Semyon Bychkov, a Soviet-born conductor who denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is set to make his Korean debut in October, leading the Czech Philharmonic for an all-Dvorak program.
The program -- Dvorak’s "Carnival Overture," Op.92, Piano Concerto in G minor, Op.33, and Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op.70 -- is more of a practical choice as it includes pieces that are being performed during their regular season in Prague, where they will perform Dvorak’s three symphonies, three concertos and three overtures over the course of three weeks. The repertoire also provides a rare chance to enjoy the piano concerto for the Korean audience, which will be presented alongside Japanese pianist Mao Fujita, the second prize winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2019.
“Dvorak's Piano Concerto is not frequently performed on stages worldwide, not just in Korea. This phenomenon is indeed perplexing, considering it's a masterpiece that blends elements reminiscent of Brahms and Beethoven while retaining Dvorak's unique musical characteristics,” Bychkov said in an email interview last month.
Dvorak, Czech's representative composer, holds a special meaning for the orchestra as the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was launched in 1896 with a concert conducted by Dvorak premiering his own compositions.
The Soviet-born conductor said that even though the Czech Philharmonic has the advantage of growing up in the same environment as certain composers, “when an orchestra takes to the stage, they have to delve into the cultural characteristics of the composer, regardless of their own culture and background, right from the beginning.
Simply playing an orchestral piece well is not enough, especially in a rapidly changing world like today, where everything is open. It's important to understand and embrace not only one's own culture but also everything else.”
Bychkov, who has led the orchestra since 2018 as the music director, said that the group has a unique color, identity and musicality with history.
“The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the few orchestras in the world that possesses its own distinct color, identity, tone, and musicality. This is not to say that they are better than others, but rather that these qualities make the Czech Philharmonic unique,” he said. “These characteristics are deeply rooted in their tradition, spanning centuries. Their musical heritage, approach to playing instruments and music education have been passed down through generations. They have preserved this musical tradition, and the members of the Czech Philharmonic are very careful to cherish and uphold this unique identity. The members and I constantly discuss and reflect upon these aspects of our orchestra.”
Born in 1952 in what is now Saint Petersburg, Russia, Bychkov gained an international reputation after winning the Rachmaninoff Conducting Competition at the age of 20. He led the Grand Rapids Symphony in Michigan, US as its music director from 1980 to 1985. He made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 35, conducting Shostakovich Symphony No. 5.
In Feb. 2022, he issued a public statement criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying "Russian aggression against Ukraine and lies about it must stop before the rest of the world is engulfed in another war. We have no right to remain silent and watch history repeat itself as it did in 1956 and before, in 1968 and after. Those that bring death and destruction must be brought to justice and disappear in infamy."
Bychkov and the orchestra’s concert is set to take place Oct. 24 at the Seoul Arts Center and Oct. 25 at the Daegu Concert House.