Semyon Bychkov, the Czech Philharmonic and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky might be a match made in heaven. “When it was suggested to me to record this Tchaikovsky cycle with them, I think it probably took me about five seconds before my instinct told me that it is exactly the place I would like to do it, because it is slavic, it is very close to the spirit of Russian music.” Over the past seasons, the orchestra and their Chief Conductor and Music Director have immersed themselves in the Russian composer’s music and their Tchaikovsky Project – a series of illustrious recordings – will culminate in 2019 with Tchaikovsky residencies in Japan, Vienna, Paris and their home venue, the Rudolfinum, during the Prague International Music Festival in September.

Semyon Bychkov © Chris Christodoulou
Semyon Bychkov
© Chris Christodoulou

The heart of the concerts will be the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. For Bychkov, the Pathétique is a work that stays with you your entire life, encouraging you to rethink your interpretation and approach to it. “As we go through life, we change, under the experience of living. The object is the same, but the person who is looking at it has lived.” And although he thought that the Pathétique’s ending is about acceptance, a resignation before death when he grew up, Bychkov has very much changed his conception when he further explored the score during his career. “It slows down systematically and then... it stops. Tchaikovsky doesn't write a fermata over it. It's very much written out that “life stops” – it cannot be acceptance, it cannot be resignation, it is something that comes abruptly, much too soon, and is a protest, not acceptance.”

Alongside less performed works such as Manfred and Serenade for Strings, Bychkov is programming some true classics. For Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1, a work that has been revised by the composer three times in fourteen years, the Czech Philharmonic invited the Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein, who championed the less familiar first revised edition of 1879. It is his “flawless technique” that not only won over audiences around the world, but also won him an ECHO Klassik award for his world premiere recording of the 1879 version in 2015. While Daishin Kashimoto, first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, will join the orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto on their tour to Japan in October, the Capuçon brothers Renaud and Gautier will play the solo parts of the Violin Concerto and the Variations on a Rococo Theme respectively in Prague, Vienna and Paris. A lovely addition to the orchestra’s Japan programmes and a salute to their homeland will be Vltava (The Moldau), Vyšehrad and Šárka from Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast.

It is also these two composers, Tchaikovsky and Smetana, alongside Shostakovich, that Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic will bring to the BBC Proms this summer, a highlight for every orchestra. Elena Stikhina will be singing Tatyana’s Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, nestling between the overture and Three Dances of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony.

Smetana is just one of an eclectic list of Czech composers that features in the Philharmonic’s new subscription series. Jakub Hrůša will lead a concert performance of one of Leoš Janáček’s most successful operas, Katya Kabanova, in April, while Petr Altrichter will further explore the Czech composer’s oeuvre with the Glagolitic Mass and The Fiddler’s Child in October. Jakub Hrůša, Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra, will conduct Janáček’s rhapsody Taras Bulba that is based on Nikolai Gogol’s novel about an old Zaporozhian Cossack and his two sons. The programme also includes the Scherzo Fantastique by Josef Suk, a student and later son-in-law of Antonín Dvořák. Sol Gabetta will join Hrůša and the orchestra on a Germany tour, playing Dvořák Cello Concerto. Bychkov will conduct a further programme dedicated to Bohuslav Martinů in January, including his Concerto for two pianos played by Katia and Marielle Labèque.

Czech Philharmonic © Petra Hajská
Czech Philharmonic
© Petra Hajská

Yet, the new season also shines a light on contemporary classical Czech music. A Christmas Concert in honour of Jaroslav Krček which will see the premiere of a new work for flute, oboe, harp and French horn by the composer and inventor of musical instruments will for surely hold some surprises. James Gaffigan will conduct the world premiere of Jiří Teml’s symphonic tableau The Labyrinth of Memory, while Peter Eötvös will explore two works of the young Czech composer Miroslav Srnka, born in 1975 in Prague, move 01 and move 03 for large orchestra, together with one of the Hungarian conductor’s own works, Jet Stream, and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. When Jiří Bělohlávek became the chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic in 2012, his goal was to promote the music of young composers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The winners of this year’s Czech Philharmonic Composition Competition, Adrián Demoč, Matouš Hejl, and Jana Vörösová were commissioned to write new works to be premiered in a special concert in November.

2019-20 will be the first of two seasons celebrating Ludwig van Beethoven, and the Czech Philharmonic has some wonderful treats for their home audience. Rudolf Buchbinder will come to Prague to play Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto in February and the Emperor in June, paired with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, which features the heavenly Chen Reiss. Leonidas Kavakos will not only play the solo part in the Violin Concerto, but also conduct the Eroica as part of a near-complete Beethoven cycle, continued by Bychkov, David Robertson, Tomáš Netopil and Giovanni Antonini.

Click here to see the full season listings.


This preview is sponsored by the Czech Philharmonic.