On November 4th, the day clocks “fell back”, a dark and rainy day, the Czech Philharmonic provided a bright spot, appearing at Symphony Center. The symphony begins a new, ambitious season. Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Semyon Bychkov began his tenure as on October 3rdwith a concert that celebrated 100 years of Czech Independence. During the course of the season, Bychkov and the Orchestra will celebrate the centenary with concerts in Prague, London, New York and Washington; embark on extensive tours of the US and Germany; and present concerts in Vienna, Bruges and Bratislava. Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic shared their distinctive, celebrated sound with the Symphony Center audience.
The program included the Dvořák Cello Concerto and Dvořák Symphony No. 9 (From the New World). Performers were Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov conductor,andAlisa Weilerstein cello.In a letter, Bychkov emphasizes that the Czech Symphony “preserves the uniqueness of the Czech musical tradition and offers it to the world”. I agreed with a man behind me who said, “If the Czech Symphony can’t play Dvořák, who can?” Certainly, the Symphony did their country’s musical tradition proud. They played magnificently.
The first number featured cellist Alisa Weilerstein with the symphony. The perfect complement to the orchestra, Alisa Weilerstein in her signature red dress, gave her all. Her experience with this work as presented in her recording of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the orchestra was called “an interpretation of passion, with a spine-tingling thrill and generosity of feeling that make it irresistible” (The Daily Telegraph) thrilled the audience which sprang to their feet with an extended applause.
The work of Dvořák was central to this concert, presumably, because the Czech Philharmonic played its first concert under this name on January 4, 1896 when Antonín Dvořák conducted his own compositions. Not long after that Antonín Dvořák accepted an invitation from Mrs. Jeannette Thurber to come to the United States to teach and compose. He stayed for two and a half years during which time he composed Symphony No. 9 (From the New World).Much has been written about the inspiration for this work and the origin of the musical themes. While Dvořák initially claimed that his experience listening to the singing of Harry T. Burleigh, a gifted young African American singer, and observing Native American rituals were the source of the themes, he later claimed that, in fact, the piece was Bohemian. A good explanation can be found in this article from The Guardian and it also includes a video of Burleigh singing. Check The Guardian.
Regardless of the inspiration for the work, this orchestra, under the direction of Semyon Bychkov, executed the work magnificently, with intensity and nuance. Bychkov began his life in St. Petersburg and studied at the Leningrad Conservatory, winning the Rachmaninoff Conducting Competition at age 20. He soon immigrated to the United States where he was appointed to the Grand Rapids Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic, followed by appointments as Music Director of Orchestre de Paris, Principal Guest Conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, and Chief Conductor of both the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne and the Dresden Semperoper.
Working together, conductor and orchestra moved from intensity to a dreamlike quality, with each section of the orchestra adding their expertise. The audience, once again, was thrilled with the performance. The enthusiastic and ovation was rewarded with not one, but two encores. Now the orchestra and the audience were relaxed and simply had fun with one more work by Dvořák,Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 2 and Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor. A wonderful concert. Those who have the opportunity to see this orchestra on tour will be richly rewarded.
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