The Czech Philharmonic

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John F
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The Czech Philharmonic

Post by John F » Sat Nov 15, 2014 4:09 am

A Maestro Returns, First There, Now Here
Jiri Belohlavek and the Czech Philharmonic Tour the U.S.
NOV. 14, 2014
By ZACHARY WOOLFE

For the most prominent Czech conductor of his generation, the rejection hit uniquely close to home. Jiri Belohlavek had been chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic for just a year when its musicians won the right to elect their leaders freely in 1991. They voted him out. “I was shattered,” Mr. Belohlavek (pronounced bell-oh-LAH-vetch), now 68 and crowned with a cloud of white hair, said this week at the Czech Center New York, a cultural institute housed in the Bohemian National Hall on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

But now he is back, having returned two years ago to lead, once more, this venerable but long-troubled orchestra. With mood and finances both stabilizing, the ensemble and Mr. Belohlavek are in the midst of their first American tour together, which reaches Carnegie Hall on Sunday and concludes, on Monday, with a program at the National Cathedral in Washington commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that brought an end to Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

The tour is an opportunity for audiences here to experience a rarity these days: an orchestra that sounds like itself. The internationalization of classical music over the past few decades has resulted in more versatile ensembles but also more homogeneity. The Czech Philharmonic is a notable exception. Founded in 1896, it has retained the bright, rustic quality of its winds, the coppery directness of its brasses, its dark string colors and its infectious intensity and danciness through a storied history — it gave the premiere of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony in 1908, led by Mahler — and a distinguished line of conductors, including Vaclav Talich, Rafael Kubelik, Karel Ancerl and Vaclav Neumann.

“The orchestra has a real tenderness and coziness,” the French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who will join it at Carnegie for Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2, said in a telephone interview. “If you think of a really old, traditional and — I say this as a compliment — what we used to call an Eastern European sound, it’s that kind of old-fashioned, rounded sound, not just in the strings but in the woodwinds too. It’s really kept its identity.”

The violinist Josef Spacek, 28, who trained in the United States before returning to the Czech Republic as the orchestra’s concertmaster in 2010, agreed, looking to his own section for the source of the ensemble’s characteristic style. “The key is in the strings, which are really warm and down to earth,” he said by phone. “Because we Czechs came from a sort of peasant lifestyle, there is a great sense for folk tunes. Smetana, Dvorak — they really derive their music from simple tunes from the countryside.”

Part of the reason the orchestra’s sound has endured is its intimate home, Dvorak Hall in the Rudolfinum in Prague, which rewards sonic richness. And part is simple numbers: According to Mr. Spacek, just two out of the 118 players are not Czech. “It’s not because we don’t allow foreign people to apply,” he insisted with a laugh. “But we have a huge overload of musicians coming from the Czech Republic,” a country of 10 million with more than a dozen conservatories...

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/15/arts/ ... he-us.html
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Ricordanza
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Nov 15, 2014 8:04 am

I've had only one concert experience with Jiri Belohlavek, but it was overwhelmingly positive. Ten years ago, he was the guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra in an all-Czech program (Martinu's "The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca," the Dvorak Violin Concerto, with Sarah Chang, and Dvorak's "New World" Symphony). The Philadelphians have had some great guest conductors in the 16 years I have been a regular attendee, but he was one of the best.

Heck148
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by Heck148 » Sat Nov 15, 2014 8:34 am

The Czech PO has long been one of my favorite orchestras. I agree wholeheartedly that it retains a unique sound, and style - both in phrasing and in tone.
Wonderful lift, and lilt in the string playing, very characteristic "woody" tone in the woodwinds, and strong, lyrical playing from the brass..

Too many favorite recordings to name - but some really memorable ones for me

Beethoven Sym #3 "Eroica" -von Matacic/CzPO - one of the best - lean, clean sounding, with terrific dynamic contrast and maintenance of melodic line.
Bruckner - Sym #7 -again. lean and clean, with beautiful phrasing, and great work from solo brass - tpt, Horn...
Martinu - complete Symphonies - Neumann - the orch is totally ibto these works, complwetely convincing on rhythm and phrasing
Martinu -Syms 3 and 6, Neumann - a separate disc - better than the complete set - stunning solo work is featured -esp in the woodwinds..
Brahms - Serenades 1 & 2 - Behlolavek - these woerks are perfect to show off the unique tone quality and flexible phrasing of the Czech musicians.

Lance
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by Lance » Sun Nov 16, 2014 1:34 am

I must say that I was immediately taken upon hearing Vaclav Talich's Supraphon recordings, all of which now have been made available in the Talich Edition on the label on 19 CDs. His Dvorak, Smetana, Suk and other Bohemian composers rank among the best IMHO despite the mono sound. Listening to the Czech Philharmonic's recordings of Mozart, Wagner and others, one detects an immediate (and inspiring) quality to the sound of the orchestra, especially as noted, the strings and winds. The Talich Edition also features him with some other orchestras other than the Czech. Stokowski also led the Czech Philharmonic bringing it's highly individual sound to the Decca label in extraordinary sound quality. It did not lose that Czech PO flavour even under Stokowski's hands. When I was in Prague a couple of years ago, I heard some fine music, but was not able to hear the Czech Phlharmonic. Perhaps another day.

Speaking of individuality and unique sound among orchestras, another one that piqued my interest (maybe because of my Russian heritage) is the work Mravinsky did with the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Symphony Orchestra. That orchestra has never sounded the same since Mravinsky left the conductor's podium.
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
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Chalkperson
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by Chalkperson » Sun Nov 16, 2014 1:27 pm

Lance wrote:I must say that I was immediately taken upon hearing Vaclav Talich's Supraphon recordings, all of which now have been made available in the Talich Edition on the label on 19 CDs. His Dvorak, Smetana, Suk and other Bohemian composers rank among the best IMHO despite the mono sound. Listening to the Czech Philharmonic's recordings of Mozart, Wagner and others, one detects an immediate (and inspiring) quality to the sound of the orchestra, especially as noted, the strings and winds. The Talich Edition also features him with some other orchestras other than the Czech. Stokowski also led the Czech Philharmonic bringing it's highly individual sound to the Decca label in extraordinary sound quality. It did not lose that Czech PO flavour even under Stokowski's hands. When I was in Prague a couple of years ago, I heard some fine music, but was not able to hear the Czech Phlharmonic. Perhaps another day.

Speaking of individuality and unique sound among orchestras, another one that piqued my interest (maybe because of my Russian heritage) is the work Mravinsky did with the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Symphony Orchestra. That orchestra has never sounded the same since Mravinsky left the conductor's podium.
Nobody is as meticulous as Mravinsky, he had unlimited rehearsal time, he went phrase by phrase. We won't see the likes of him again.

The Czech PO is a very good orchestra, and the Talich Edition very worthwhile.
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Ted Quanrud
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by Ted Quanrud » Sun Nov 16, 2014 2:13 pm

Ricordanza wrote:I've had only one concert experience with Jiri Belohlavek, but it was overwhelmingly positive. Ten years ago, he was the guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra in an all-Czech program (Martinu's "The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca," the Dvorak Violin Concerto, with Sarah Chang, and Dvorak's "New World" Symphony). The Philadelphians have had some great guest conductors in the 16 years I have been a regular attendee, but he was one of the best.
I was at that very same concert, one of only four I have heard with the Philadelphia and the only one I have heard conducted by Belohlavek, and I agree it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Under his leadership, the orchestra had a different character than a week earlier under Eschenbach. It was somehow warmer, earthier and virtually mistake-free. I had never heard much Martinu, but Behohlavek made a willing listener if not devotee of me. The Dvorak Concerto was splendid (it really needs to be heard more often), although I didn't think Miss Chang's effort matched those of the orchestra and conductor. The New World was beyond splendid, as Behlohlavek made the old warhorse sound anew, exploiting all of its power and lyricism. One of those concert experiences you want to experience again and again.

josé echenique
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by josé echenique » Sun Nov 16, 2014 7:56 pm

I´m also a great fan of the Czech Philharmonic, to hear them perform live Smetana´s Ma Vlast is an unforgettable experience. And it´s true, they keep a distinctive, Old World sound all their own.

Guitarist
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by Guitarist » Sun Nov 16, 2014 9:32 pm

They recently played in my town and were excellent. The program consisted of two excerpts from Smetana's "Ma Vlast," Liszt's Piano Concerto No.2 (with Jean-Yves Thibaudet), and Dvorak's 9th Symphony.

maestrob
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by maestrob » Mon Nov 17, 2014 12:59 pm

Image

I love this orchestra beyond measure: They also have the finest set of Dvorak Symphonies on disc.....

Lance
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by Lance » Mon Nov 17, 2014 2:33 pm

Yes, I have this, too - and love it!
maestrob wrote:Image

I love this orchestra beyond measure: They also have the finest set of Dvorak Symphonies on disc.....
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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josé echenique
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by josé echenique » Mon Nov 17, 2014 7:22 pm

Image

In these recordings you can still hear the vintage Czech post-Talich sound.

Seán
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Re: The Czech Philharmonic

Post by Seán » Wed Nov 19, 2014 1:49 pm

Heck148 wrote:The Czech PO has long been one of my favorite orchestras.
Mine too.
Seán

"To appreciate the greatness of the Masters is to keep faith in the greatness of humanity." - Wilhelm Furtwängler

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