Prague Spring 2018 – programme announced!

In 2018, Prague Spring will offer about 50 concerts that will excite lovers of the big orchestral sound, admirers of chamber music, contemporary music fans, and those who enjoy following the latest trends in the informed interpretation of the music of past eras. As usual, ticket sales will begin on 12 December.

The main line of the festival’s dramaturgy will be commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. There will be performances of music by Czech and Slovak composers, whose works were received to acclaim on stages around the world, thereby contributing to the formation of the modern cultural image of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic abroad. In connection with this, we will be commemorating Bohuslav Martinů, Josef Suk, Klement Slavický, Pavel Bořkovec, Miloslav Kabeláč, and Eugen Suchoň, as well as representatives of the younger generation of composers including Michal Nejtek, Ondřej Adámek, Lukáš Sommer, and Marko Ivanović.

The Czechoslovak accent will also be reflected in the programmes of the opening and closing concerts. The Czech Philharmonic with be performing Smetana’s Má vlast with the conductor Tomáš Netopil, and the Slovak Philharmonic with its new music director James Judd will appear at the concluding concert. That programme will present an interesting dialogue between two classics of Czech and Slovak music of the twentieth century – Eugen Suchoň and Leoš Janáček. In many ways, the importance of the Psalm of the Subcarpathian Land in the shaping of Slovak cultural identity is similar to the importance of Smetana’s Má vlast (My Country) to the unique Czech identity.

Prague Spring will also be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, whose European debut took place at the very first annual Prague Spring (1946). The American conductor Keith Lockhart will be leading the Czech Philharmonic and top musical theatre singers from London in selections from Bernstein’s great Broadway musicals. Under the baton of another American, Leonard Slatkin, there will be a performance of Bernstein’s monumental Third Symphony. That concert will also be devoted to celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. For this reason, the programme will also include Schoenberg’s composition A Survivor from Warsaw and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto played by the Prague Spring 2018 Artist in Residence, Julian Rachlin.

Orchestras from Around the World and First Class Soloists

Prague Spring 2018 will boast a strong lineup of foreign symphony orchestras and ensembles. Opening this series on 15 May will be the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, under the baton of its chief conductor Daniele Gatti. From the beginning, the orchestra has enjoyed the favor of such musical giants as Gustav Mahler and Igor Stravinsky, and it will be celebrating the 130th anniversary of its founding 130. Music critics often rate it first among the world’s top orchestras, ahead of even the great Vienna Philharmonic. The programme will feature Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (“Titan”). As Mahler fans are well aware, the orchestra from Amsterdam was among the pioneers in the discovery of this long neglected figure, who is today numbered without prejudice among the greatest symphonists of all time. Under the direction of its chief conductor Willem Mengelberg, the orchestra held a festival devoted to Mahler’s works in the 1920s, and the orchestra is now one of the most celebrated interpreters of his music.

At this concert, Daniil Trifonov, one of the most promising pianists of the rising generation, is making his return to Prague Spring in Prokofiev’s great Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major. The work places both technical and interpretive demands of the highest order on the performer. Played by this young artist, described by the New York Times as having “scintillating technique and a virtuosic flair”, this promises to be something special. The concert will also showcase a unique project called Side by Side, enabling young musicians – in this case the students at the Prague Conservatory – to experience for themselves what it is like to play alongside the best players. This will take place during the opening work on the evening’s programme, Weber’s overture to Euryanthe.

The concert of the Warsaw Philharmonic on 18 May will open with the world premiere of the composition Ultramarine by Michal Nejtek, who was commissioned directly by the festival to compose the work. The Violin Concerto No. 2 by Karol Szymanovski will then showcase the artistry of the violinist Boris Brovtsyn, who will be appearing together with the Warsaw Philharmonic under the baton of Jacek Kaspszyk, one of the most prominent figures on today’s music scene in Poland. Introducing herself in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major will be a rising opera star, the soprano Slávka Zámečníková, who was the overall winner at the Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition in 2016, where she also won a special Prague Spring prize.

The music of Mahler is a theme also running through the third concert by a foreign orchestra – the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Iván Fischer. On 24 May, together with the outstanding singers Christiane Karg and Elisabeth Kulman and the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, they will be performing Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”).

According to the Wall Street Journal, the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes is “…one of the most gifted musicians of his generation…”. A native of Norway, he is well known to the Prague Spring public from previous festivals, and he is returning to Prague accompanied by Switzerland’s Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under the baton of a leading conductor of the younger generation, Lionel Bringuier. On 22 May, they will be performing the Piano Concerto by the British composer Benjamin Britten, a work that is played rather seldom despite its exceptional quality. Also seldom played is the stirring tone poem Rugby by Arthur Honegger. As the title suggests, it is a musical depiction of rugby, and every bar of the piece is literally bristling with the sport’s excitement, aggressiveness, and motion. On the second half of the programme, the orchestra will have the chance to show off its ability in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. After all, there is not a single instrument that is not given a solo opportunity in that lovely work.

Julian Rachlin – Artist-in-Residence of the Festival

In 2018, the violinist, violist, and conductor Julian Rachlin will be the artist-in-residence of the Prague Spring festival. He will be presenting the entire breadth of his talents at four festival concerts. First, he will be the soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto on 14 May. At his recital on 16 May, accompanied by the pianist Itamar Golan, he will be heard playing the famed Stradivarius “ex Liebig” violin built in 1704, and also a superbly crafted viola from the workshop of Lorenzo Storioni (1785). This promises to be an experience that (not only) lovers of chamber music should not miss. He will be playing quartet music at his third appearance on 21 May, and on 23 May he will conduct the Prague Philharmonia. To open the concert, he will be accompanying the winner of last year’s Prague Spring International Music Competition, the violinist Olga Šroubková. In the final round of the competition, she dazzled the jury with her performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. At Prague Spring 2018, she will be playing another of the famous and extremely demanding works of the Romantic era, Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D Major.

Prague Spring as the Venue of World Premieres

Prague Spring is the sole Czech representative in the prestigious International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM). This is in accordance with the fact that world premieres of works written on commission for the festival are an integral part of Prague Spring programming. Michal Nejtek’s scope as an artist is remarkable: he has received commissions for new works from such renowned festivals as Warsaw Autumn and the Donaueschinger Musiktage. At the beginning of this season, the National Theatre in Brno performed his opera The Rules of Good Manners with great success. As was mentioned above, at Prague Spring the Warsaw Philharmonic will be playing the world premiere of his composition Ultramarine. The prestigious ensemble Klangforum Wien will then give the world premiere of a work by Luboš Mrkvička.

Besides these two works commissioned by Prague Spring, the festival is also proudly presenting the world premiere of a song cycle titled Little Works by Marko Ivanović (performed by the Swedish mezzo soprano Katarina Karnéus).

Adding to the list of world premieres will be an appearance by the Epoque Quartet, which will be presenting the first performance of the compositions EQ172 Alexey Aslamas and Sundial by Jan Kučera. In celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia, Michal Müller has composed Passacaglia 1918, which will likewise be given its world premiere at the festival in a performance by the Czech Nonet.

The Graffe Quartet and the horn player Jan Vobořil will be presenting André Previn’s new Quintet for Horn and String Quartet, which was commissioned to be premiered at Prague Spring by the Terezín Music Foundation. In collaboration with that foundation, a work by Jiří Gemrot will be given its premiere at a concert of the vocal ensemble Martinů Voices. The same programme will also feature the Czech premieres of works by Sivan Eldar and Eric Whitacre. The festival has also commissioned Jiří Gemrot to compose a compulsory composition to be played by contestants in the second round of the Prague Spring International Music Competition for French horn.

Jana Boušková and the Prague Philharmonia will give the Czech premiere of the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra by Lukáš Sommer. Czech audience members will also be hearing the composition Karakuri by Ondřej Adámek for the very first time. That will take place at the festival appearance by the ensemble Prague Modern under the baton of the Swiss conductor Baldur Brönnimann, a specialist in contemporary music. The programme will also present classics of contemporary music, including works by Gérard Grisey, Jonathan Harvey, and Salvatore Sciarrino.

Three festival evenings will be devoted exclusively to contemporary music. Besides Prague Modern, they will feature the Austrian ensemble Klangorum Wien and the vocal group Neue Vocalsolisten from Stuttgart, Germany.

Klangforum Wien is today regarded as one of the world’s top ensembles in the interpretation of contemporary music. Besides the aforementioned world premiere of a work by Mrkvička, it will also be playing two compositions belonging to its established repertoire of Austro-German provenience: Monadologie XII by Bernhard Lang and Speicher I by Enno Poppe, who has in recent years become one of the chief representatives of the middle generation of German composers.

The ensemble Neue Vocalsolisten does not regard itself as a choir, but rather as a chamber ensemble consisting of seven vocal soloists. They are a superior ensemble on the European scene specializing in the interpretation of contemporary compositions that make special demands and require an innovative, creative approach. This will be their first appearance at Prague Spring, and they will be presenting the best of their contemporary repertoire. All three of the works they will be performing were composed for and premiered by Neue Vocalsolisten. The programme will feature Liebesgedichte by Georg Friedrich Haas and Le premier jour by Giovanni Bertelli, then the evening will conclude with Twelve Madrigals by Salvatore Sciarrino.

Masterful Interpretations of Early Music

The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists are among the stars on today’s Baroque firmament. Together with their founder and artistic director Sir John Eliot Gardiner, they are coming to Prague to present selections from the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. Cantatas constitute the bulk of the repertoire of both ensembles; their award-winning complete set of recordings of Bach’s 198 sacred cantatas says it all. It was recorded live during the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, a gigantic tour with the two ensembles visiting over sixty churches in Europe and the USA. The Gramophone called the event “one of the most ambitious and uplifting musical undertakings ever.” The Prague Spring public still has vivid memories of the legendary performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass in 2010, when Gardiner also appeared with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists.

The ensemble Accademia Bizantina will be yet another centerpiece of the Prague Spring early music series. It is noted for its distinctive sound based on the noble tradition of Italian chamber music. Together with its artistic director, the acclaimed harpsichordist Ottavio Dantone, it will be taking the concert audience back to the late Baroque period in Italy, the cradle of the instrumental concerto. Providing the framework for the programme will be works by Antonio Vivaldi, whose music is featured on several recordings of this unique orchestra, which enchants listeners not only in its native Italy.

For over half a century, Jordi Savall has been one of the most prominent figures of the world of authentic interpretation of early music. He rediscovers forgotten musical treasures, and he tirelessly engages himself in searching for unexpected interrelationships, emphasizing music’s reach and its power to influence history. At the same time, he reminds us that music is perhaps the best mirror of our history. Savall’s large-scale project Jerusalem, with which he is returning to Prague Spring after a nine-year absence, is also based on these principles. Jerusalem, a city with five thousand years of history, is a place where all three great monotheistic religious of the Mediterranean come together. During joyous times, it was a destination of pilgrims, and at other times the goal of conquerors. The usual etymological explanation for the name Jerusalem is the “city of two peaces”, i.e. heavenly peace proclaimed by the prophets and earthly peace declared by political leaders. For this project, Jordi Savall and the members of the ensembles Hespèrion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya have surrounded themselves with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim musicians from Israel, Palestine, Greece, Armenia, Turkey, England, France, Spain, Italy, and Belgium in order to present Jerusalem in its varied palette of colors, perhaps as a metaphor for today’s world.