Memories of a trip to Sarajevo. The football match that qualified the Republic of Ireland for Euro 2016 in France took place in dense fog. A cab ride that got me to the wrong radio station for a live show on Lyric. And a visit to the corner of a small side street in the center of town, the site of the assassination that started World War I.
he day after Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was shot dead there on Sunday morning, June 28, 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a son, the sixth child of the best violinist of the era, Jan Kubelik, and his wife, the Hungarian Countess Anna Julie Marie Széll von Bessenyö was born in what is now the Czech Republic.
The boy, Rafael, had an obvious talent that earned him a place at the Prague Conservatory, where he was tutored by his father. He studied violin and was also a first class pianist. One of his first steps into the world of professional music was as an accompanist to his virtuoso father on a tour of the United States.
Then, just in his twenties, he was appointed chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic in Prague and moved down the street to direct the Brno Opera when Germany’s invasion of Poland ignited the fuse of World War II.
With the raid after the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands, the Brno Opera House was closed.
But the Prague orchestra continued to play. Kubelik returned to his position there. Things were anything but easy. He got into trouble for refusing to use the Nazi salute. He had to go into hiding for a while.
When the communists took power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Kubelik put his wife and son on a plane, took them to London and fled west.
The Chicago Symphony was his next port of call, but he found himself at odds with the establishment, which didn’t care much about his penchant for modern music.
Back in London he was installed at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. There, too, internal politics finally led to his departure, and he remained without a fixed platform for three years.
He finally formed a lasting artistic partnership in 1961 when he accepted a position as general music director in Munich. No wonder that one often hears the recognition: “The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Kubelik”, because they were very successful in the recording studio. He remained with them until his retirement in 1979.
The classical music blogger Norman Lebrecht in the course of an enthusiastic review in The audience Magazine, described the conductor as “an awkwardly tall man with uncontrollable clumps of hair (…) the least conspicuous maestro I’ve ever seen.”
Rafael Kubelik died in 1996 at the age of 82, his legacy a spring festival he founded in the Czech capital and all those wonderful recordings across the board. Lebrecht’s review referred to a Deutsche Grammophon compendium of Kubelik’s work with the label, which ran to no fewer than 64 CDs.
George Hamilton presents “The Hamilton Scores” every Saturday and Sunday from 10am on RTÉ Lyric FM.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/conductor-with-uncontrollable-hair-who-refused-to-do-nazi-salute-41463574.html Conductor with unruly hair who refused to give the Nazi salute