Jakub Hrůša's reflections #5
I feel an immense inner joy since in May I was faithful to Czech music and thus also the remarkable project called the Year of Czech Music, which we are currently experiencing with great intensity. When it comes to Martinů, I focused on a single work of his: Cello Concerto No. 1. I was afforded the opportunity to perform it with two phenomenal yet very different soloists: first with Sol Gabetta at the new Helsinki Music Centre and subsequently with Johannes Moser at the Wiener Musikverein. Both of the soloists gave a splendid account of Martinů’s piece.
I must confess to you that there are cases when the national pigeonholing, which I have continuously encountered and which otherwise I may deem somewhat annoying, has turned into an embellishment and honour of my professional life and inner experience. If, with your kind permission, I am to pause and think what beautiful works I have had the honour to perform since the beginning of the 2014/15 season and what I still have in store until the end of the season, I feel a great happiness in my heart. I would now like to provide you with a short summary of what I have been able to enjoy to date and can still look forward to in the sphere of Czech music.
Smetana’s Šárka and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 in Los Angeles (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic); Janáček’s Our Father and The Eternal Gospel and Dvořák’s Te Deum in Amsterdam (with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra); Suk’s Asrael in Antwerp (with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders); Martinů’s Field Mass and Vranický’s Grand Characteristic Symphony for the Peace with the French Republic in Prague (with the PKF – Prague Philharmonia); Smetana’s Vltava and Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 in Montreal (with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal); Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Janáček’s Taras Bulba in Cleveland (with the Cleveland Orchestra); Taras Bulba in Moscow (with the Russian National Orchestra); Dvořák’s Nocturne, Martinů’s Oboe Concerto and Suk’s Asrael in Tokyo (with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra); Dvořák’s four Erben-based symphonic poems (The Water Goblin, The Noon Witch, The Wild Dove and The Golden Spinning Wheel) in Prague (with the PKF – Prague Philharmonia); Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”, in Melbourne (with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra); Janáček’s suites from The Cunning Little Vixen (Talich’s / Mackerras’s and Jílek’s) and Dvořák’s Violin Concerto and The Golden Spinning Wheel in Paris (with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France); ten performances of the entire Janáček opera Jenufa in Helsinki (at the Finnish National Opera); Dvořák’s Symphony No. 5 in Luxembourg (with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra) and Cologne (with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln); Martinů’s Toccata e due canzoni in Cologne and Ottawa (with the Arts Centre National Symphony Orchestra); Dvořák’s The Water Goblin and Janáček’s Sinfonietta in Dallas (with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra); Talich’s and Mackerras’s suite from The Cunning Little Vixen and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in Baltimore (with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra); Janáček’s Jealousy, Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass, Smetana’s Overture to The Bartered Bride, Dvořák’s three celebrated concertos for solo instruments and orchestra and Symphony No. 8 and Suk’s Praga, Fantastic cherzo and, for the third time, Asrael in London and environs (with the Philharmonia Orchestra); Kabeláč’s Mystery of Time, Martinů’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Janáček’s Sinfonietta in Helsinki (with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra); the same programme as above, enriched by Taras Bulba in Vienna (with the ORF-Symphonieorchester); Schulhoff’s Concerto for String Quartet and Winds and Dvořák’s Spectre’s Bride at the Prague Spring festival (with the PKF – Prague Philharmonia, the Pavel Haas Quartet and the Prague Philharmonic Choir); Dvořák’s Erben-based symphonic poems, with the exception of the Golden Spinning Wheel (here I am getting to the near future), at the Concentus Moraviae festival in Žďár nad Sázavou (with the PKF – Prague Philharmonia); Dvořák’s Stabat Mater in Paris (the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis, with the same ensemble as in the case of the Spectre’s Bride and the aforementioned local orchestra); Suk’s Fairy Tale from Radúz and Mahulena and A Summer’s Tale in Tokyo (with “my” local orchestra); Dvořák’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in Sydney (with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra); and, finally, Smetana’s complete My Country in Melbourne (with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra). The soloists at the concerts were, or will be: Audun Iversen, Tomoyuki Hirota, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Karita Mattila, Arabella Steinbacher, Lukáš Vondráček, Truls Mørk, the aforementioned Sol Gabetta and Johannes Moser, and others.
... I am fully aware of the “cataloguing” inappropriateness of my list, but recently I was referred to as being the world’s most ardent champion of Czech music within its celebratory year. On the one hand, I was ravaged by doubts as to whether it really is so; on the other, I felt a difficult-to-define sense of satisfaction. And after I had gone through all that which I have encountered and all that which I am scheduled to do within this single season (leaving aside the other, international, half of my repertoire), I was simply flabbergasted... And since I do not work with any advisers of the PR type, I decided to present this opulent list to the public (you).
By the way, this time neither Martinů nor any other of the mentioned giants (among which, with a slight audacity, I also privately rank my beloved Gustav Mahler) have been the target of any doubts on the part of journalists, with the very opposite being the case: I have solely and exclusively met with admiration for the wealth of Czech culture, which we can make use of limitlessly and pride ourselves on. The Vienna gig in particular was a breathtaking experience. The applause at the famous golden Musikverein roared from both sides of the stage, and it was difficult to say whether it was Kabeláč, Janáček or Martinů whose music earned the greatest ovations. I know, however, that the piece by the third one (“our” Martinů) formed the necessary contrast with the dramatic and impassioned compositions by the other two, and that Martinů’s non-sentimental nostalgia was able to move Finn and Austrian alike.
As you can see, with an inadvertent despair, my present article has so far eschewed the punch line – well, I haven’t actually prepared one. Accordingly, it will be more a small note than anything more inspiring. Nevertheless, in conclusion, I would like to impart to you an interesting Martinů-related experience.
In the middle of May, I was given the opportunity to converse in front of the television cameras with the charming Sol Gabetta about the Martinů piece we had performed together in Helsinki, and our amiable debate led us to the theme of the composer’s typical nostalgia. We sought its roots, impulse and reason – and I happened to recall the beloved intonations of the Fantaisies symphoniques and The Opening of the Springs. I described how difficult a situation Martinů had been in (this is not generally known) when – after a long, albeit voluntary, cultural emigration in interwar Paris and his flight to the USA, practically enforced by the circumstances during World War II – he hesitated to return to his homeland for fear of lack of freedom and a painful clash of opinions, which would necessarily have occurred when face to face with the ruling Communists and the new regime. These late works of his (of which I have established the most intimate relationship with the Fantaisies symphoniques and the Parables) reflect the same longing for the homeland and the people living there, which we know in the most striking form from Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor. And since the second movement of the Martinů piece Sol and I performed together is immensely nostalgic and melancholic (the Concerto was only completed in the 1950s), I spontaneously ascribed the expression of desire and other emotions to the very feeling of grief resulting from being so far from his homeland. Yet in an instant I realised that Martinů had composed his first cello concerto much earlier, in his native Polička. All of a sudden it was clear to me that back at the time he had already found in his soul the emotional dimension which many years later he would profoundly apply in the intonations of the then already deeply and genuinely felt desire for the faraway homeland. This reminded me of other similar cases in the history of music and arts. Let us recollect Josef Suk, for instance, Martinů’s teacher, by the way. If he hadn’t possessed the inner propensity to tragicality and an intimate, authentic expression of grief, later on he would not have been able to recast the throes he suffered at the death of his father-in-law and his beloved wife into the dignity of the purgatorial symphony Asrael. And the dedicatee of this great Suk piece himself, Maestro Dvořák, on the final pages of his celebrated sentimental cello composition must have flared up with the same sweet grief and made ring the same string of pure love, which he had felt a long time previously in the period of his early erotic and extremely personal songs.
The souls of all beautiful people pass through a labyrinth of change, yet they either inflame for the utmost depth of expression and beauty very early (albeit imperfectly) or (many of them) never again. If only many geniuses of genuine emotion in the music would not gradually lose their inner connection with it owing to their being tired, having fulfilled themselves or coming to know all too well the unreliability of the everyday world and becoming overly hackneyed...
Even if it were the one and only thing that I, as an interpreter, could learn when touching on the pilgrimages of Beethoven, Janáček, Mahler, Tchaikovsky or Suk on the one hand and, in contrast, the fates of Liszt, Strauss, Novák or Stravinsky on the other, I would be thrilled to arrive at the awareness that there is simply no end to artistic paths in this world and that their horizons will for ever remain veiled to us as anticipated certainties and half-revealed mysteries.
Prague, 31 May 2014