The Hallé’s Dvorák season at The Bridgewater Hall: From the moon, to Manchester

Will Fulford-Jones

Premiered in Leeds (130 years ago), and even taken to the moon, Dvorák’s music is now being revisited by the Hallé – with an Olivier Award-winning actor.

Some composers lived in penury and died in obscurity, their works either unheard or unloved in their lifetimes. Antonín Dvorák suffered no such fate. From the late 1870s until his death in 1904, the Czech composer was widely acclaimed at home and abroad – and his reputation has only been enhanced by the passing years. In May, the Hallé and Sir Mark Elder will be celebrating his life with a series of seven concerts, taking in works both famous and obscure from Dvorák’s expansive catalogue.

Dvorák was born near Prague in 1841, the eldest of 14 children. From the folk tunes he performed as a young man to the religious traditions he absorbed from childhood, Czech culture had a tremendous influence on his music. However, Dvorák was also a decidedly international composer – he visited Great Britain no fewer than nine times, for instance, and wrote several of his greatest works under the influence of American music while living in New York. It’s telling that today, he’s as beloved by global audiences as he is in the Czech Republic.

Titled Nature, Life and Love, the Hallé’s season takes in several of the composer’s most popular works: the Cello Concerto, one of the finest ever written; the vital, vibrant Slavonic Dances; and, of course, the ‘New World’ Symphony, the season’s centrepiece, performed here in a pioneering new format mixing music with theatre and film. However, the orchestra will also be tackling some less famous pieces: Saint Ludmila, an epic choral work; The Golden Spinning Wheel, inspired by Czech fairy stories and folk tales; and the trilogy of wonderful overtures that give the season its name. Not sure what to choose? Here are our highlights.

Beyond the Score: Dvorák’s Symphony No.9, ‘From the New World’

Although Neil Armstrong took a recording of this indelible work on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, the ‘New World’ in the title of Dvorák’s final symphony is not the Moon but the United States – the composer wrote the piece while living in New York, influenced by African American and Native American music. In this unique multimedia presentation, the Hallé and Sir Mark Elder will be joined by Olivier Award-winning actor Henry Goodman (playing Dvorák), narrator Gerard McBurney and a number of other actors to tell the symphony’s story using music, film and theatre, before returning in the second half to perform it in full. The Bridgewater Hall, 7 May, 7pm, tickets £3-£34

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Dvorák’s Cello Concerto

Like the New World Symphony, Dvorák’s Cello Concerto was written while the composer was living in New York. However, while the symphony was inspired by Dvorák’s new American home, the Cello Concerto is a glorious evocation of his European motherland. American cellist Gary Hoffman will join the Hallé in three performances of the work, each one paired with excerpts from the thrilling Slavonic Dances and one of the composer’s final three symphonies: the powerful Seventh (12 May), the joyful Eighth (15 May) and a reprise of the spectacular Ninth (18 May). The Bridgewater Hall, 12 & 15 May at 7.30pm, 18 May at 2.15pm, tickets £3-£38

Saint Ludmila

Premiered 130 years ago in Leeds, Saint Ludmila isn’t often performed these days, which makes this one-off concert such an appetising prospect. Dvorák’s epic oratorio is ostensibly about a revered ninth-century princess whose religious conversion led the Czech nation to embrace Christianity – but it’s as much a rapturous hymn to the composer’s homeland, packed with soaring tunes and dazzling orchestrations. Led by Sir Mark Elder and featuring Emma Bell, Christine Rice, Nicky Spence, James Creswell and Stuart Jackson as soloists, the Hallé Orchestra and Choir will be performing the work in a brand new English translation by David Pountney. The Bridgewater Hall, 21 May, 6pm, tickets £3-£39

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The Golden Spinning Wheel

From one of Dvorák’s largest works to one of his most bijou creations: The Golden Spinning Wheel is one of four orchestral poems that the composer wrote in homage to traditional Czech fairy stories and folk ballads, and it’s an utter delight. With an illustrated presentation by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé followed by a complete performance of the work, and with all tickets priced at just £10, this special hour-long event should make an ideal introduction to Dvorák and his music. The Bridgewater Hall, 18 May, 6pm, tickets £10

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Nature, Life and Love

The first concert in the season begins with excerpts from the charming Moravian Duets and the fiery Piano Concerto (with soloist Francesco Piemontesi). However, the meat of the programme falls after the interval, with a rare performance of a trilogy of wonderful overtures on the subjects of ‘Nature, Life and Love’. At 6.30pm, Sir Mark Elder and Gerard McBurney, the creator of Beyond the Score (see above), will be introducing the season with a free pre-concert presentation. The Bridgewater Hall, 5 May, 7.30pm, tickets £3-£39

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