Philharmonikers are active in the field of education, presenting the world of classical music with a focus on the younger generation.

Born in Omsk, Kirill Petrenko completed his degree in conducting in Vienna and subsequently started his career at the city’s Volksoper. In 1999–2002 he held the post of music director at Meiningen Theatre, where he earned his first wave of international acclaim with the production of Wagner’s operatic tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung. In the years 2002–7 he functioned as the music director of the Komische Oper in Berlin. He also conducted opera at the Dresden Semperoper, the Opéra National de Paris, the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden in London, or the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He has served as the music director of the Bavarian State Opera since 2013, ushering in the world premiere of South Pole by the Czech composer Miroslav Srnka, among others. He has also worked with the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, or Orchestra Santa Cecillia in Rome. This season sees him newly incumbent in the prestigious post of chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker.