Dvořák’s Prague

International Festival of Classical Music

Dvořák’s Prague gets the classical season off to a rip-roaring start on Sept. 8 – Antonín Dvořák’s birthday – with a 22-concert program that features a smart mix of local and visiting orchestras and a hefty dose of star power, with world-class performers like Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky, Japanese violinist Midori and French Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The Vienna Boys’ Choir will bring the best of old Europe, and the Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra will bring a taste of new China.

Still, some of the most interesting concerts may be in “Debut,” a new series of recital performances showcasing promising young talent. The roster of future stars includes pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, who opened the BBC Proms this year with Jiří Bělohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra; Dmitry Rasul-Karayev, who won the Debussy International Clarinet Competition in Paris last year; Josef Špaček, the new concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic; and Daniela Baňasová, a prize-winning Slovak mezzo-soprano.

“The young performers we chose are all competition winners,” says Jaroslav Manda, the executive director of the festival. “We’ve been following their careers for a minimum of two years. If these concerts are a success, we want to follow them in the future, too, and hope they become part of the festival.”

Like Prague Autumn, which it replaced on the culture calendar, Dvořák’s Prague has been able to attract stellar, often hard-to-book orchestras, a group that this year includes Filarmonica Della Scala, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo and the Rotterdam Philharmonic. The fun is in the mix-and-match, seeing how they perform with a variety of different conductors – and, of course, how they interpret Dvořák.

Conductor Aleksandar Markovic is a natural to lead the Vienna Boys’ Choir, having performed with them twice before. As music director and chief conductor of the Brno Philharmonic, he’s also an emerging personality on the Czech scene. The orchestra fell hard for Markovic after his first appearance with them in November 2008, immediately signing him to a three-year contract. Apparently the feeling is mutual, as Markovic just signed on for another three years.

How did you feel when the Brno Philharmonic players unanimously voted to keep you as music director earlier this year?

The Brno Philharmonic is like a big family, free of animosities and bad energy. It is a motivated, highly professional collective of fine experienced and younger players whose sound I fell in love with three years ago. During the past two years as music director, I became increasingly fond of each member, their competence and warmhearted, southern Moravian mentality.

You will be leading the Prague Chamber Orchestra and Vienna Boys’ Choir in a classic Vienna program of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. How will you approach it?

Haydn scores speak to me with an exceptional clearness. I admire his elegant yet rough manner based on constant shifts of mood, daring harmonic progressions and dynamic contrasts. I  always get inspired studying his music. Mozart is a poet almost unaware of his own greatness; his music needs an accurate and energized performance with a strong sense of direction, joy, drama or lyricism. When I study Schubert, I first have to put aside all the mystifications about how incredibly difficult his music is for an interpreter – an attitude widely taught at Viennese music institutions. I approach him as an extremely sensitive, prolific genius who adored Beethoven but was closer to Mozart, not knowing that he would be compared to Bruckner.

You will be sharing the stage with quite a large cast of performers. How are you feeling about working with them for this concert?

Doing the classical repertoire with an excellent chamber ensemble is exciting, as they always deliver accurate performances with a wide range of techniques and knowledge of style. The Prague Chamber Orchestra is a marvelous ensemble I’m honored to be working with. The Vienna Boys’ Choir is perhaps the most famous boys’ choir in the world, and they are like a river: Each time you see them, it’s different, but with constant, exceptional quality.

Any special thoughts or feelings about appearing on the Rudolfinum stage?

The whole of Prague is one big cultural site, an open-air museum. Performing there is always special.

Aleksandar Markovic performs with the  Vienna Boys’ Choir at the Rudolfinum on Sept. 10.

View the complete Dvořák’s Prague schedule



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