Last night, I attended a Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra concert. The Orchestra was founded in 1949. Two “internationally recognized personalities – Václav Talich (Principal Conductor 1949 – 1952) and Ľudovít Rajter (Artistic Director 1949 – 1976)” – played major roles in establishing the orchestra. The “musical evolution” of the Philharmonic has continued through the combined efforts of Slovakian, Czech, Austrian, and Italian composers, conductors, and musicians, including Vladimir Verbickij, Tibor Frešo, Bystrík Režucha, Ladislav Slovák, and Aldo Ceccato.
Based in Bratislava, the orchestra appears at European music festivals and on leading stages around the world. The orchestra has made recordings for radio, television, and music publishers. Daniel Raiskin is currently the Principal Conductor. Two artistic bodies are associated with the Philharmonic:
- The Slovak Philharmonic Choir
- The Slovak Chamber Orchestra
Slovak Philharmonic Choir
The Slovak Philharmonic Choir originated in 1946 as the “Mixed Choir (male and female voices) of Bratislava Radio”. Since 2014, Jozef Chabroň has served as Choirmaster. The Choir is recognized as a “body of exceptional quality” and a leading European vocal ensemble.
Slovak Chamber Orchestra
The Slovak Chamber Orchestra was established in 1960 by Silesian violinist, Bohdan Warchal. Warchal is recognized as “one of the most important personalities of Slovak music”. He was artistic director of the Chamber Orchestra for over forty years.
The group performs classical chamber music at European festivals and is “one of the most prominent representatives of Slovak performing arts abroad”. Ewald Danel is Artistic Leader.
2022/2023 Slovak Philharmonic Season
“Among the most important events of the 2022/2023 season are performances in Switzerland and Vienna. At the end of the season, the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and principal conductors Daniel Raiskin and Leoš Svárovský of the Aichi Central Symphony Orchestra in Nagoya Japan, will tour Japan, accompanied by solo pianist Olga Scheps and cellist Tatsuki Sasanuma.”
Historic Reduta Concert Hall
Since the 1950s, The Slovak Philharmonic has performed in Bratislava’s historic Reduta building. Built in 1773, the Reduta was originally a granary constructed at the behest of Hapsburg Queen Maria Theresa. It stands on the corner of Mostová and Medená Streets between Hviezdoslav and Ľudovíta Štúr Squares in Old Town. The Reduta was reconstructed between 1913 – 1919 with rococo and art nouveau elements. The Baroque beauty has stellar acoustics and is the perfect venue for a concert.
“At one time, The Reduta was a place of entertainment featuring variety shows, artistic performances. and gatherings of residents. Currently, the Slovak Philharmonic is based in The Reduta, one of the most important historical, cultural, and representative buildings of Old Bratislava.”
Last night, the Orchestra program included three works:
- Egon Krák – (Premiere) Les anges du ciel / Heavenly angels, hommage à Josquin Desprez, who is considered the greatest Renaissance composer in Europe. Krák’s composition featured the Slovak Philharmonic Choir accompanied by brass orchestra instruments, clarinet, and oboe (I think). The choir is powerful!
- Erich Wolfgang Korngold – Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 featuring incomparable violin soloist Simone Lamsma and dedicated to Alma Mahler, controversial Austrian composer and wife of Korngold’s music mentor, Gustav Mahler.
- Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 5 an energetic, dramatic symphony and the musical score in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice. It was incredibly well-performed, and must be an exhausting hour+ rollercoaster ride for conductors and orchestra members. The French horn and trumpet solos were flawless!
Concert Soloist Simone Lamsma
Simone Lamsma has been hailed for her “brilliant, polished, expressive, intense (Cleveland Plain Dealer), and absolutely stunning (Chicago Tribune) playing”. The Dutch violinist has an extensive repertoire, and performs with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors. She’s produced several recordings.
Simone plays the “Mlynarski” Stradivarius (1718), on generous loan to her by an anonymous benefactor”. Lamsma is every bit as talented as described in her many gushing reviews. Her stage presence and astonishing mastery of the violin leave you dazed and speechless. She’s an amazing musician!
“In 2019, Simone Lamsma was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in London, an honour limited to 300 former Academy students, and awarded to those musicians who have distinguished themselves within the profession.”
Expressive faces in the crowd were different than those at Opera and Ballet performances I’ve attended in Bratislava. The strong, unique facial features are hard to describe. It was an older, affluent crowd, and many were likely Philharmonic benefactors.
I did some homework before the performance, and recognized a few composers and conductors from the research. I wanted to photograph some of the fascinating faces, but it would have been difficult. A few were staring at me too, so that makes it even more awkward. I’m sure they spotted me as not being local. I chatted with a few people in the crowd, but almost everyone was speaking Slovakian.
“As a composer, Gustav Mahler acted as a bridge between the 19th-century Austro-German tradition and early 20th century modernism.”
The Slovak Philharmonic Choir gave a powerful performance in Krák’s hommage to Josquin Desprez. Korngold’s Violin Concerto was stirring and beautiful, but Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 was my favorite – a rousing masterpiece utilizing every instrument in the orchestra! It’s tragic that he died at such a young age (51).
The Bratislava Philharmonic is one of the best symphony orchestras I’ve heard perform. It’s in the same class as the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics! The concert was a worthwhile evening of exceptionally well-performed music.
I have a few more weeks in Bratislava and two more concerts – for now. There’s another Philharmonic program next week featuring music from Slovak films, and a Sting concert October 30th. I love Sting’s music and am excited to see a live performance!
Of course, the best seats were booked some time ago, but I found a fairly decent spot. Sting’s performance is entitled My Songs. It features Grammy Award winners like “Fields of Gold,” “Shape of My Heart,” “Englishman in New York,” “Every Breath You Take,” and other songs he wrote during his career with The Police and as a solo artist. The performance venue is Bratislava’s ice hockey stadium – Arena Ondrej Nepela Winter.