Monday, November 9, 2009

Rafael Kubelik: f@#$ yeah!

One more 11/9 tribute today:

A concert that perhaps dwarved even Bernstein's Beethoven 9 with combined orchestras from East and West Germany. Rafael Kubelik returned to Czechoslovakia in 1990 after six years of complete retirement and 42 years of self-imposed exile. He returned for a concert in which he was reunified with the orchestra he directed before leaving, The Czech Philharmonic, in the opening concert of the famed Prague Spring Festival, which he co-founded five decades earlier. The opening program does not change from year to year, it is Bedrich Smetana's Ma Vlast (My Country), but never had the piece been endowed with more significance than it had in that concert. Rafael Kubelik is one of music's great heroes. Here is a short thing I wrote about him a couple years ago:

This is a clip of The Moldau – the second in a series of six symphonic poems from a cycle called Ma Vlast (My Country) by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana (1824-1894). The orchestra is the Czech Philharmonic and they are conducted by Rafael Kubelik. The Moldau is the river that flows through the center of Prague and is the lifeblood of the Czech Republic. The music is not abstract, it is meant to represent the flow of The Moldau through what Smetana hoped would one day be the Czech nation. It begins with a musical representation of the river's formation at its mouth, and then depicts a forest hunting scene, a peasant wedding; a romance by the river's moonlight, and the violent torrents and currents of St. John's Rapids. All throughout, a beautiful melody is repeated that Jewish listeners will easily recognize as the inspiration for the Israeli National Anthem, Hatikva.

Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996) was not only perhaps the greatest conductor in a generation that teemed with them, but he was also a great dissident and patriot. In 1946, he helped to found the "Prague Spring" Festival, a legendary music festival that continues to be one of the glories of the music world. In 1948, at the advent of the Soviet coup, Kubelik went into exile, vowing not to return until democracy was restored and declaring that "in order to protect my country I had to leave it."

In 1953 the communist Czech government tried and convicted him in absentia of "taking illicit leave." But in 1956 the regime invited Kubelik to return with a guarantee of total creative freedom. Kubelik responded with an open letter stating that he would only consider the government's offer when all political prisoners were freed and all Czech exiles could return on similarly generous terms.

In 1968 when the Soviet invasion put an end to Dubcek's liberalizing 'Prague Spring', Kubelik organized an international boycott by musicians of performances in Communist regimes.

After 42 years in exile, Rafael Kubelik returned to Prague in 1990 to lead his old orchestra - the Czech Philharmonic - at the festival which he created. He was buried at Vysehrad cemetary in Prague alongside many of the great Czech patriots. He once said to an interviewer that he believed "only conscience can produce great art." I said, I never get tired of The Moldau.

(a recording of Kubelik conducting the Vienna Philharmonic from 30 years before the legendary Prague performance)

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