Patron of this concert is Ms Ivana Juráňová, member of the Platinum Circle of the Friends of Prague Spring Festival.
“It is the first of Mahler’s works that thrilled me beyond measure when I was a teenager; it was his Third that shook me to my core and actually was a significant factor determining my career. And today I can bring it to the Prague Spring Festival and experience it before and with my most beloved public in my homeland,” says Jakub Hrůša about his appearance with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Mr Hrůša is one of today’s most sought-after Czech conductors. Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor is the longest symphonic work in the standard repertoire and is often called one of the most moving symphonies ever written.
The six-movement colossus, the Pan Symphony, celebrates the grandeur and power of nature. In it, the composer used texts from the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) and from Nietzsche’s poetical and philosophical novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the world of classical music, one could hardly find a more personal testimony of a world view or of love for nature, from which Mahler found inspiration and comfort all his life. It was with nature that the composer surrounded himself when composing the work, which he wrote largely during the summer holidays of 1895 and 1896 while staying in the Austrian Alps at Attersee (Lake Atter) in the resort town Steinach, from which he departed each morning for a hut equipped with only a desk and a piano. There, he composed in absolute peace and quiet. The symphony is for large orchestra – eight French horns are required, for example – women’s and boys’ choirs, and an alto soloist, who sings a great, meditative nocturnal song in the fourth movement: “Deep is the world” …“deeper than the day had thought”. It is undoubtedly a work that cannot be compared with anything else. Every performance of the symphony is like a little musical holiday. As Mahler himself said: “My symphony will be something the world has never heard before! In it, all of nature gets a voice and will be telling deep mysteries such as one senses perhaps only in dreams! Certain parts give even me a strange feeling in my heart, and they strike me as if I am not at all the person who wrote them.”
Jakub Hrůša has truly had plentiful experience with Mahler’s music. He was recently honoured by the BBC Music Magazine for the best recording of the year for a CD made with Ivo Kahánek and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. In recent years, he has been devoting himself with more intensity to Mahler’s symphonic works, and to great acclaim, as can be seen from the reactions of music critics.
Concerning his performance of the Third Symphony in 2016, the British newspaper The Guardian wrote: “Mahler’s metaphysical Third Symphony is arguably his most ambitious, and Jakub Hrůša’s reading was remarkable.” From among the reviews of his performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) in February 2020, we should mention Marc Bridle’s reaction in a review from the portal Opera Today: “A Resurrection from the Golden Age…a gripping conviction and intensity which would be a hallmark of this performance… simply remarkable. I have rarely encountered this movement performed with such delicacy or care for its inner details… This had been a superlative Mahler Resurrection, a gripping performance in an age where it is rare to experience Mahler of this quality.”
At present, he is the chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the principal guest conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and of the Czech Philharmonic, and for a number of years he has been one of the most important conductors on the international music scene. He has conducted some of the world’s most famous orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, with which the programme of his second guest appearance in December 2019 included Kabeláč’s The Mystery of Time, a work which he had also successfully presented to the public in Tokyo, Cleveland, and London. Concerning his successful promotion of the music of one of his favourite composers, he commented in an interview for the portal Klasika Plus: “I think Kabeláč’s time is coming slowly but surely, and it will definitely arrive!”
His collaborations with outstanding soloists have included appearances with the phenomenal Chinese pianist Lang Lang and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in October 2015, performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor and Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, and cooperation with the world-famous violinist Joshua Bell, with whom Hrůša performed Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in July 2019 at the prestigious BBC Proms. As an opera conductor, he is regularly invited to the famous Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and in the course of his career he has also appeared with the Vienna State Opera, London’s Covent Garden, the Opéra National de Paris, and the Frankfurt Opera.
The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra first appeared at the Prague Spring Festival in 1987 under the baton of Sir Colin Davis. In 2005 it played to great acclaim with Mariss Jansons at the closing of the 60th annual festival. It also made a memorable guest appearance in 2010, when it absolutely thrilled the public with a performance of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. The ensemble, known for its superb artistry, was shaped from 1961 to 1979 by a Czech exile, the conductor Rafael Kubelík.
“The first recording that I ever heard of Suk’s Asrael Symphony was with them and Rafael Kubelík,” recalls Jakub Hrůša. “It was a very stimulating encounter, just as, for example, every one of their performances of Dvořák’s music continues still to be. I conducted Asrael with them on my first visit.” After Kubelík’s departure, the orchestra was led for nearly ten years by Sir Colin Davis, then from 1993 to 2002 by Lorin Maazel. From 2003 until his death in December 2019, Mariss Jansons was at the orchestra’s helm. “From the first time I met with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, we felt on both sides an extraordinary human and artistic connection and comprehension, and in the rehearsals and concerts we made music truly as one”, maestro Hrůša commented. “Two CDs of live recordings were made from the concerts. The orchestra’s cultivated, powerful sound and its feeling for the direction of the music and lively phrasing are a great gift for us conductors and for audiences. Some time ago, when we agreed on a European tour with the music of two composers who are among my very favourites, Mahler and Brahms, I was overjoyed.”
This evening’s soloist will be the German alto Gerhild Romberger, who is renowned for, among other things, her collaborations with Manfred Honeck. Under his leadership, she has taken part in performances of Mahler’s symphonies, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis and the Grosse Messe by Walter Braunfels. She has also appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Gustav Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Herbert Blomstedt, and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester with Riccardo Chailly. She has recorded Mahler’s Third Symphony under the baton of Iván Fischer with his Budapest Festival Orchestra.
Performing the choral part will be the Prague Philharmonic Choir, which has been one of Europe’s top vocal ensembles for many years. Its primary domain is the operatic and cantata repertoire, which it has performed in collaboration with the world’s most illustrious orchestras (Czech Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic) and conductors (Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, Zubin Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle). At its helm since 2007 has been choirmaster Lukáš Vasilek.
A second vocal ensemble this evening will be the Pueri Gaudentes boys’ choir. In its thirty years of existence, it has given concerts not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Italy, Austria, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Spain, Poland, and elsewhere. It has toured Japan three times and has won significant awards at festivals in Neerpelt (Belgium), Lindenholzhausen (Germany), and Gorizia (Italy). The choir has appeared at the Prague Spring Festival in 2006 and 2018. For this year’s performance, it has been prepared by a pair of choirmasters: Libor Sládek and Jan Kyjovský.