Saturday, September 10, 2011


Rudolfinum and St. Vitus Cathedral
September 8 - 24

The Brno Philharmonic's Aleksandar Markovic

The new season gets a kick-start this month from Dvořák’s Prague, which in just three years has nicely filled the vacuum left by the demise of Prague Autumn. For the festival’s fourth outing, Director Vladimír Darjanin and Executive Director Jaroslav Manda have assembled an A-list group of soloists, a bracing mix of local and visiting orchestras and tastes of the old and new in the form of the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra from China.

The festival is also branching out in both programming and venues.

“For the first time, we have a concert outside the Rudolfinum: The Czech Philharmonic will play Dvořák’s Requiem at St. Vitus Cathedral,” says Manda. “This is something we will do every year from now on with one of the larger Dvořák works, like the Stabat Mater or Saint Ludmila Oratorio.

There is also a new series called “Debut,” four recitals featuring performers under 30 who are on their way to becoming classical stars. The impressive lineup includes pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, who opened the BBC Proms this year with Jiří Bělohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra; Dmitry Rasul-Karayev, who won the Debussy International Clarinet Competition in Paris last year; Josef Špaček, the new concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic; and Daniela Baňasová, a prize-winning Slovak mezzo-soprano.

For aficionados, the primary attractions of the festival are seeing ensembles that rarely visit Prague, and interesting matchups of orchestras and conductors. Asked for his favorites this year, Manda mentioned the following:

Vienna Boys’ Choir: “We created a classic Vienna program – Haydn, Mozart and Schubert – and invited the Prague Chamber Orchestra to play with them, so this will be a very special concert,” Manda says. Adding to the mix is the conductor, Aleksandar Markovic, who has been doing some interesting work with the Brno Philharmonic, where he currently holds the posts of chief conductor and music director. Markovic has conducted the Vienna Boys’ Choir twice before. “They are like a river,” he says. “Each time you see them it’s different, but with constant, exceptional quality.”

Filharmonica Della Scala: “Not an easy orchestra to get, we are very glad they are coming,” says Manda. For its debut appearance in Dvořák’s Prague, the cousin of the famous opera house orchestra will be performing Italian opera selections and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, the “English,” under the baton of one of its regular conductors, Daniel Harding.

Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra: “We know the conductor [Muhai Tang] very well, he was at our festival in 2008 with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, where he is the artistic director and principal conductor,” Manda says. Another orchestra making its debut appearance in the festival, the Zhejiang ensemble will play an Eastern work (Shi Wanchun’s Festival Overture) and show what it can do with Mozart and Dvořák.

Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo: “We’ve been talking to this orchestra for a long time about coming to Prague, and when they finally agreed, they were changing their chief conductor,” Manda says. “So we got a young Canadian conductor [Julian Kuerti], and we’re very happy about the program – I think it’s the best in the festival.” No Dvořák, but who’s going to argue with a Rachmaninov piano concerto, Gershwin’s An American in Paris and one of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé suites?

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra: The Netherlands’ best, but what Manda is really thrilled about is French Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. “He’s one of the most exciting young conductors in the world today,” Manda says. “This will be his first time in Prague, and we are really happy to have him at the festival.”

Among the many outstanding soloists, three are especially noteworthy. Nikolai Lugansky, who will give a solo recital of Chopin and Liszt pieces, is the single best pianist this critic has seen during his time in Prague. Jan Vogler may be the classical world’s most versatile cellist – who else has selections by Shostakovich and Jimi Hendrix on the same album? He will be performing one of his signature pieces, Schumann’s Cello concerto in A minor, with the Prague Philharmonia. And no one blends virtuoso technical skills with distinctive personal expression like Midori, who will be playing Beethoven’s Violin concerto in D major with the Czech Philharmonic.

That’s a lot of star power for a young festival, but perfectly in keeping with the organizers’ goals. “We don’t want to present concerts that you would see during the regular season,” Manda says. “Our idea is that after the festival, people should feel like they’ve been to something special.”

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