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Saturday, September 15, 2018, 8.00 pm
100 years of Czechoslovakia
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Programme

Antonín Dvořák: Saint Ludmila, Op. 71, B. 144

The Dvořák Prague Festival is dedicating its performance of Dvořák’s oratorio Saint Ludmila to the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. The work unites Christian symbolism with patriotism, two things of fundamental importance to the composer’s spiritual world. Logically, the performance has been entrusted to the country’s leading orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic with the Prague Philharmonic Choir under the baton of Jakub Hrůša, and the solo parts will be sung by leading Czech and Slovak artists.

The world premiere of the oratorio Saint Ludmila took place in October 1886 at the music festival in Leeds, which had commissioned a work “on a Biblical theme” from Dvořák after the triumphant success of his Stabat Mater. The master accepted the commission, but he insisted on a theme from Czech history, and he got his way. The libretto, inspired by the life of one of the most important Czech saints, Saint Ludmila, was written at Dvořák’s request by a leading Czech poet, Jaroslav Vrchlický. Dvořák took exceptional pride in the oratorio Saint Ludmila, and he put his utmost effort into working on it. It was one of the composer’s largest works in terms of both its length and the size of the vocal and instrumental forces it required. It is characterised by exceptional melodic inventiveness, elaborate polyphonic writing, and beauty of sound.

  • Dress code: dark suit
  • Doors close: 19.45
  • End of concert: 23.30

Artists

Czech Philharmonic

The Czech Philharmonic is the foremost Czech orchestra and has long held a place among the most esteemed representatives of Czech culture on the international scene. The beginning of its rich history is linked to the name of Antonín Dvořák, who on 4 January 1896 conducted the ensemble’s inaugural concert. Although the orchestra performs a broad range of the core international repertoire, it is sought out most often for its superb interpretations of the classics by the great Czech composers in a tradition built up by great conductors (Talich, Kubelík, Ančerl, Neumann, and Bělohlávek). In 2008 the prestigious magazine Gramophone ranked it among the twenty best orchestras of the world. One of the orchestra’s most important recent projects has recording Tchaikovsky’s complete orchestral works for the Decca Label with Semyon Bychkov conducting. Since the inception of the Dvořák Prague Festival, the Czech Philharmonic has been its resident orchestra, and since 2018 it has been a holder of the Antonín Dvořák Prize for promoting and popularising Czech classical music abroad and in the Czech Republic.

Czech Philharmonic

Richard Samek

Tenor Richard Samek was born in Třebíč and is a graduate of the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts. In 2006 he made his debut on the stage of the National Theatre in Brno. At present, he is a regular guest with the opera of the National Theatre in Prague, where he appears in roles including Rodolfo (La Bohème), Ismael (Nabucco), Cassio (Otello), and the Prince (Rusalka). He appears as a guest at the Grand Théâtre de Reims, the Opéra Théâtre de Limoges, the Opéra de Rennes, and the Staatsoperette Dresden, where has had a full-time engagement since 2014/2015. Since 2014, he has also been singing at the Theater Magdeburg, as well as at the Staatsoper Hannover since the 2015/16 season. In 2015 he took part in realising a live recording of Smetana’s opera Dalibor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jiří Bělohlávek. He collaborates with important conductors, chamber orchestras, and symphony orchestras including the Orchestra Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

Richard Samek - tenor

Kateřina Kněžíková

Soprano Kateřina Kněžíková is one of the most prominent figures of the younger generation of Czech singers in both the operatic and the concert repertoire. She is a graduate of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and has won honours in many events including the Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary. Since 2006 she has been a regular soloist with the opera company of the National Theatre in Prague, where she has sung Susanna in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, Aristea in L'Olimpiade by Mysliveček, and Terinka in Dvořák's opera The Jacobin amongst other roles. She also appears as a guest at other opera houses both at home and abroad, such as the Moravian-Silesian National Theatre in Ostrava, L’Opéra Royal de Versailles, and the Theatre Royal de La Monnaie. She works with important conductors like Serge Baudo, Manfred Honeck, and Tomáš Netopil, and with such renowned ensembles as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Collegium 1704, and the Czech Philharmonic. With Jiří Bělohlávek she recorded a new official version of the Czech national anthem.

Jakub Hrůša

Jakub Hrůša is one of the most highly-respected conductors of the young generation. He studied conducting at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts under Jiří Bělohlávek among others before continuing his education at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. When only eighteen he received three major honours in the Prague Spring International Conducting Competition, and three years later he won the Lovro von Matačić International Conducting Competition in Zagreb. He has already worked with most Czech professional orchestras as well as numerous orchestras abroad including the London Philharmonic, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig. He is active in the field of opera as well, having conducted such works as Carmen, Don Giovanni, Rusalka, The Cunning Little Vixen, and Boris Godunov in Prague’s National Theatre, Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theatre, and the opera festival in Glyndebourne, England. Also highly acclaimed are his recordings on the Supraphon, Octavia Records, and Universal labels. Regular guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, since last season he has also been chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony.

Jakub Hrůša - conductor

Lukáš Vasilek

Lukáš Vasilek, principal conductor of the Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC), studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and musicology at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague. For eleven seasons from 1998 he was conductor of the Foerster Female Chamber Choir, and between 2005 and 2007 was also second choirmaster of the Prague National Theatre´s opera chorus. He took up his post at the helm of the PPC in 2007. Apart from preparing and conducting the choir´s a cappella concert productions, he has been building up the PPC´s repertoire set for participation in large-scale cantata, oratorio and opera projects, working with leading international conductors (Barenboim, Bělohlávek, Eschenbach, Honeck, Hrůša, Jordan, Luisi, Mehta, Noseda or Rattle, among others) and orchestras (including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Czech Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or Wiener Symphoniker). Since 2010 the PPC under Vasilek´s direction has guest appeared regularly at the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria. Lukáš Vasilek is signed under numerous recordings made by the PPC for various major labels, including Decca Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classical and Supraphon. In 2016 the last mentioned of these issued an album of Bohuslav Martinů´s cantatas which was nominated for the BBC Music Magazine´s annual award in the choral category, among other plaudits. In 2010 Lukáš Vasilek formed the Martinů Voices vocal ensemble whose repertoire he has focused primarily on 20th- and 21st-century choral music. He is likewise occasionally active as an orchestra conductor. 

Prague Philharmonic Choir

The Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC) is a leading European vocal ensemble, and as one of the Czech Republic´s foremost artistic institutions operates under the trusteeship of the Czech Ministry of Culture. In the course of the choir´s long history since its foundation in 1935, it has been directed by a succession of some of the most distinguished Czech choirmasters (including among others Jan Kühn, Josef Veselka and Pavel Kühn). Since 2007 its principal choirmaster has been Lukáš Vasilek. The PPC´s repertoire is centered primarily around oratorio and cantata works. In their presentation, the choir has worked with eminent international orchestras (e.g. the Czech Philharmonic, Berliner Philharmoniker, Israel Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or Wiener Symphoniker, among others), and conductors (including Daniel Barenboim, Jiří Bělohlávek, Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Manfred Honeck, Jakub Hrůša, Tomáš Netopil, Gianandrea Noseda, Philippe Jordan, Fabio Luisi, Zubin Mehta or Sir Simon Rattle). Beyond its standard choral repertoire, the PPC is likewise active in the domain of opera, working regularly with the National Theatre in Prague, and since 2010 holding the status of choir in residence at the opera festival of Bregenz, Austria.For many years the ensemble has worked closely with the Czech Philharmonic.

Ondřej Koplík

The tenor Ondřej Koplík studied voice at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. His first engagement as a soloist was at the Moravian Theatre in Olomouc, where he sang roles in operas by Mozart, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Donizetti, and Puccini. For his performances, he has been nominated for Thalia Awards several times, and for the role of Count Almaviva in Rossini’s Barber of Seville, he won the 2015 Annual Prize of the internet portal Opera Plus. In 2014 he made his debut at the State Opera in Prague in a production of Puccini’s opera La bohème, and a year later he sang at the National Theatre in Prague in Mozart’s Magic Flute and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. He is a regular guest performer at the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava, where he has taken part in productions including Bizet’s Carmen, Verdi’s Ernani, Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress, and Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. He also appears regularly at the F. X. Šalda Theatre in Liberec (Mozart’s Magic Flute, Verdi’s La traviata). Since September 2017, he has been engaged by the opera company of the National Theatre in Brno. He receives invitations to such prestigious music festivals as Prague Spring and Janáček Brno. Since 2016, he has also been appearing on the revolving stage in Český Krumlov (Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen under the stage direction of SKUTR). In 2011 he played a central role in the world premiere of the Chinese opera Journey to the West. In 2012 and 2014 he went on an operatic concert tour of China and Mongolia.

Jozef Benci

After graduating from the conservatory and the College of Musical Arts in Bratislava, Slovak bass Jozef Benci also earned a diploma from the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts in Brno. In 1997 he won first prize in the Cavalera Carla Vendra international competition in Bratislava, and two years later he placed second in the Antonín Dvořák International Competition in Karlovy Vary. He has won many other prestigious honours as well. In 1998 he became a regular guest with the Slovak National Theatre Chamber Opera in Bratislava, then in 2002 a member of the ensemble of soloists with the State Opera in Banská Bystrica. He has won renown for his performances of bass roles such as Colline in Puccini’s La bohème, the Water Goblin in Dvořák’s Rusalka, and among Verdian roles Zaccaria in Nabucco and Ferrando in Il trovatore. In 2011 he scored a success as Kecal in a concert performance of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride in London’s Barbican Hall with the BBC Symphony under the baton of Jiří Bělohlávek. For the BBC he then performed the Burgrave in a radio recording of Dvořák’s The Jacobin under the same conductor in 2012. Benci also sings solo parts in major choral works as well as chamber music, and likes to perform in works by contemporary Slovak composers. Since 2013 he has been a regular guest with the Budapest National Opera, and in 2015 he appeared as Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia during a successful tour of Japan.

Alena Kropáčková

Mezzosoprano Alena Kropáčková graduated in voice from the conservatory and the College of Performing Arts in Bratislava, as well as participating in private courses given by Peter Dvorský. Already during her studies she won many awards in singing competitions both at home and abroad. She has performed as soloist with the South Bohemian Philharmonic, the Košice State Philharmonic, the Bruno Walter Symphony, the Slovak Radio Symphony, and other orchestras under the batons of renowned conductors. In 2013 she debuted as Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with the Banská Bystrica State Opera, and since then she has sung such roles as the Governess in The Queen of Spades by the same composer with the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava and Beppe in Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz with the Banská Bystrica State Opera, while also appearing with the Slovak Radio Symphony in Japan. In 2016 she presented herself to the Czech public in the international festival in Český Krumlov, and in 2017 she sang the role of La Ciesca in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi with the Slovak National Opera in Bratislava as well as solos in Rossini’s Stabat Mater in Žilina conducted by Nicola Giuliani. In the Slovak State Opera’s new season she’ll be appearing as Lola in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and, as part of the ‘Open Opera’ project, Marianna in Rossini’s Il signor Bruschino.

Alena Kropáčková - mezzosoprano

Rudolfinum, Dvořák Hall

The Rudolfinum is one of the most important Neo-Renaissance edifices in the Czech Republic. In its conception as a multi-purpose cultural centre it was quite unique in Europe at the time of its construction. Based on a joint design by two outstanding Czech architects, Josef Zítek and Josef Schultz, a magnificent building was erected serving for concerts, as a gallery, and as a museum. The grand opening on 7 February 1885 was attended by Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, in whose honour the structure was named. In 1896 the very first concert of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra took place in the Rudolfinum's main concert hall, under the baton of the composer Antonín Dvořák whose name was later bestowed on the hall.