Prague Chamber Orchestra
The Prague Chamber Orchestra are a world-renowned ensemble, operating without a conductor since its establishment in 1951. Famed for their sensitivity, cohesion and attention to the smallest detail, the ensemble continue to expand on their sixty-year reputation as one of the most sought-after chamber ensembles in the world.
Prague Chamber Orchestra boast a unique position not only among Czech ensembles, but worldwide, as a large ensemble without a conductor. This requires a unique rapport between all members as each relates not to the conductor’s baton but to the ensemble as a whole, assuming the role of a chamber music player even though the instrumentation is much larger; a practice which stems from the late 18th century peak Classicist period. The instrumentation thus comprises a multiplied string quartet (11 violins, 4 violas, 4 violoncellos a 2 basses) supplemented with a doubled wind sextet (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, French horns, trumpets) and timpani.
It was the initiative of the players as performers of solo parts that has marked the success of the Prague Chamber Orchestra, beginning when first players of the individual instrument sections of the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra got together to start a smaller ensemble better suited for their new programming. They then focused largely on older Bohemian music, as attested by the ensemble’s very first recording, Orchestral Quartet by Karel Stamic, cut in October 1951. Their appearance at the prestigious Prague Spring Festival a year later propelled the ensemble into being one of the most-demanded Czech ensembles, a status greatly enhanced by the growing tendency to abolish the former practice of full instrumentation of older music.
The repertoire of this type of ensemble stems mainly from the Classicist heritage (Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven) but finds much inspiration also in the High Baroque (Bach, Händel, Vivaldi). The instrumentation practised by the orchestra, however, can be found in music of the early Romantic period (Mendelssohn, Schubert) and quite frequently in works by 20th century composers (Britten, Honegger, Prokofiev, Stravinski). Part of the repertoire is naturally made up of scores composed by older Bohemian masters comprising names such as Michna, Zelenka, Stamic, Dušek, Vranický, Rejcha, Jírovec, etc, while the orchestra’s favourites naturally also include Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů. The ensemble frequently performs music by a number of contemporary composers, many of whom write directly for it.
The Prague Chamber Orchestra plays some 40 concerts annually, including a series of 4 – 6 concerts held in the Rudolfinum’s Dvorak Hall as well as guest appearances around the country. It has long been a regular performer at the two major Czech music festivals, Prague Spring and Dvořák Prague Festival. Some four-fifths of all concerts take place abroad, with frequent appearances across Europe, including festivals such as Biarritz, the Rheingau Festival or the Mozartfest in Würzburg. The orchestra has also been on eight extensive tours to Latin America, fourteen to the United States and Canada and six to Japan. Recently it has played to great acclaim in Australia, Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.
Throughout the 58 years of its existence the ensemble has recorded a great many scores for Supraphon, Denon, BMG, Harmonia Mundi, EMI, Telarc and other labels, and its extensive discography boasts a number of prestigious prizes such as Suprahon’s Golden Disc, the Wiener Flötenuhr or the Grand Prix du Disque Académie Charles Cros. The orchestra regularly works with soloists, having had the pleasure of playing with such renowned performers as Emil Gilels, Salvatore Accardo, Josef Suk, Heinrich Schiff, Maxim Vengerov, Barbara Hendricks, Mischa Maisky and The Beaux Arts Trio and Eroica Trio. They have also worked with some of the rising stars of the Czech concert circuit, including cellist Sol Gabetta, violinist David Garrett, flautist Davide Formisano and trumpeters Sergei Nakariakov and Gabor Boldoczki.
Though they perform without a conductor, in the recording studio they have successfully collaborated with Václav Neumann and Gerd Albrecht, and are involved in a long-term project to record all of Mozart’s symphonies conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. Soloists are often given the role of leading the orchestra, but the key role of the orchestra’s coordinator usually passes to the concert master, responsible for giving the whole ensemble’s performance its definite expression. At present, the orchestra’s concert master is Jiri Pospichal, deputy concert master is Pavel Safarik.
UC Berkeley Zellerbach Hall, San Francisco, 2003
“The Prague Chamber Orchestra clearly demonstrated the benefits of maintaining their tradition in Friday’s performance…their offering, an all-Beethoven concert, was quite simply among some of the finest orchestral playing to grace a Bay Area stage.”
“The orchestra’s approach was a revelation.”
“The winds seemed to emerge seamlessly from string textures, and achieved an uncanny balance between blending and standing in relief. The attention given to the minutest details was astonishing, but most compelling were the clear sense of direction, the appreciation of expressive gestures, and the sense of confident vision that they manage to project. This is all the more impressive as they perform without conductor.”
John Lutterman, San Francisco Classical Voice, 24/10/03
Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, 2003
“The concert was an evening full of polished musical energy and contrasting materials”
“The Prague Chamber Orchestra is a committed and workable democracy…their prevision and all-for-one ensemble voice was evident from the first measures of the concert-opener, Beethoven’s festive Coriolan Overture”
“The orchestra’s string forces eloquently delivered the music’s mournful beauty, a radical departure from the vibrant Beethoven concerto.”
Josef Woodward, Santa Barbara News Press, 28/10/03
Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Hong Kong Arts Festival, 2004
“There was an exquisite charm about the Prague Chamber Orchestra’s concert”
“The orchestra seemed to have brought to Hong Kong the glade, the stream, the dancing of light and shadows and the birds’ chirping from the ancient Bohemian woods.”
Vincent Mak, South China Morning Post, 02/03/04
Music Hall, Kansas City, USA, 2003
“The 35 members of this superb group…betwitched the audience with a tradition that continues to distinguish the best European groups from similar ensembles in the New World”
Paul Horsley, The Kansas City Star, 04/11/03
Worcester, USA, 2003
“Indeed, the playing was so vibrant and the musical ambience so inviting that even the stuffiest listeners could hardly stop themselves from clapping. It’s a wonder they saved their standing ovation for the end.”
“The orchestra’s playing was world-class.”
Frank Magiera, Telegram & Gazette, 12/11/03
Concert Hall, Perth, 2004
“the Prague visitors played Dvorak’s marvellously probing score as if it belonged to them”
Neville Cohn, Australia Today, 23/02/04