Monday, March 5, 2012:Seeing Doubles

Josef Špaček, concertmaster, also performs as soloist this week for the Czech Philharmonic.

Seeing Doubles

Czech violinist Josef Špaček, the youngest concertmaster the Czech Philharmonic has ever had, is regarded as one of the most promising players on the international music scene. A student of the famous Itzhak Perlman, Mr Špaček studied in America for seven years, first at the Curtis Institute of Music and then at the Julliard School in New York. Prize winner at multiple international competitions, Mr Špaček stepped into the leader’s seat at the Czech Philharmonic in September 2011 and this Thursday and Friday (Mar 8, 9) he’ll be on the Dvořák podium not as the orchestra’s leader, but as their soloist.

Concertmaster doubling as soloist? How exactly does this work? Well, as Mr Špaček kindly explained to Opus Osm, because the position is one of such responsibility, the Czech Philharmonic employs two concertmasters, double the normal amount. They take it in turn to lead the orchestra, and thus each play about half of the season – leaving time for other activities. Mr Špaček juggles his twenty weeks’ worth of leading the orchestra with a flourishing solo career; he recently returned from a concert tour of Japan.

This week is therefore a rarity: For the first time this season both the concertmasters will be on the stage at once – Miroslav Vilímec will be leading the orchestra and Josef Špaček will be the soloist.
The programme will begin with a rather unknown piece – Janaček’s Violin Concerto. Janaček wrote a violin concerto? you may ask. Well, the one-movement work wasn’t in fact completed until 1988, by duos Miloš Štědroň and Leoš Faltus, who reconstructed the piece after Janaček had himself abandoned the manuscript in 1927. Janacek had left material covering the body of the composition and it is from this that the two musicians put together the piece. If you’re familiar with the concerto you might know it by its title,The Wandering of a Little Soul (Putování Dušičky).

Josef Špaček mug

Josef Špaček

Mr Špaček tells Opus Osm, “Before discussing the programme of this concert I hadn’t really heard of the piece, but I’m really glad to have been introduced to it and grateful for having been given the chance to play it. In some parts I really hear characteristic figures of Janacek’s music.”

Following the concerto will be an absolute favourite, Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane. (You can get a taste of it by searching YouTube for ‘Heifitz plays Tzigane by Ravel (one of the best interpretations around).’ Beginning with a four minute long violin solo, an intense monologue that makes the hairs on your neck stand up, the orchestra then joins and what follows is a beautifully colourful and virtuosic ‘gypsy’ styled fantasy.

This concert is set to be a season highlight for Mr Špaček. Great violinists playing with great orchestras are no rarity these days – but a virtuoso violinist playing with an orchestra in which he knows every musician personally (including his dad, in the first-desk cello position) will make for a musical connection that promises to be spectacular. — oo

– Sam Goldsheider
Editor’s note: Sam Goldscheider is a contributing writer to Opus Osm, and also represents Josef Špaček.

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