24 May 2014

Berliner Philharmoniker
Krzysztof Urbański

Sol Gabetta

  • Bedřich Smetana
    Má vlast (My Country): No. 2 Vltava (River Moldau) · No. 3 Šárka (24 min.)

  • Bohuslav Martinů
    Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 in D major (30 min.)

    Sol Gabetta Cello

  • Antonín Dvořák
    Symphony No. 7 in D minor, op. 70 (43 min.)

  • free

    Sol Gabetta in conversation with Stephan Koncz (17 min.)

  • free

    Krzysztof Urbański in conversation with Krzysztof Polonek (14 min.)

Two young artists made their Berliner Philharmoniker debut at this concert: the Argentine-French cellist Sol Gabetta and the Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbański. Sol Gabetta began her international career in 2004 as a prize-winner in the Crédit Suisse Young Artists Award. She excites audiences wherever she appears with the energy, passion yet unaffectedness of her playing.

Krzysztof Urbański possesses both spirit and style, and has been acclaimed by the press as the most promising of the new generation of Polish conductors. Principal conductor of the Indianapolis and Trondheim Symphony orchestras, Urbański is an enthusiastic champion of his homeland’s music. For this concert, however, he chose works by Czech composers. Born in 1824, Bedřich Smetana is considered the founder of the Czech national style, who succeeded in achieving a unique synthesis between art music and folk elements. In his beloved orchestral cycle Má vlast (My Homeland), he created stirring musical portraits of his country’s natural beauty (The Moldau) and its legends (Šárka).

Antonín Dvořák, 17 years his junior, continued along Smetana’s musical path, but in his often sombre and moody Seventh Symphony, composed for England, Dvořák allows himself few reminiscences of the Bohemian idiom. Bohuslav Martinů’s Cello Concerto No. 1, on the other hand, is a happy marriage of Czech folk music with 20th-century musical language.

Facets of Czech Music

Works by Bedřich Smetana, Bohuslav Martinů and Antonín Dvořák

Má vlast by Bedřich Smetana

Despite his importance as the founder of a national school of Czech music, outside his native country Bedřich Smetana is known for only a few works: in particular, the symphonic poem Vltava (The Moldau), the String Quartet No. 1 (From My Life) and the opera The Bartered Bride. Smetana’s life was clouded by a tragic personal fate and political struggles over the future of his homeland. As a patriot, he hoped – in vain – for greater sovereignty for his country; as a composer, he was involved in the fierce conflict over a forward-looking orientation of Czech music and culture. In 1874 the composer suffered a complete and irreversible hearing loss, but he retained his creative powers for several years. At the beginning of the 1880s his health increasingly deteriorated, and he finally had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he died in May of 1884.

“Never has a country, its character, its nature, its heroic or awe-inspiring historical memories received purer glorification than in this cycle,” the musicologist Alfred Einstein wrote about Smetana’s most celebrated work, Má vlast (My Homeland). The composer did not initially conceive it as a unified collection of several symphonic poems. The individual movements were composed over a period of five years: first Vyšehrad and Vltava in 1874, then Šárka and Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemian Fields and Groves) in 1875, and finally Tábor and Blaník in the winter of 1878/1879.

In a summary of the subject matter of the symphonic poems, Smetana described the second work of the cycle, Vltava, as follows: “This composition depicts the course of the river, from its beginnings where two springs merge, one warm, the other cold, running through meadows and forests, through a lovely countryside where peasants are celebrating a wedding. Water nymphs dance in the silvery moonlight, the outline of castles and ancient ruins can be seen on nearby cliffs, proudly soaring into the sky. The Vltava foams and swirls through St John’s rapids, flows in a broad stream towards Prague, past the Vyšehrad castle, then continues majestically, disappears from view and finally flows into the Elbe.”

The composer notes that the third movement, Šárka, depicts not a landscape but a story: “The legend of the maiden Šárka, who in her fury over her lover’s infidelity swears vengeance on the entire male sex. The sound of weapons is heard in the distance. Ctirad approaches with his men to conquer and punish the rebel maidens. From a distance he hears the cunningly feigned cries of a girl and sees Šárka tied to a tree. Captivated by her beauty, he falls passionately in love with her and frees her. Šárka gives Ctirad and his men a prepared potion to intoxicate them, and they fall asleep. Šárka’s horn signal summons the other maidens, they rush out of the forest and carry out a massacre. The horror of the gruesome slaughter and the blind fury of Šárka’s revenge conclude the movement.”

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 in D major by Bohuslav Martinů

As Harry Halbreich points out, Bohuslav Martinů was not only “the fourth ‘classic’ of Czech music”, along with Smetana, Dvořák and Janáček, but also one of the most important composers of the first half of the 20th century. His works were performed frequently in Czechoslovakia. In the rest of the world, however, what Halbreich observed in his book on Martinů, published in 1968, still seems to be true, even in the 21st century: “The avant-gardists turn away with a shrug, while, on the other hand, the unconventional formal construction of his music, its agility, its lack of standard thematic structures and familiar reference points present problems which performers do not expect in this seemingly light, tonal musical idiom.”

Martinů’s Cello Concerto No. 1, composed in 1930 and revised in 1939 and 1955, and its merits are immediately accessible to the listener. The solo part is virtuosic and melodious, the orchestration economical. In the first movement, which despite its title “Allegro moderato” has vigorous, even abrupt characteristics, the trumpets present the principal theme. The middle movement is an eloquent Andante moderato, with a broad theme introduced by the clarinets, then continued by other woodwinds and the principal trumpet. The soloist is accompanied pianissimo for the most part, but there are dramatic build-ups and an expansive solo cadenza. In the animated Allegro finale the composer plays with the alternation of even and uneven metres. Halbreich describes this work as Martinů’s “first ‘great’ concerto” and a “milestone in his artistic development. No other work from this period points so clearly to his future development, although the orchestration which Martinů expanded in his first revision of the work strengthens this impression. It transformed a chamber concerto with allusions to the concerto grosso genre into a true solo concerto of symphonic proportions. Rhythmically and formally, the work is more freely conceived than most compositions of the early 1930s.”

Symphony No. 7 in D minor, op. 70, by Antonín Dvořák

When Antonín Dvořák wrote his Seventh Symphony, he had already achieved considerable success as a composer of operas and important orchestral works. Dvořák also earned recognition and found a receptive public far beyond his native country, particularly in England. During his first visit to London at the invitation of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1884, he conducted his Sixth Symphony, the Husitská (Hussite)Overture, the second Slavonic Rhapsodyand his Stabat mater.The concerts were so successful that soon afterwards the Philharmonic Society made him an honorary member and commissioned him to compose a symphony. Dvořák began his Seventh Symphony at the end of 1884, completing it in mid-March of 1885. The premiere took place on 22 October 1885 with the composer conducting the Philharmonic Orchestra at St James’s Hall in London, during his third visit to England. Dvořák later shortened the second movement by 40 bars, and the final version of the work was premiered in Prague on 29 November 1885.

Like Dvořák’s earlier and subsequent symphonies, the D minor Symphony follows the traditional formal structure. Most of the melodies in the opening Allegro, which is in sonata form, are developed from the energetic principal theme, particularly its consequent phrase. A lyrical subsidiary theme provides a contrast; the development and recapitulation are brief. The second movement (Poco allegro), in three-part song form with a tender principal theme and an expressive song by the horn in the middle section, is strongly reminiscent of Johannes Brahms in its style and tone and was probably inspired by Brahms’s Third Symphony. The Scherzo relaxes the mood of the serious work somewhat. With its characteristic two themes, the movement is full of (occasionally nervous) energy, with vigorous rhythms and a strong dance-like pulse. The Allegro finale – again serious, here and there even brusque – “fights its way” (Karl Schumann) from the tragic opening to the triumphant conclusion. After the London premiere, George Bernard Shaw wrote: “The quick transitions from liveliness to mourning, the variety of rhythm and figure, the spirited movement, the occasional abrupt and melancholy pauses, and the characteristic harmonic progressions of Bohemian music are all coordinated in sonata form by Herr Dvořák with rare success.”

Helge Grünewald

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

PH 80 (2014-05-23) Biografien EN

Foto: Joanna Urbanska oder Fred Jonny (Datei » Krzysztof Urbański (Joanna Urbanska oder Fred Jonny).JPG im MS-Ordner Abbildungen)

Krzysztof Urbański graduated from the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw in 2007, and in the same year was unanimously awarded first prize by the jury in the conducting competition of the Prague Spring International Music Festival. From 2007 to 2009 he was assistant to Antoni Wit, musical director of the Warsaw Philharmonic. In the summer of 2013, Krzysztof Urbański began his fourth season as chief conductor and artistic director of the Trondheim Symfoniorkester; moreover, he is also musical director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for the third season. Furthermore, he is principal guest conductor of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and will also take over from Alan Gilbert as principal guest conductor of the NDR Sinfonieorchester from the 2015/2016 season. Krzysztof Urbański has conducted large European tours with both the Czech Philharmonic and the European Union Youth Orchestra; in addition, he led the Orchestra Academy of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival. On the 80th birthday of Krzysztof Penderecki, he appeared alongside Charles Dutoit and Valery Gergiev in a televised concert with the Sinfonia Varsovia in Warsaw. Among the highlights of the current season are Krzysztof Urbański’s debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in these concerts, as well as his first appearance at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, followed by engagements with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tonkünstler Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic. He also has return engagements with, among others, the Philharmonia Orchestra London, the NDR Sinfonieorchester, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra Washington. Krzysztof Urbański holds the position of Adjunct Professor of Music (Orchestral Conducting) at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Foto: Uwe Arens (Datei »Gabetta, Sol 1(Uwe Arens).tif« im MS-Ordner in Abbildungen)

Sol Gabetta studied under Ivan Monighetti in Madrid and Basel and completed her cello studies in 2006 with David Geringas at the Academy of Music Hanns Eisler Berlin. The Argentine-French cellist of Russian origin caused a sensation when she won the Crédit Suisse Young Artist Award in 2004 and opened the award winners concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Valery Gergiev. Today, Sol Gabetta appears all over the world with the world’s most prestigious orchestras; in the last season alone, she made her debut with the Orchestre National de France, the Tonhalle-Orchestra Zurich, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In the summer of 2014, Sol Gabetta was Artist in Residence at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, and is also a welcome guest at the festivals in Verbier, Gstaad, Schwetzingen, Schwarzenberg and Bonn. An intense artistic collaboration connects her to the conductors Giovanni Antonini, Mario Venzago, Pablo Heras Casado and Thomas Hengelbrock. Performances with musicians such as Patricia Kopatchinskaya, Baiba Skride and Bertrand Chamayou have taken the cellist to London’s Wigmore Hall, the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. With the Solsberg Festival (Switzerland), which she herself founded, she pursues her passion for chamber music. Thanks to a scholarship from Rahn Kulturfonds, Sol Gabetta plays a Guadagnini cello from 1759. Since 2005, she has been teaching at the Musik-Akademie Basel. Following her first appearance in Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts in a concert of the cello class of David Geringas in the chamber music hall at end of October 2004, Sol Gabetta now makes her official debut with the orchestra.

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