Jakub Hrůša Interview

Before the opening concert of Bohemian Legends, series conductor Jakub Hrůša sat down with us to discuss his passion for Czech music and the figures prominent in shaping international interest in the music from his homeland

PO: This is your fourth season in a row conducting the Philharmonia with additional concerts scheduled in the future. Do you enjoy working with the Orchestra?

JH: I cannot enjoy it more. Every visit to the Philharmonia is a highlight of my season!

PO: Jiří Bělohlávek was one of your tutors at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts (AMU). How important was he in the development of your interest in music from your homeland?

JH: Jiří was a fantastic teacher and has remained the greatest imaginable colleague and friend. Since he knows so much about Czech music, I was really blessed that I could follow his advice then (and I couldn’t be happier that I can be in touch with him now too). My interest in Czech music was always natural but Jiří taught me how to question it well and deepen the feeling by digging into details. 

PO: Suk’s Praga and Asrael Symphony have never previously been performed by the Philharmonia. What is it about these works, as well as the music of Janáček and Dvořák, that fascinates you?

JH: Well, Suk is a tremendous discovery for everyone, especially when you hear his unique personal voice for the first time in his Asrael Symphony. I admire his complex musical language for its own sake – that alone would be enough to promote him. But there are lots of composers of the late 19th and early 20th century who are similarly technically advanced (Suk was one of the most natural prodigy-like talents [removed “already”] as a boy – something like Mozart or Saint-Saëns), but what amazes me again and again about Suk is his ability to speak 100% personally and at the same time to give the listeners universal hope and beauty. Specifically Asrael is the greatest example here. The personal tragedy (loss of Dvořák, his father-in-law and teacher, and Otilie, his wife, Dvořák’s daughter, within 2 years) was transformed through the power of musical art into a vision of hope and comfort for everybody. And the over-emotional Suk showed to all of us what a healing effect great music can have. And yet all of that is free of false sentimentality and kitsch. I don’t think Janáček and Dvořák need much promotion any more, but this quality – a lack of blunt sentiment despite their music being entirely romantic - is no less in their cases too.

PO: The late Sir Charles Mackerras, himself a former student at AMU (under the tutelage of Václav Talich), is celebrated in this country for bringing Czech music to our concert halls. How important do you feel Sir Charles was for Czech music?

JH: His importance cannot be overestimated. Everyone who loves Czech music, independently on his or her taste, must feel the same. Because Sir Charles loved it so much in the first place. And yet he was equally so good in other fields. He couldn’t fail in enriching Czech culture.  

PO: In 2011 The Times tipped you to fill the shoes of Sir Charles. How do you feel about being compared to such a legend of the classical music world?

JH: It’s an honour to hear that – and above all a great responsibility to live up to it.  

Jakub Hrůša opens Bohemian Legends on 10 Apr at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall. The series continues throughout April and May touring to Basingstoke, Bedford and Canterbury.

Find out more about Jakub here