The Dvořák Prague International Music Festival

Since 2008, the Dvořák Prague Festival has been offering more than two weeks filled with beautiful music and extraordinary cultural events inspired by the life and creative legacy of one of the world’s greatest musical geniuses. Taking Dvořák to Prague might seem about as revelatory as taking owls to Athens, and that is why the festival presenters say that they do not want to use Dvořák’s name lightly. The festival is not intended to be just a succession of concerts made more attractive by the names of famous performers. The festival’s programmes set out to present the works of Antonín Dvořák heard in their historical context so that alongside the great composer’s works that are part of the core repertoire of all renowned ensembles and soloists, the concert public will also hear works that are not played as regularly.

Many of Dvořák’s works have only become widely familiar over time. This is true thanks both to musicologists and, above all, to performers who have made Dvořák’s works a part of their repertoire. One such example is Dvořák’s Piano Concerto in G minor, which shines just as brilliantly as the concertos of Brahms or Tchaikovsky when played by Sviatoslav Richter, Rudolf Firkušný, Ivan Moravec, Gerhard Oppitz, or Sir András Schiff. This is why the list of musicians who appear at the Dvořák Prague Festival has such a wealth of world-class performers of the highest rank. It is they who, together with festival audiences, pay tribute to the Czech composer who is the most played and acclaimed around the world.

The festival programme is broken down into programme series, foremost amongst which is the Dvořák Collection, which focuses on presenting and recording complete categories of Dvořák’s oeuvre. Thanks to the Dvořák Prague Festival, there have been performances of his complete symphonic works and choral works with orchestra as well as his early operas. Therefore, one finds in our programmes not only the New World Symphony or the Stabat Mater, but also neglected works like The Heirs of the White Mountain, The American Flag, his first opera Alfred, and the first musical setting of his opera King and Collier as part of the series Opera in Concert.

As the years have gone by, the festival’s programming has also turned its attention to musical creations from the pen of Antonín Dvořák that are less spectacular at first glance, but that are no less genuine and intimate in their musical expression than the works intended for orchestra or choir with soloists. In 2020 at an all-day concert marathon, a substantial portion of Dvořák’s piano music was played, and this was supplemented by two full-length piano recitals. Then at the initiative of the Academy of Classical and the Dvořák Prague Festival and with their substantial support, Ivo Kahánek, the project’s patron and one of its protagonists, recorded Dvořák’s complete piano works on CD—the first such recording made in over 50 years. That same year, the festival moved on to the complete performing of Dvořák’s chamber works, beginning with piano quartets and piano trios, and presently underway is the presenting of Dvořák’s complete works for string quartet.

Jakub Hrůša: artist-in-residence for the 2024 Dvořák Prague Festival 

For many years, the Dvořák Prague Festival and the Czech Philharmonic have been engaged in intensive collaboration, which took the shape of the philharmonic’s status as the festival orchestra-in-residence. 

The Dvořák Prague Festival identifies continuously and with unprecedented intensity with the symbols of Czech musical culture, placing Antonín Dvořák at the forefront as the Czech composer who is most renowned around the world. As part of celebrating the Year of Czech Music, we regarded as important a further strengthening of this connection. We have therefore asked the conductor Jakub Hrůša to serve as our festival’s artist-in-residence in 2024. Jakub Hrůša gladly accepted this offer.  

One of the most gifted conductors of our day in a worldwide context, he represents the absolute pinnacle of the art of interpretation and is acclaimed both by critics and by the music-loving public on all continents. He is important to Czech musical culture not only because he was born in this country, but also because in all of his artistic activities, he is actively promoting Czech repertoire at the world’s most illustrious concert halls and opera houses. 

Jakub Hrůša is the chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, the future music director of the Royal Opera in Covent Garden (from 2025), the principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and the principal guest conductor of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. He has also served as principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra and of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. He collaborates regularly with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. As an opera conductor, he has led productions at the Salzburg Festival, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera in Covent Garden, the Opéra National de Paris, and the Zurich Opera. He also appears regularly as a guest at the festival in Glyndebourne.

For his artistic activities, he has won a number of prestigious prizes such as the BBC Music Magazine Award, the German Record Critics’ Award, the Bavarian State Prize for Music, the Antonín Dvořák Prize, and the International Classical Music Award. At present, he is the president of the International Martinů Circle and of the Dvořák Society. All around the world, he systematically promotes Czech music, including works by less internationally recognised composers and by Josef Suk in particular. His repeated appearances at the Dvořák Prague Festival have featured such works as Josef Bohuslav Foerster’s Symphony No. 4 (Easter Eve), the symphonic poem Lady Godiva by Vítězslav Novák, Josef Suk’s two symphonies, and Dvořák’s major works for voices and orchestra including the seldom-heard uncut version of the oratorio Saint Ludmila.

Emphasis on chamber music

At present, the Dvořák Collection overlaps with the festival’s Chamber Series, which has been highly acclaimed thanks in part to the participation of world-class curators who put together programmes and invite their musical friends to perform. Among the curators so far have been the violinist Gil Shaham, the cellist Jiří Bárta, the clarinettist Sharon Kam, the pianists Ivo Kahánek, Boris Giltburg, and Lukáš Vondráček, and the French horn player Radek Baborák. For the first time in the festival’s history, the current curators are members of the Pavel Haas Quartet. This team approach to curating the Chamber Series and to patronage of the Dvořák Collection further enlivens our festival events. 

Support for young talents

The Dvořák Prague Festival sees Dvořák’s pedagogical activities and his support for talented musicians as yet another important part of the genius’s legacy. The festival offers a great opportunity for young musicians beginning their careers by devoting to them its programme series titled For the Future. Since 2020, the festival has been joining with Czech Radio as the co-presenter of the competition Concertino Praga. That same year, there was a concert of the Dvořák Prague Youth Philharmonic that ties in with similar projects supporting the training of young musicians in the fields of orchestral and chamber music. The Dvořák Prague Festival has long been introducing new faces from the world’s festival stages through debut recitals or solo appearances with orchestra.

In 2022 with the creation of the concert series Dvořák Prague at Bořislavka, the festival also became linked symbolically to its chief patron, the Karel Komárek Family Foundation. Appearances by the most talented young performers were taking place at Bořislavka, the site of the foundation’s Prague headquarters. And it is no coincidence that the proceeds from admission to these concerts go to the foundation’s scholarship fund, which is intended to support the musical education of the youngest talented musicians.

On the Trail of Antonín Dvořák

Enthusiastic admirers of Dvořák’s life and works can follow in his footsteps to places where the composer stayed or that are otherwise associated with him. The festival public has already visited the flat of the composer’s patron Josef Hlávka and has admired sites connected with Dvořák in Sychrov, Kroměříž, and Pilsen. Of course, there have also been visits to Nelahozeves, Vysoká u Příbramě, and many other places. It should be noted that Czech society owes something of a debt to the great composer. Many places with historical connections to the life and works of Antonín Dvořák are not always treated with the same care and reverence afforded to Poland’s musical icon Frédéric Chopin, for example. With its activities, the Dvořák Prague Festival wants to help make the general awareness of Antonín Dvořák just as strong and natural as is the case with several other major phenomena associated with the history of the Czech nation.

World-Class orchestras, famous conductors, and soloists

The main venue of the Dvořák Prague Festival is the Rudolfinum, where Antonín Dvořák conducted the first concert of the Czech Philharmonic on 4 January 1896. This is one reason why that orchestra has been the festival’s orchestra-in-residence from the very beginning, contributing several concerts each season as part of its own programme series. In 2021 it shared this honour with the Bamberg Symphony, an orchestra that also has its roots in Prague. The programme series World-Class Orchestras features concerts given by other symphonic ensembles. There are many examples in the festival’s history such as the Vienna Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. This orchestral fraternity, in conjunction with collaborations with such figures as Herbert Blomstedt, Zubin Mehta, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Neeme Järvi, Antonio Papano, Jiří Bělohlávek, Jakub Hrůša, Sir András Schiff, Yo Yo Ma, Krystian Zimerman, Martha Argerich, and many other artists, guarantees interpretations of the highest quality and promises that festival events will be special experiences.