The Music in Their Ears
The PKF-Prague Philharmonia celebrates its founding this season, denoted as “20 Years in Style.” It kicks off with three major concerts, each led by one of its historic chief conductors.
Jakub Hrůša (chief conductor 2008-present) starts off the triplet Sept 28 by conducting Mahler’s Symphony No 4 in G Major.
He tells Opus Osm that he decided to choose a Mahler symphony as symbolic of the growth of the orchestra and his 13-year career with the PKF.
“The orchestra was founded as a small symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra,” he says, but due to demands for “bigger pieces” from promoters abroad, the PKF began to perform the bigger repertoires, including Mahler. Today the orchestra has some 50 members.
He marks Mahler’s Fourth Symphony as a high point of their activity, because the orchestra has never performed it in Prague before. He describes the PKF as “hungry to play it.”
Why? Because “it has such a flavor of Czech music making,” he says. “It’s also a big piece, incorporating a soprano solo.” Guest Kate Royal’s solo near the end is meant to represent a naïve child singing about the delights of heaven.
The young conductor continues, “Mahler wrote music in which every [orchestra] member has the most interesting things to do.” Indeed, the Fourth Symphony requires flutes, a harp, and other standard orchestral instruments, but also sleigh bells, a triangle, and a glockenspiel.
“Mahler was a musician who paid such attention to detail,” he adds, “and – without being too mean – I think some big symphony orchestras really don’t pay attention to detail so much. They think of the general appearance of the music – big sound, thick character, thick colors, general gestures. I think the Symphony No 4, the smallest of Mahler’s symphonies in scale and shape, sounds best if attention to detail is brought to the edge – to the extreme.”
Mr Hrůša admits that “it will be a challenge, but the orchestra is used to the idiom enough to absorb this piece quickly.”
He has a wish. “I would wish it to be similar to when we played Má Vlast by Smetana in 2010 [the traditional Prague Spring Music Festival opening concert]. It was their first time performing it but they already had this idiom, this music, in their ears. It was like a full, mental idea getting fulfilled by a real happening.”
It’s an intriguing idea full of promise for both the orchestra and the audience.
“And it could be the same with [this] Mahler,” he smiles.
The Triple Opening Concerts Celebrating “20 Years in Style”
Following Mr Hrůša on Sept 28, Kaspar Zehnder (chief conductor 2005-2008) leads a concert Oct 1 of Gypsy, Hungarian, and Viennese music. The third celebratory concert takes the PKF back under the baton of its founder, Jiří Bělohlávek (chief conductor 1994-2005) on Oct 5 when the orchestra, with guests the Prague Philharmonic Choir, perform Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 in D Minor, Op 125. – oo
– Mary Matz, Opus Osm editor
Photo Credits: All photos: PKF-Prague Philharmonia