Joshua Bell helps Czech Philharmonic launch 121st season

Joshua Bell, photo: archive of Czech Philharmonic

The Czech Philharmonic launched its new season on Thursday night with a concert at Prague’s Rudolfinum featuring the world-renowned US violinist Joshua Bell, who performed Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. The orchestra, which is to perform the same concert again on Friday, has also marked the new season – its 121st – with the release of two special albums. I spoke with the head of Czech Philharmonic, David Mareček, about the plans for the upcoming season, but I started by asking how the cooperation with Joshua Bell came about:

Joshua Bell,  photo: archive of Czech Philharmonic
“This cooperation started two years ago, when the Czech Philharmonic performed with Joshua Bell in Abu Dhabi. There is an international festival. He was quite happy with the orchestra and the orchestra loved him, and he started to cooperate with Jiří Bělohlávek and planned a concert in Prague and these are the concerts that take place these days.”

What else was on the programme on the opening night?

“The second half was the Song of the Earth or Das Lied von der Erde by Gustav Mahler, a big vocal symphony with two soloists, a tenor and a mezzosoprano alto. It is a huge, one-hour piece based on Chinese poetry translated to German and it is one of Mahler’s masterpieces.”

As far as I know you have also launched two CDs to mark the new season.

David Mareček,  photo: Jef Kratochvil / Czech Philharmonic
“Yes, and this was quite symbolic, because one CD is a complete recording of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances with Jiří Bělohlávek our chief conductor and this is followed by a complete recording of Dvořák’s symphonies. We wanted to show that we want to go in this direction and we want to record much more Czech music with Jiří Bělohlávek.

“The other CD is Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony with Romeo and Juliet and this is conducted by Semyon Bychkov. It also marks a new project, the recording of complete Tchaikovsky's Symphonies three piano concertos and also some smaller pieces, all of them with Semyon Bychkov.”

What are your plans for the new season and how many events have you planned?

“Well there is a normal number with subscription concerts with some interesting projects such as Messien’s Turangalila Symphony with David Robertson, a distinguished US conductor, the Epic of Gilgamesh with Jiří Bělohlávek, Symphony Fantastique by Berlioz with Jakub Hrůša.

“Apart from that we will of course go on tours. The most important is the Asia tour that will lead us mainly to China to Beijing, Shanghai and other cities this autumn. In December we will go to Germany to perform in some big German cities such as Munich, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Koln.”

What would you say are the biggest challenges the Czech Philharmonic is facing in the near future?

Czech Philharmonic,  photo: archive of Czech Radio
“Well, every concert is a new challenge but I would say the biggest challenge is to finish the transformation of the Czech Philharmonic to be the national orchestra in the best sense of the word - an orchestra that is known in the whole country and that also serves the whole country.

“This is something we want to achieve through digital media. On the other hand to represent the country abroad and last but not least to raise the biggest Czech talents who can later become members of the Czech Philharmonic.”