On November 18, 1996, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra returned to Kennedy Center.
During the hundred years of its existence, this orchestra has developed its own
performance style, based on the Prague tradition of interpretation which developed along
with the international music repertory from the Middle Ages to the present day. In this
tradition, all that one experiences in life and art finds expression in music. An
interpretation thus conveys not only the composer's subjectivity, but the understanding of
all who have meditated upon and performed the work at hand, and shows its relationship
to the repertory as a whole. During the difficult times of Nazi occupation and Communism,
the tradition became a psychological refuge, a means of defining a better world, and
musical interpretations gained depth and significance. The orchestra can now take
advantage of the cumulative achievements of these years, while giving the works of the
Czech orchestral repertory a new, more unrestrained voice.
The orchestra reaffirmed its tradition in the first work of the program, the movement "From Bohemian Woods and Fields" from Smetana's Ma vlast. This work is often interpreted as a simple depiction of nature; however, this performance revealed that it has much more significance. The execution was flawless; every timbre, nuance, and melodic line was not only exactly as it should be, but had purpose and direction, even a sense of adventure. It would have been most interesting to hear the entire cycle.
The soloist in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto was Alyssa Park. Her sound is delicate, but has resilient strength and an unforced, free virtuosity. Her interpretation was the very personal one of a young woman taking delight in the world, and the orchestra responded sensitively to it. The work was played with the sympathetic understanding and attention to detail which one takes for granted in performances of chamber music, but is rare in orchestral concerts. For example, the woodwind accompaniment to the first theme of the last movement, which is often underrehearsed, was not only executed precisely, but was an integral part of the interpretation itself and a pleasure to hear.
The strength of the orchestra's performance tradition was most evident in Dvorak's Symphony no. 8 in G major. The clarity of the interpretation gave the work unusual comprehensibility. For example, the formal structure was immediately understandable, but did not interfere with the intuitive flow which enables the work to find its coherence in sound itself. The interpretation appropriately conveyed a diverse range of emotions and expression, rather than the raw passion often found in performances of late Romantic music. In the midst of it all, there was a brief, tantalizing hint that the orchestra would have played Mahler with equal success.
The orchestra then had a bit of fun giving bravura interpretations of the encores: the sixteenth and fifteenth Slavonic Dances by Dvorak, and Fucik's Entry of the Gladiators, beloved in America as the quintessential circus march.
The orchestra has recently gained an excellent new conductor, Vladimir Valek, a musician with intelligence and heart -- and a flair for showmanship -- who fortunately seems quite able to carry on its irreplaceable tradition. (Judith Fiehler).
"Czech the News" - Newsletter of the Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington DC.