Tuesday, March 29, 2011


From 1942 to 1948, Rafael Kubelik was the director of the Czech Philharmonic. When the Communist tanks rolled into Prague, he immediately defected to the West. He explained that having abided one form of bestial tyranny under the Nazis, he would not abide another. The Czech communists tried very hard to lure him back with promises of complete artistic freedom, but he published an open letter saying that he would never return unless all Czech artists enjoyed the same freedom he was promised. After the Velvet Revolution, Rafael Kubelik returned to the Czech Republic after six years of retirement and illness to be reunited with his old orchestra and country after 42 years. It is one of the great performances of the perennially underrated Ma Vlast.

Smetana's Ma Vlast (My Country) is the perennial opener for the Prague Spring Festival, a festival founded after World War II by none other than Rafael Kubelik. In the spring of 1990, Kubelik returned to lead the work that was his calling card at the festival he founded. The entire performance blazes, but nowhere moreso than in the final three minutes which Kubelik turns into something that sounds like the finale of a Mahler symphony. The final peroration is based on a Hussite Hymn, meaning 'so finally with him you shall always be victorious.' For hundreds of years, this hymn was an anthem symbolizing the eventual freedom of the Czech people. In this performance, it becomes one of the most moving artistic moments I ever expect to hear. It merely tops off what must have been one of the greatest concerts of the century, charged not only with symbolic meaning but also with musical standards that defy explanation.

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