The Czech Philharmonic's first major undertaking with now Chief Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov – The Tchaikovsky Project – sees an illustrious culmination in 2019. Over the past seasons, since the project’s inception in 2015, the orchestra and conductor have been delving into exhaustive exploration of Tchaikovsky’s music. The first two recordings in the project, released on Decca in 2016 and 2017, have received wide critical acclaim and this year sees a series of Tchaikovsky residences in Tokyo, Vienna and Paris as well as at home in Prague. On 30 August 2019, Decca Classics will release the complete boxset for The Tchaikovsky Project: all of the composer’s symphonies, the three piano concertos with soloist Kirill Gerstein, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini. The boxset marks the label’s first Tchaikovsky cycle in nearly 40 years and the first in high-definition 96K/24-bit sound.
“The Tchaikovsky Project first originated when I was asked if I would be interested recording Tchaikovsky’s symphony cycle with the Czech Philharmonic” comments Semyon Bychkov. “It took me about thirty seconds to realise that the idea was absolutely fascinating. I thought the combination of the Czech Philharmonic being what it is, and the orchestra’s country having its Western traditions and belonging in the West as well as the East, would create a very interesting approach to express the spirit of Tchaikovsky’s music. One that would be neither purely Russian, nor purely Western, but in a way a mixture of the two. And I think this is what makes the project so fascinating because at the end of the day, as is the case with all great music, the music of Tchaikovsky is universal.”
Named one of the world’s top orchestras by Gramophone, the Czech Philharmonic – which in 1896 gave its first concert in its current form under Antonín Dvořák – has a steadfast and proud history that reflects its place both at the heart of Europe and at the centre of its country’s turbulent history. For the 2018-19 season, the Czech Philharmonic welcomed Semyon Bychkov as the fourth non-Czech Music Director and Chief Conductor in the orchestra’s 124-year history. As Chief Executive David Mareček noted, “After only a short time with Semyon Bychkov as our Music Director and Chief Conductor, we could see that it was an outstandingly fortunate match. The musical chemistry is obvious whether in Tchaikovsky or Dvořák, as we heard on tour in the United States, in Germany and in Vienna. The musicians, my colleagues and I believe that it is equally audible in the new Tchaikovsky boxset and are very happy to have such a beautiful and wide-ranging musical experience to mark the start of our relationship.”
The Tchaikovsky Project is characterised by the way in which the orchestra and conductor have applied exhaustive research methodology to create a deep understanding for the works as whole entities. While the Czech Philharmonic was already recognised for its relationship to the music of Tchaikovsky, The Tchaikovsky Project has involved rigorous exploration of works previously not known to the orchestra; for example the Manfred Symphony. Equally important to the project, and equally rigorous, has been the rediscovery of pieces which have already been recorded countless times by the world’s orchestras – and through expansive research and studying of the scores finding the motivation, need and urgency to record them again.
The first recording instalment in The Tchaikovsky Project in 2016 – the Pathétique Symphony No. 6 coupled with the Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture – was followed by the Manfred Symphony in 2017. The review of the former in Gramophone, where it was made Editor’s Choice, commended the “powerful, devastating” Pathétique and its critic wrote of the Fantasy-Overture that “it feels personal in a way that the warm, homespun playing of the Czech Philharmonic only accentuates.” About the recording of the Manfred Symphony, The Sunday Times – where the disc was Album of the Week as well as one of the 100 Best Records of The Year – noted that “this outstanding issue makes one look forward to the other five canonical symphonies with impatience.”
Prior to recording each piece, the orchestra and Semyon Bychkov performed them live in concerts - then stepped away for a time before recreating them in recording. While working in the studio, every orchestra member had the chance to listen back to the audio between takes and was encouraged to voice any feelings of need for another take – a working method emphasising the individual ownership and responsibility of each player; and the importance of the individual to the whole.
As a transitional project into new leadership, The Tchaikovsky Project has allowed for a strong and auspicious start of the Czech Philharmonic’s creative partnership with its new Music Director and Chief Conductor. The project, signified by complete immersion into a composer’s world in the concert hall as well as recording studio, is emblematic of Semyon Bychkov’s in depth way of working – and the first of several journeys of its kind for the Czech Philharmonic. They will next delve into the music of Mahler, furthering their fusion of traditions of the East and West.