Music Preview: THE CZECH PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA (Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa)

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by Tony Frankel on October 13, 2018

in Music,Theater-Regional,Tours


In 2014, Decca released a 6-CD box set by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) of the complete symphonies and concertos of Antonín Dvořák. CPO has long been celebrated for their interpretations of their nation’s most beloved composer, but I don’t remember when I’ve been quite so taken with such an utterly certified interpretation of Dvořák’s work. The Czech composer was a genius at incorporating folk music into his symphonies, creating a lush new sound; this amazing ensemble clearly has innate understanding of the moods of his music.

After the death last year of Dvořák’s fellow countryman Jiří Bělohlávek, who founded the Prague Philharmonia, Semyon Bychkov took over as chief conductor of CPO. Fortunately, this popular Russian-American conductor has a profound perspicacity regarding the connection between Dvořák’s themes, harmonies, sonorities, melodies, tempos, and deep patterns.

The CPO and its new music director are kicking off their first U.S. tour together next week, but only eight cities are lucky enough to have them, and only two will have a two-concert residency, and only one of those will have Dvořák on each program: Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, you get Dvořák’s Cello Concerto (Alisa Weilerstein, soloist); Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings; and his symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini. Night two, Thursday Nov. 8, will have Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (Kirill Gerstein, soloist) with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7. This tour also celebrates the centenary of Czech and Slovak Independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Semyon Bychkov is one of the hardest working, in-demand conductors in the world. With extensive experience in Europe and throughout the world, he has been a truly international artist for just about 30 years. He is brilliant at finding new ways to communicate what has come before, vividly bringing out textures that allow us to hear things that perhaps we haven’t noticed before. He is promoting and offering Tchaikovsky pieces as part of his multi-year project to shed light on the Russian’s major orchestral works.

Performing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto is Kirill Gerstein. From early studies in jazz to performing at the classical music world’s most prestigious venues; from student to teacher; and from country to country, this Russian/Jewish-American pianist is one of the most multifaceted and in-demand keyboardists on the globe. Born in Voronezh, in southwestern Russia, Gerstein became, at 14, the youngest student ever admitted to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied jazz. By 20, he had earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s in classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music, and by 27 he was a professor at the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart, Germany.

This is also your chance to catch the phenomenal American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who has recorded with the Czech Phil; she has attracted attention worldwide for playing that combines a natural virtuosic command and technical precision with impassioned musicianship. You are definitely promised a tour de force performance from this MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant recipient. With a brilliant combination of aggressiveness, theatricality, and soulfulness, her adroit maneuvering and technique (wait until you hear her dig into the strings) has made her my favorite living cellist.

With passionate feeling and clean thought, CPO is indisputably one of the leading symphonic ensembles of the world. The combination of mellow sound, hot inflections, and keen insights singles it out among the greatest contemporary orchestras. The Philharmonic asserts a shimmering and sophisticated European sound, with a heartfelt, string-dominated focal point, vivid brass, and incomparable, distinctive woodwinds, which serve music of their native composers so well. You would be hard-pressed to find another orchestra of the same caliber — and the same intense empathy with Czech music — as this wonderful ensemble.

Czech Philharmonic
Semyon Bychkov, Music Director and Chief Conductor
presented by Philharmonic Society

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 8 Alisa Weilerstein, cello
DVOŘÁK: Cello Concerto and Symphony No. 7
Thursday, November 8, 2018 at 8 Kirill Gerstein, piano
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 | DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 7

Renée & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa
for tickets, call 949.553.2422 or visit Philharmonic Society

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