|Jiří Bělohlávek, conducting Dvořák's Requiem in Prague, April, 2017|
In the intervening years, Bělohlávek's bouffant mane disappeared, and he grew thin. His pugnacious body language gave way to frailty. Yet his travails seemed to galvanize his musicianship. On April 13th this year, he conducted Dvořák's Requiem with the BBC SO at the Barbican (read my review here). He seemed fatigued, perhaps because he'd conducted it in Prague a few days before. Yet he was putting very deep feeling into the performance, so much so that the intensity was almost too hard to take. Emotional truth is sometimes hard to take. Once the immediate impact subsided I kept thinking and thinking about the music itself, and its meaning. That, not technical polish nor received tradition, is the sign of a truly great artist. Everyone knows the recording with Karel Ancerl, but Bělohlávek reached into the true soul of the music Last week, one of my friends had a presentiment and checked Bělohlávek's schedule, to find that he'd cancelled concerts in May. So perhaps that Dvořák's Requiem was Bělohlávek's farewell, though no-one quite expected it, a farewell to his two favourite orchestras and to audience who had grown to love him as if he were a personal friend.
Through him, the BBC SO, the Barbican and London connected with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and with the National Theatre of Prague. Bělohlávek reintroduced Czech opera and vocal music to Britain in Czech, revealing the pugnacious, vibrant quality of the original language, so essential to proper, idiomatic performance. This matters, since Britain was receptive to Czech music very early on. Dvořák and Janáček wrote masterpieces for British audiences. Even Kaprálová premiered her work in London, where her friend and colleague Rafael Kubelik conducted at the Royal Opera House. Britain discovered Czech music long before Mackerras, and rediscovered it again with Bělohlávek Who knows what might have happened had the communists not taken Czechoslovakia, forcing Kubelik into exile? Read more HERE about Bělohlávek's early career. Though Bělohlávek was assistant to Vaclav Neumann, in many ways he was Kubelik's true heir. And Ancerl's, too, for that matter.
For more detail about a fraction of Bělohlávek's concerts in recent years
Autumn Elegy: Mahler Das Lied von der Erde
Janáček : The Makropulos Affair Prom
Janáček Jenůfa Royal Festival Hall
Czech Philharmonic 120th anniversary concert, Prague
Smetana Dalibor : BBCSO Barbican
Dvořák The Jacobin 2012
Janáček Glagolitic Mass Prom
Martinů Juliette, Magdalena Kožená
Janáček : The Excursions of Mr Brouček
Janáček : Osud