The 125 year-old Czech Philharmonic gave its first concert – an all Dvořák programme conducted by the composer himself – in the famed Rudolfinum Hall on 4 January 1896. Acknowledged for its definitive interpretations of Czech composers, the Orchestra is recognised for its special relationship to the music of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Mahler, who conducted the world première of his Symphony No. 7 with the Orchestra in 1908.
The Czech Philharmonic’s extraordinary and proud history reflects both its location at the very heart of Europe and the Czech Republic’s turbulent political history, for which Smetana’s Má vlast (My Homeland) has become a potent symbol. In 1945, Chief Conductor Rafael Kubelík conducted the work as a ‘concert of thanks’ for the newly liberated Czechoslovakia, similarly Má vlast was Kubelík’s choice to mark Czechoslovakia’s first free elections.
Throughout the Czech Philharmonic’s history, two features have remained at its core: its
championing of Czech composers and its belief in music’s power to change lives. Václav Talich (Chief Conductor 1919-1941) pioneered concerts for workers, young people and voluntary organisations as early as the 1920’s.
The philosophy continues today, and is equally vibrant. A comprehensive education strategy
engages with more than 400 schools bringing all ages to the Rudolfinum. An inspirational music and song programme led by singer Ida Kelarová for the extensive Romany communities within the Czech Republic and Slovakia has helped many socially excluded families to find a voice. Most recently the Orchestra initiated an international education exchange with the Royal Academy of Music in London.
An early champion of the music of Martinů and Janáček, the works of Czech composers – both established and new – remain the lifeblood of the Orchestra. Initiated by Semyon Bychkov, nine Czech composers have been commissioned to write works for the Orchestra alongside five international composers – Detlev Glanert, Julian Anderson, Thomas Larcher, Bryce Dessner and Thierry Escaich – to be premièred over the forthcoming seasons; the Orchestra additionally holds an annual young composers’ competition launched by the late Jiří Bělohlávek (Chief Conductor 2012-2017) in 2014.