“Art must transcend the diversity of nations and touch our shared humanity.”
The Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra distinguishes itself through its extraordinary cosmopolitanism. The orchestra’s international performances appeal to a wide public. On their latest recording, the Orchestra’s Bohemian roots relate to Japanese musical culture through works by Leoš Janáček and a composition by Japanese composer Akira Ifukube. The Tokyo-born chief conductor of the Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra, Chuhei Iwasaki, serves as the point of intersection in forging this link.
Many in Japan and other Far Eastern countries have long revered the musical culture of the occident. Conversely and regretfully, the establishment of Asiatic concert programs in front of Western audiences is still lacking in scope and frequency. The Pilsner Philharmonic’s performance of Akira Ifukube’s “Japanese Suite” serves as a remedy to this situation. The piece has four movements, is written for full orchestra, and is neither avant-garde nor folklore, but an expressive bravura performance. Driving ostinato passages are reminiscent of imaginary dance theater. For Akira Ifukube (1914-2006), who was born in Kushiro, on the island of Hokkaido, the bridging of cultural borders was a matter of course. At the age of thirteen years, he first listened to Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre de Printemps.” This planted in him the dream to become a composer himself. He developed a style which is inspired both my Western influences and by many folkloristic traditions from Japan. His “Japanese Suite,” which was composed in 1933, is considered his first significant opus. It involves traditional keys, irregular meters, and ostinati. Traditional drums are included in an onomatopoeic fashion. An ancient dance cited in the work welcomes the spirits of the dead. There is also a nocturne and an exuberant festival. The imaginary journey on which this music takes us is no coincidence. Ifukube was a much sought-after film music composer and has, among other things, written the soundtracks for the Godzilla series. But Ifukube’s true artistic home remained in the realm of classical Japanese music.
Leoš Janáček (1954-1928) likewise spent a lifetime exploring the folk music of his motherland and turned it into something original, something larger. He understood the surviving songs as a primary source for all that is human. His personal credo was: “A folk song includes the whole of a person, their body, their soul, their environment, everything around them.” Janáček’s orchestra scores and operas include a lot of patriotic color. Quirky, at times foreign-sounding melodic folk musical patterns keep grabbing the listener’s attention. Dances imagine festive weddings, imitate the blow of a hammer in the “Smithy Dance,” and quote old lieder (songs). On extended excursions through Wallachia, Lycia, and Moravia, Janáček explored local heritage and traditions in isolated villages and thus saved an immense cultural treasure from being forgotten. He wrote down melodies, further developed rhythmic patterns, and created rich instrumentalizations, all of which nourished his personal style. Especially early in his career, Leoš Janáček was also inspired by Antonín Dvořák.
Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra
The Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra originated in the Pilsen Radio Orchestra and still works closely with Czech broadcasting. The tradition-steeped orchestra goes on regular international tours and performs in renowned concert halls in Europe and the United States. Especially noteworthy past concert locations are the Gasteig in Munich, Liederhalle in Stuttgart, Alte Oper in Frankfurt, Brucknerhaus in Linz, Vienna Stadthalle, Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Tonhalle in Zurich, O2 Arena in Prague, and Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Many prominent soloists have performed with the orchestra, among them Tai Murray, Pascal Rogé, Lilya Zilberstein, Juliane Banse, Sergey Nakaryakov, Anne Queffélec, Jeremy Menuhin, and Gautier Capuçon. Recently, the orchestra recorded Bohuslav Martinů’s opera “Charity Day” as well as Dvořák’s “Rhapsody” and the entire opus for violoncello and orchestra composed by Bohuslav Martinů. That recording was awarded with the Classic Prague Award 2017 in the category “Recording of the Year.”
The Philharmonic Orchestra Pilsen is also winner of the art price of the city of Pilsen for the years 2014 and 2015.
Conductor and composer Chuhei Iwasaki has estab-lished himself as one of the most versatile young composers. He was born in Tokyo and studied violin at Toho Gakuen High School of Music, then continued his violin, composition, and conductor studies at the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of the Arts Prague. Since 2016, he works as a professor and conductor of the string orchestra at the Prague Con-servatory. Beginning with the 2021/2022 season, he was appointed chief conductor of the Pilsen Philharmonics. Chuhei Iwasaki is an orchestra as well as opera conductor. His wide-ranging repertoire includes, but is not limited to, Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” the Opera “Idomeneo,” Smetana’s “Libuše,” Dvořák’s “Rusalka,” Alexander Glazunov’s “Ballett Manon,” Benjamin Britten’s opera “The Little Sweep,” and Carl Maria von Weber’s “The Marksman.” Iwasaki has performed as guest conductor at important festivals in the Czech Republic, such as the international music festival Prague Spring, the Smetana Days in Pilsen, and the International Dvořák Music Festival in Prague.