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LIBOR PESEK in conversation with Bill Newman


<< Continued from last week

It is important to highlight the period where Pesek slots in with other Czech conductors. 'I was in my fifth year at the Academy under Václav Smetácek. As my deceased colleague Zdenek Kosler remembers: "I was a self-taught person from the class of Professor Smetacek." We were all there were, because the professors never attended the classes - they were all away conducting. For this reason, I decided not to teach; it would have been unfair as I would have missed 3 out of 4 lessons every week. What the Academy gave us was time to be around music in Prague where Karel Ancerl was an enlightened, lucid person, a perfectionist when rehearsing the orchestra. The Czech Philharmonic under his direction was very well-organized, better than with anyone else since Vaclav Talich, who they were dead-scared of, although the players then were not so good as they have now.' With Jirí Belohlávek's departure and Gerd Albrecht taking over temporarily, overall standards appeared to have dropped in the interim. 'I think what happened in the case of Belohlávek, is that he might have made an error - as with Ancerl when he went on to Toronto. He is a very consummate technician who doesn't stand any nonsense, and he would have done great things with authority, but the condition was such that the Democratic takeover and the First Minister under the Régime was an old communist who had nothing better to do than form orchestra committees who rule everything. In those times, that meant they even decided who would be the Chief Conductor and Executive. It was Belohlávek's unlucky moment, coming as he was appointed the Czech Philharmonic's Chief Conductor, right at the time of these changes. Which orchestra wouldn't devour their chief conductor? They could and did! He would have been wonderful for them.' Now the BBC Symphony Orchestra are reaping the benefit. 'Absolutely! With Albrecht, it was basically a psychological misunderstanding. A different approach - there was nothing nationalistic, I can assure you. He was a poor psychologist with the orchestra, and Prague is a specific, difficult city. So many have written their memoirs about this small town, and "a little bit taller than the average measure" is always suspicious. Mr. Albrecht came into this - formally, quite liked as a guest conductor, and he wanted to be boss of everything - the orchestra, programmes, finances, the building, and it was not even legally possible. A foreign citizen who wanted to be in charge of the Rudolfinum? It's like me coming here and wanting to be responsible for the Philharmonic Hall. Ridiculous! All these things happened - it was a great pity because he did interesting repertoire with the orchestra.' Now you have Vladimir Ashkenazy. 'We must all hope, because the whole orchestra united in supporting him. At last! So, for some time he will be persona non grata, and thank God for that. One regret is that he won't spend too much time with them, but this central European orchestra does deserve someone working with them, thoroughly.' Winter and summer seasons, all repertoire including Czech? 'I don't have any experience of that, but we should be grateful for him.'

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Copyright © 4 July 2000 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK


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