Instead of Maria João Pires, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt will perform at the Rudolfinum on November 6.
Tickets remain valid.
Never since the Canadian Glenn Gould has there been an artist who has placed Bach interpretations on the modern concert piano at the centre of their work as much as Gould’s compatriot, Angela Hewitt. For her multifaceted and long-standing commitment to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, for her genuine impact as a Bach ambassador all over the world, and her benchmark Bach interpretations on the concert grand piano, she became the recipient of the 2020 City of Leipzig Bach Medal, a prestigious distinction bestowed upon her as the first woman to be awarded this prize in its 17-year history.
“Hewitt and Bach are clearly a match made in heaven,” concludes Gavin Dixon on theartsdesk.com in his review of her performance of two English Suites in London’s Wigmore Hall in October 2019. “My journey with Bach began from the day I was born, if not before,” the pianist tells us on her website. Her father was music director and organist at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa and Angela was surrounded by Bach’s music her whole life.
Angela Hewitt has demonstrated to her listeners that playing Bach on the modern grand piano is just as legitimate as performing the music on a period keyboard instrument in a historically informed interpretation. And she had the fortitude to go further. If Bach, why not also Couperin on the modern piano? Purists may have been alarmed but she won her case. Her first of three albums of Couperin dance suites from the collection Pièces de clavecin (Hyperion, 2002) became a bestseller. “By turning her attention to these works, Angela Hewitt may succeed in reviving and popularising Couperin’s enchanting music as no modern-day harpsichordist has been able to do” (Gramophone magazine). Baroque music is a mainstay of her broad repertoire, which incorporates key piano literature dating from the 17th to the 20th century. She is currently completing her next recording project – a sixteen-year endeavour overall involving recordings of all 32 Beethoven sonatas; the final CD in the cycle (Opp. 106 and 111) will be released on the Hyperion label in 2022. Her latest album Love Songs, a product of the lockdown featuring piano arrangements of some of the best known love songs spanning the centuries, became a huge hit in Great Britain.
A native of Opava and winner of the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition, Lukáš Vondráček is one of the finest pianists on the contemporary music scene. It would certainly not be an exaggeration to state that he started out as a child prodigy. He began playing the piano at the age of two, he performed in public when he was four years old, he made his first recording aged eleven, and he was fifteen when he performed with the Czech Philharmonic. A graduate of music schools in Katowice, Vienna and Boston, he was also guided by the legendary Vladimir Ashkenazy, who described him as the best young pianist of the last thirty years. The music critics also speak of him in superlatives. The daily broadsheet The Straits Times headlined him as “the master of perfectly voiced textures”. To date Vondráček has appeared in some of the world’s most illustrious venues, including Carnegie Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Vienna’s Konzerthaus and Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. He recently gave his debuts with such orchestras as the London Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and the Tokyo Metropolitan. The upcoming season sees his return to the Chicago Symphony and his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Lukáš Vondráček was the first Czech pianist to appear at the Rudolf Firkušný Piano Festival, and this at the very first edition of the event in 2013. This year he returns to the festival with a programme combining German and Slavonic music.
The beginning of Arcadi Volodos’s career was unconventional. He didn’t take the piano seriously until the age of fifteen; up to that point he had concentrated primarily on singing and conducting in his native St Petersburg; he has never participated in any competitions since, in his view, they destroy the spirit of music. His journey to the international concert stage was impressive nonetheless. He appeared at London’s celebrated Wigmore Hall in 1996, and his debut recital at Carnegie Hall followed two years later. The recording of this latter performance received the prestigious Gramophone Award. Thomas Frost, producer of albums by Vladimir Horowitz for many years, stated at the time: “Volodos has it all: imagination, passion and a phenomenal technique that allows him successfully to execute his musical ideas. His virtuosity knows no bounds: combined with a unique sense of rhythm, colour and poetry, it renders him a teller of intense stories and infinite worlds”.
Volodos focuses his career on solo recitals, taking international venues by storm, while his recording work is undertaken at a more leisurely tempo – he sees each album as the culmination of a particular creative period. Recent recordings include an album of Brahms’s music, which won a Diapason d’Or, an Edison Classical Award and a Gramophone Award; 2019 saw the release of a CD containing Schubert’s solo oeuvre.
In Prague Volodos will present Schubert’s optimistic and, at the same time, ambitious Sonata in D major D. 850, which he wrote back in 1825 when he was staying at the spa town of Bad Gastein. One of the composer’s longest solo works (lasting almost 40 minutes), it reflects the beauty of the Alpine landscape and conjures up the sound of mountain yodelling. The evening will continue with music by Robert Schumann. The pianist will first perform the famous Kinderszenen (“Scenes from Childhood”), a cycle of thirteen poetic miniatures, and the concert will end with one of the composer’s masterpieces, the monumental Fantasie in C major.
Instead of Maria João Pires, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt will perform at the Rudolfinum on November 6.
Tickets remain valid.
The Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires is a living legend. Over the course of her career, which now spans more than seventy years, she has given countless concerts; particularly dazzling are her performances of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, along with her exceptional appearances with violinist Augustin Dumay and conductors Claudio Abbado and André Previn. She has made over 100 recordings, including the complete Mozart piano sonatas, which won the Grand Prix du Disque in 1990; her recordings of Chopin works are also critically acclaimed.
sense of solitude she experiences on stage, she is able swiftly to win over her listeners and engage in a meditative dialogue with them. Her interpretation of music, in fact, reflects her profound affinity with Buddhism. All the more reason to treasure what promises to be a unique appearance at the Firkušný festival. The pianist gave an unforgettable concert at the Prague Spring in 2015, where she returned after more than twenty years to join the Budapest Festival Orchestra and conductor Iván Fischer in a performance of one of Mozart’s piano concertos. On this occasion a critic for Harmonie magazine spoke highly of Pires’s crystal clear sound, her “fascinating economy of movement, and her almost minimalist outward expression.”
In addition to her piano playing, the education of children from disadvantaged backgrounds is an important issue close to Maria João Pires’s heart. With this aim in mind she founded the Belgais Center for Arts in Portugal, and in Belgium she initiated the Partitura projects and workshops (e.g. the Partitura Choirs). She also organises interdisciplinary workshops for professionals and amateurs alike.
The Rudolf Firkušný Piano Festival, as the first in the Czech Republic to do so, is proud to present the pianist Igor Levit. The New York Times describes him as “one of the essential artists of his generation”. When he gave a recital to monumental acclaim in New York’s Carnegie Hall in May 2019, the daily published a review headed: “A Pianist’s Profound Vision of ‘Life,’ in Just 2 Hours”. That same month Levit appeared at London’s Wigmore Hall. “You seldom hear a Champions League-level roar of approval at the Wigmore Hall. Last night, though, Igor Levit drew a throaty collective bark of appreciation from the audience after (for once) an awed hush had followed the final dying cadences of the aria’s return in Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Had he earned it? Absolutely,” stated an article on the review website The Arts Desk.
Levit cannot be accused of a lack of courage. For his debut album on the Sony label at age 25, he chose supreme masterpieces of the piano repertoire – Beethoven’s last five piano sonatas. He followed up on the 2013 album last year by issuing of a complete set of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. A review on the server Classical Review said: “Levit’s Beethoven is firm, well-articulated and considered. He is completely immersed and confident in his views, and the results are often edgy, stressful or even unforgiving. Those characteristics are conveyed without any hesitance. You can’t really ask for more in such a crowded field.”
This fits well with a statement he made in an interview: “Phrases like ‘the performer, a servant of the composer’ are alien to me. I don’t think anyone should serve anyone, at any level. ‘I play what Beethoven writes’ is about the hollowest statement there can be.” Levit’s priority is interpretive freedom that arises from the unique approach of each performer.
Two years ago, Mr. Levit was honoured by a prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, which is conferred once every four years to exceptional pianists whose artistry weds virtuosity with individuality and an insatiable desire to find new paths (among the past recipients have been Leif Ove Andsnes, Piotr Anderszewski, and Rafał Blechacz). That same year he was named Instrumentalist of the Year by the Royal Philharmonic Society.
Despite his youth, he has also earned a university position – last spring he was appointed to a professorship at his alma mater – the Hochschule für Musik in Hanover.
The leitmotiv for Mr. Levit’s recital at the Firkušný Piano Festival is Beethoven. Just as Mozart’s last three symphonies exhibit a high degree of interrelation, Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas can also be seen as a trilogy in which the composer has returned to a more austere, briefer form, but his treatment of that form exhibits all the more freedom. Not bound by conventions, he wrote these three masterpieces alongside his Ninth Symphony and his late string quartets. He himself said he wrote these works in Vienna in 1821-1822 in a single breath. And it is in just this way, without breaks, that Igor Levit will play them in Prague.
When French pianist David Fray gave his debut at the Firkušný festival in 2017, particularly in the Chopin pieces he remained true to his reputation as a “poet of the piano”. Born in the Pyrenees region, with Moravian roots on his mother’s side, he launched his career achieving competition success at the Montreal International Music Competition; in 2008 BBC Music Magazine named him Newcomer of the Year, and the Arte television channel broadcast a documentary about him by renowned director Bruno Monsaingeon entitled Sing, Swing & Think. Fray’s repertoire extends from Johann Sebastian Bach to the late Pierre Boulez, while Bach and also Schubert are among his key composers. “Bach is the beginning and the end of classical music. He is the greatest composer,” the pianist states, adding that his music often moves him to tears. This season he continues his tour presenting the Goldberg Variations, and two years ago he got together with Renaud Capuçon to record Bach’s Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard.
The Firkušný festival audience will be treated to the programme compiled from his penultimate album, featuring Bach concertos for two, three and four keyboard instruments, in which – as on the recording – he is partnered by Jacques Rouvier, his teacher from the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Paris, and by Audrey Vigoureux and Emmanuel Christien, also former pupils of Rouvier. The artists will be accompanied by a string ensemble from the Prague Symphony Orchestra, conducted from the piano by Fray himself.
The BWV 1060-1063 and BWV 1065 concertos are associated with Bach’s Leipzig period; these are versions of the composer’s concertos for other instruments or arrangements of works by him that did not survive in their original form. Concerto in A minor BWV 1065 for four harpsichords is a transcription of Vivaldi’s concerto L’Estro armonico Op. 3 for four violins. As an admirer of Italian Baroque concertos, here Bach pays tribute to one of their greatest masters, the 280th anniversary of whose death we commemorate this year.