Reflections of Jakub Hrůša #1

My dear colleague and friend Aleš Březina asked me to reflect on Bohuslav Martinů every month. I really like ruminating over things and  people that mean a lot to me; hence I find such a task highly agreeable  and absolutely natural. My relationship to Bohuslav Martinů is virtually lifelong, one determined by ample experience both as a listener and conductor (and even as a player, when I was a child and student).

One factor, however, is incongruous, in this respect. At the moment, when it would be appropriate to start somehow with general premises,  Martinů is not part of my current workload, nor is his music featured in my forthcoming performances. I am writing this at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki, where we are getting ready for the second performance of Janáček’s Jenufa. On Friday 24 January we premiered a fantastic new production of this masterful work as conceived by the director Olivier Tambosi, with the titular role being portrayed by the dazzling diva Karita Mattila, with whom – to my infinite joy – I have become friends. Janáček is a great love of mine, yet he is also an almost perfect opposite to Martinů. Not many nations of our size can boast of having two composers so different and so great at the same time. Perhaps this awareness should be the motif in the background of my ideas...

As I have been travelling around the world and striving to pass on the torch burning with the flame of passion for Czech composers, just like every other compatriot I have encountered the naturally limited popularity in the case of both Janáček and Martinů. Unlike Dvořák and many of his works, and Smetana and his My Country (which for many audiences is synonymous with “Vltava”, or, more often, “Moldau”), in many places Janáček and Martinů are still composers for those in the know. The former, however, has the advantage of being firmly established in dramatic terms – after all, the drama realm is evidently where he felt most at home. Janáček was (and is) a man of great life stories and gestures, the direct and uncompromising journey inside the human heart. A man astonishing and shaking certainties and placid drowsiness in life. If the “regular” and “tame” music-lover finds Janáček difficult to cope with, it is quite often because of his direct emotional naturalness and harshness.

Martinů was cut from a totally different cloth. For me, he above all represents sophistication. He understood the oscillations of the human heart no less than Janáček did, yet he approached them with discretion. Perhaps this was a reflection of his soul, although I assume that Martinů revered this approach as the artistic credo he had set for himself. The clue to Martinů may be his conviction that music (and art in general) should refine the human and make him more noble-minded. Not to divert him from life’s certainties but to shift these certainties in a refined manner (very often joyously and melancholically)...

We need both of these poles of the creative nature. The Czech musical world is replete with the male and female principles alike. And both Janáček and Martinů embrace the world with the art of love – here with the fervent glow of fire, there with the warm kind embrace. Here the world of torrential drama, infinite tragedy and burlesque, there an oasis of imagination, sonic magic, a plethora of colours and shapes, and pure spirituality.

Both of the artists remained for ever inspired by their native land. One of them towered over it so as to enrich and transcend it, the other pined for it since he could not return to it. Yet both of them were filled with and loved it.

Helsinki, 27 January 2014

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