PKF — Prague Philharmonia
Grammophon (21 Sept 2018)
Lots of good things this week! Highlights for me are a fizzing Bizet Symphony from Prague.
The PKF — Prague Philharmonia was founded in 1994 on the initiative of the conductor Jiří Bělohlávek (1946-2017) under the original name Prague Chamber Philharmonia. Today it is one of the most recognised orchestras, not only among Czech but also world ensembles. Regular invitations to tour abroad as well as recording projects with the most renowned international labels bear testimony to this. Since the 2015–16 season the orchestra has been led by the French conductor Emmanuel Villaume.
The characteristic sound
Freshness, energy and perfectionism are characteristics inscribed in the orchestra’s ‘Birth Certificate’, as well as a love of music expressed in each of their concerts. Behind the highly valued distinctive sound of the PKF — Prague Philharmonia is partly its key repertoire, which has been from the beginning Viennese Classicism, namely compositions by Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. However, the PKF is remarkably flexible in this respect, and is capable of expanding from concertanto repertoire for a chamber set up without a conductor, to projects involving a large symphony orchestra augmented by extra players from the PKF Orchestral Academy. In this way, even as a large body, the PKF is able to retain the characteristic sound that Jiří Bělohlávek honed with them over a period of eleven years, as well as its esprit, linking the generation of excellent, experienced players with the greatly talented and perfectly technically prepared younger players.
A partner of star artists
PKF — Prague Philharmonia is a frequent partner of renowned conductors and soloists, including Christopher Hogwood, Michel Swierczewski, Libor Pešek, Shlomo Mintz, Julian Rachlin, Robert McDuffie, Martha Argerich, Yefim Bronfman, András Schiff, Emmanuel Pahud, Gautier Capuçon, Daniel Müller-Schott, Sarah Chang, Isabelle Faust, Gábor Boldoczki, Jonas Kaufmann, Luciano Pavarotti, Diana Damrau, Anna Netrebko, Angela Gheorghiu, Plácido Domingo, Elina Garanča, Juan Diego Flórez, Thomas Hampson, Magdalena Kožená and many others.
Photo: Jonas Kaufmann, Kate Aldrich, Jochen Rieder (c) ProArte
A guest at top world venues
PKF — Prague Philharmonia is regularly invited to international music festivals and gives concerts at top world venues (BBC Proms, MITO Settembre Musica, Prague Spring, Festspielhaus Baden Baden, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Gasteig Munich, Berliner Philharmonie, Alte Oper Frankfurt, Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman, Tokyo Suntory Hall, Paris, San Francisco…).
Photo: Elbphilharmonie Hamburk
Recordings for prestigious labels
Over the period of its existence, the orchestra has recorded over 90 CDs released by leading Czech and world music publishers, such as Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Supraphon, EMI, Warner Classics and Harmonia Mundi. A number of them have been awarded prizes, such as the Gold Record RAC Canada in 2000, Harmony Award in 2001 and Diapason d’Or in September 2007. The CD Heroique with Bryan Hymel was in 2016 nominated for an International Opera Award and a recording of Bohemian Rhapsody with the trumpet player Gábor Boldoczki for Sony Classical was nominated at the Classical Music Award 2018. The PKF — Prague Philharmonia has collaborated on recordings with Anna Netrebko, Magdalena Kožená, Bryan Hymel, Isabelle Faust, Eva Urbanová, Andrew von Oeyen, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Iva Bittová and Dagmar Pecková. Among the critically acclaimed CDs stands out the live recording of Smetana’s Má vlast (My Country) from the Prague Spring Festival in 2010, conducted by Jakub Hrůša.
In 2017 a CD ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with PKF — Prague Philharmonia and the trumpet player Gábor Boldoczki was released by Sony Classical and the eagerly anticipated CD ‘Eternamente’ with the soprano Angela Gheorghiu was launched by Warner Classics. Its most recent ‘profile’ recording CD with works by Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and George Bizet with Emmanuel Villaume released by Warner Classics received excellent reviews from the London Sunday Times, Gramophone and the BBC Music Magazine, which included it in its top ten recordings of the week. In November 2019 saw the release of the long-awaited debut album by the tenor Benjamin Bernheim in collaboration with the PKF by Deutsche Grammophon.
In its choice of repertoire, the PKF – Prague Philharmonia focus remains on the era of Viennese Classicism, to which works from the period of Romanticism, as well the 20th and 21st centuries, are added. This philosophy inspires the programming of not only the Orchestral Series (A), but also the newly established donor’s series, the PKF — LOBKOWICZ Series. As far as Czech composers are concerned, the orchestra finds itself most ‘at home’ with the work of Bohuslav Martinů. Contemporary music is also given a great deal of attention and the orchestra is keen to premiere commissioned pieces. This has led to the launch of a special, unconventional series of meetings called Contemporary Music Seris (S) at the Experimental space NoD, with remarkable guests from the world of contemporary music discussing their works. The programming of concerts continues to have young audiences in mind, including concerts for children in the Rudolfinum and the established Chamber Series (K), held at the impressive interior of the Czech Museum of Music.
PKF – Lobkowicz Series
The Beauty of Today (S)
From the 2015–2016 season the post of music director and chief conductor has been held by the distinguished French conductor Emmanuel Villaume, who has presented the orchestra with new challenges in the form of French repertoire and large symphonic-vocal works. At the beginning of 2017, under Emmanuel Villaume’s leadership, the PKF — Prague Philharmonia toured extensively and successfully across the USA.
Between the years 1994-2005 the orchestra was led by one of the most internationally recognised conductors and the founder of the orchestra, Jiří Bělohlávek (1946-2017), who later became its Music Director Laureate. The second PKF chief conductor was the Swiss conductor and flautist Kaspar Zehnder. The excellent Czech conductor, Jakub Hrůša, led the orchestra in the years 2008-2015.
PKF Orchestral Academy
The PKF Prague Philharmonia Orchestral Academy was established in 2008 as the first such project in the Czech Republic. Each year the orchestra welcomes to its family circle twelve to fourteen young talented musicians. They are assisted by the PKF — Prague Philharmonia players in gaining the experience of orchestral playing, and are enthusiastically introduced to the rudiments of the PKF philosophy: precision, a sense for ensemble playing and for detail, artistic humility, friendship and respect. From the beginning, members of the Academy take part in PKF projects. They go on tours in the Czech Republic and abroad, and get opportunities to perform in PKF chamber series and take part in recordings.
PKF for children
The PKF – Prague Philharmonia has been a trailblazer in the field of educational programmes and concerts for children in the Czech Republic. The regular series of concerts for children held at the Rudolfinum each year is among the most popular in Prague. Concerts for schools and Orchestra ZOOM in Czech and English are another PKF projects. Added to that is the outstanding Notička Children’s Club for audiences between 3 and 14 years old, where music is sensitively and creatively interlinked with other art forms.
Since 2008 the PKF, in collaboration with Prague District 5 (MČ Praha 5), organises a competition Prague 5 Talent (Talent Prahy 5), which offers young musicians an opportunity to perform in public alongside professional musicians. In 2017 it became partners with the International School of Music and Fine Arts in Prague, with whom it collaborates on educational projects, bringing together students from more than 20 countries around the world.
The Municipality of Prague and the Czech Ministry of Culture have been long-term supporters of PKF — Prague Philharmonia.