Generic Interview

Album detail
Catalogue number: SU 4182-2

The renowned violinist Josef Špaček has recorded with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra a live album for Supraphon (SU 4182–2) featuring three major Czech violin pieces dating from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries: Antonín Dvořák’s famed Violin Concerto in A minor, Josef Suk’s Fantasy in G minor and Leoš Janáček’s concerto Pilgrimage of the Soul. In addition to the soloist, the project’s quality is guaranteed by the participation of Jiří Bělohlávek, the chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. In our interview Josef unveils more details and atmosphere of the recording and working with his native orchestra
How did this recording project come about?

I could say that it came into being as a combination of many things and circumstances. In view of its concerning live recordings, it was important to co-ordinate the dramaturgies of several subjects. The project entailed Czech Philharmonic subscription concerts, while, in addition, the Dvořák concerto was performed within the opening evening of the Dvořák Prague festival. And once we knew that we would record the Dvořák piece, we agreed that it would be good and interesting to add compositions by Suk and Janáček. Then it was clear what the second Supraphon disc would be like.

All three works were recorded live. What did it mean for you?

I was aware that I would spend much more time preparing than I would have in the case of recording them in a studio. So I tried to be more rigorous in rehearsing. When the day of the actual recording and concerts arrived, I approached the evenings just like any other performances. I didn’t feel greater stage fright or stress, I didn’t think of whether I had one or two attempts at it.

How did you perceive the fact that you recorded the album with the Czech Philharmonic and its chief conductor, Jiří Bělohlávek?

It was amazing recording with my own orchestra. Working with people you are familiar with and see regularly, knowing that they are there, at the moment, for you, was terrific. In this regard, it was exceptional for me. What’s more, it was with the chief conductor, Jiří Bělohlávek, with whom I had previously worked on many occasions, so it was very pleasant indeed.

Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor is a composition that has been recorded on numerous occasions. Which of these recordings do you particularly esteem?

There are a lot of superlative recordings, and if I had to name a model or exemplary one, I would plump for that made by Josef Suk with the Czech Philharmonic. Suk was not only one of the major representatives of the Czech violin school, he was also a member of Dvořák’s family. Even though of late quite a lot of Dvořák recordings have been released, such as, for instance, Anne-Sophie Mutter’s or Frank Peter Zimmermann’s pro­jects, I have the feeling that this wonderful work is still somewhat underestimated around the world, with the frequency of its performance lagging behind that of works by Brahms, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. And I think that’s a pity.

When recording the pieces, did you strive to differ from other violinists?

When a soloist thinks of how to differ from the others, his performance, in my opinion, loses a certain spontaneity. Therefore, it is important to find the right degree of balance. I believe that those who listen to this recording will hear a sort of signature of mine, as I play in a certain manner, and I would like this manner be discernible. I didn’t strive to make it the world’s most memorable album. I wanted to make it sound like me, but I confess that I also aimed to pay tribute to our musical tradition.

All of the three concertante works you have recorded are undoubtedly true gems of Czech music. Can you try to describe your relationship to Czech music?

I think that it is something absolutely natural, and I have the feeling that it is the same for all Czech musicians. Since we were born, we have lived and grown in Czech culture, and also developed within it. And we hear music by such composers as Dvořák, Suk and Janáček virtually every day.

Did your studies in the USA make you create some distance from performing Czech music?

The American training is interesting in that the educational system there supports each and every individual, which in my case meant that they supported my being Czech, Czech musicianship, enhancing the development of my Czech identity. If I had to compare it with the Czech music education, here there is a given methodology you have to master. Whereas in the USA they teach you that you are the centre and that you should learn how to make use of your qualities to the maximum. For me, it was a great advantage that I was from the Czech Republic, that I was different to the others.

The booklet of your new album specifies which instrument you are currently playing. Could you give us more detailed information about it?

I was really pleased to see it on the sleeve. In addition to getting to know which instrument I play, the listeners can also extend their awareness of the entire violin-making craft, which is currently experiencing an interesting boom. The violin I play is a French instrument, a Guarneri model, built by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume in 1855.

What concerts are you preparing at the present time and which of them are you looking forward to the most?

I’m looking forward to the concerts in Zlín and the Smetana Litomyšl festival. I will again be performing Suk’s Fantasy, in Essen with Tomáš Netopil and in Bratislava with the Slovak Philharmonic. In the next season I will also explore and play Philip Glass’s violin concerto in Shanghai. And I’m really looking forward to performing Beethoven’s violin concerto in Bolivia, where a large part of my wife’s family live.

The album featuring music by Dvořák, Suk and Janáček has now been released. Could you tell us of any other recording projects you are giving serious thought to?

Before this project came to fruition, we were pondering various possibilities and variants of another Supraphon disc. The ideas we discussed included my recording Mozart’s violin concertos, and we also discussed the repertoire for violin and piano. But the next project is still in the stars.