Czech Philharmonic

Lukáš Vasilek, Czech Philharmonic

In the history of the Czech Philharmonic, few compositions have left as deep a mark as Honegger’s oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake. In 1970, Ivan Medek, then the Orchestra’s dramaturge, programmed the oratorio to commemorate Jan Palach’s self-immolation. This difficult but powerful work will be led by Lukáš Vasilek, Artistic Director of the Prague Philharmonic Choir.

classicalmusic
czechphilharmonic
filharmonie
orchestra
rudolfinum

All dates

Thursday

2/13/2025


7:30 PM


Rudolfinum - Dvořák Hall

Praha


110 - 1300 CZK

Friday

2/14/2025


7:30 PM


Rudolfinum - Dvořák Hall

Praha


110 - 1300 CZK

Saturday

2/15/2025


3:00 PM


Rudolfinum - Dvořák Hall

Praha


110 - 1300 CZK

Description

ABOUT THE CONCERT

In the history of the Czech Philharmonic, few compositions have left as deep a mark as Honegger’s oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake. In 1970, Ivan Medek, then the Orchestra’s dramaturge, programmed the oratorio to commemorate Jan Palach’s self-immolation. This difficult but powerful work will be led by Lukáš Vasilek, Artistic Director of the Prague Philharmonic Choir.

Subscription series C

Programme

Arthur Honegger
Joan of Arc at the Stake, oratorio in 11 scenes for narrators, solo voices, choir, and orchestra

Performers

Audrey Bonnet Jeanne d’Arc
Sébastien Dutrieux Brother Dominique
Susanne Bernhard Virgin Mary
TBA St Catherine
Mélissa Petit St Marguerite
Kyle van Schoonhoven Porcus
TBA First herald 
Zachary Altman Second herald
TBA Narrators

Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster

Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir
Jiří Chvála, Petr Louženský choirmasters

Lukáš Vasilek conductor

Czech Philharmonic

MORE INFORMATION

Arthur Honegger composed his “dramatic” or “scenic” oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake to a text by the poet Paul Claudel. It takes place during the last moments of the life of the Maid of Orleans with retrospective scenes from her childhood and her trial at which she was sentenced to death by burning. A vast, even monumental work bordering between an oratorio and an opera, it employs perhaps every musical resource that was available at the time. Together on stage, there are soloists, narrators, a mixed choir, and a children’s choir, and the orchestra includes the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument that was played by its inventor at the work’s premiere in 1938.

No Prague performance of Honegger’s oratorio can fail to bring to mind an event that occurred over half a century ago. In January 1969, in protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops and the beginning of the period of “Normalisation”, Jan Palach, a student at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, doused himself in flammable liquid and set himself on fire in front of the National Museum. At concerts on 23 and 24 January, Václav Neumann, the Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor at the time, performed the opening of Suk’s Fairy Tale in his honour. But that is not where things ended.

For the following season, the Orchestra’s dramaturge Ivan Medek programmed the oratorio about a saint whose life ended in the same way as Palach’s. For a long time, the regime officials failed to recognise the meaning of this act of defiance, but once they did, Medek was dismissed from the Orchestra, and eventually his opposition against the regime earned him the positions of cloakroom attendant and dishwasher at the pub Pod Kinskou. After the Velvet Revolution, he returned from emigration to serve as chancellor under President Václav Havel.

In his memoirs, Medek wrote the following about what had happened at the Czech Philharmonic: “I was not dismissed definitively until January 1970, when—still as an unofficial dramaturge—I put Arthur Honegger’s cantata Joan of Arc at the Stake on a Czech Philharmonic programme. At first, it did not raise any eyebrows. Then suddenly they called the Executive Director of the Czech Philharmonic Jiří Pauer to ask why we were advertising ‘Joan of Arc at the Stake’! I told Pauer that it was the composition’s title, and that the author of the text was Paul Claudel. He said that the words ‘at the Stake’ could not be used. It was not until a few days later that someone at the top realised that the cantata was to be performed on the anniversary of Jan Palach’s self-immolation. A lot of trouble came of that, of course. We had to change the date of the performance, and we could not explain the change. It was played 14 days later, and the sold-out concert had the air of a protest because everyone knew what it was about.”

Show more
Length 90 minutes
Music
Arthur Honegger
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