The conductor and composer Marko Ivanović has stood at the podium
before a number of distinguished Czech orchestras, including the Prague
Symphony, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and Brno State Philharmonic; he has
regularly appeared at significant music festivals, such as the Prague Spring,
Smetana’s Litomyšl and Janáček May. He has conducted Leoš
Janáček’s Jenufa at the Malmö Opera and has performed as a guest with
leading foreign orchestras. He co-founded the Four Steps into the New World
music-educational cycle for youth, and has participated in the success of
exceptional projects staged at the National Theatre in Prague – Miloš
Forman’s production A Walk Worthwhile, and Aleš Březina’s opera
Tomorrow There Will Be … Marko Ivanovič has composed the opera for children
Enchantia, whose performances he has also conducted. And recently he has put the
finishing touches to yet another notable project – a recording of the
complete symphonies of Miloslav Kabeláč (SU 4202–2), which he has made with
the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.
What – besides the quality of the music itself – motivated you
to take on this grandiose, challenging project?
I would like to get Miloslav Kabeláč back into the awareness of musicians and
audiences alike. He had really bad luck in his life, as he was not an officially
acknowledged composer in two eras: during the Nazi occupation and during the
Communist regime, his music was scarcely performed, and he was seldom afforded
the opportunity to present his work in public. Later on, after his death, a new
era occurred, yet he has remained more or less overlooked. This project aims to
change that situation, at least to a certain degree. I am convinced that
Kabeláč’s music has something to communicate to a contemporary audience.
Even though it may be bound up with the period in which it was created,
expressing great defiance and emanating a great inner integrity, in my opinion,
it does belong with the present. It is a highly singular, specific music and,
I think, similarly to that of Leoš Janáček, it is a type of music unique in
the European context.
During Kabeláč’s lifetime, it was not frequently heard at
During the time of the Nazi Protectorate and the era of the totalitarian regime,
Kabaláč’s music was performed much less frequently than it would have
deserved. Bearing witness to his being persecuted by the Communists are the
facts from his biography; for instance, his not being permitted by the
authorities to travel to Strasbourg, where he would have had a great chance to
present his music to the general European public. But that is just one of the
numerous situations in which he was badly hurt.
Your positive relation to Kabeláč is evidently influenced by your
being keen on his music – after all, you are a specialist in 20th–century
music – but also by his behaviour during the two totalitarian regimes. Am
Yes, absolutely. I think that the figure of Miloslav Kabeláč is very
intriguing in that he was bold and principled under all circumstances, in that
he was not willing to agree to any compromises. That applied to his aesthetics
and moral stances alike.
Who initially aroused your interest in Kabeláč?
In this connection, I must mention my teacher, Prof. Jaromír Havlík. The very
first Kabeláč composition I got to know was The Mystery of Time, which
I chose as my graduation piece at the Academy of Performing Arts, while Prof.
Havlík familiarised me with other Kabeláč works too. That is when I actually
began pondering my intention, which I have now finally succeeded in putting
across in the form of this complete album.
Miloslav Kabeláč’s works are also remarkable in that they are
often based on spiritual, Biblical themes.
Yes, and his penchant for Biblical themes is close to me. Yet he did not compose
sacred music; he universally referred to the Bible for a purpose, mainly quoting
it with the aim to generalise the relevance of some of the Christian ethical
principles in a broader sense. In my opinion, Kabeláč strove to point out that
these principles are still valid today and that they are also important for
people who do not consider themselves to be believers. They are ethical
principles in general.
Could you give an example?
In Symphony No. 7, for instance, the highly lapidary quotations from the New
Testament serve to highlight human suffering, as well as how a person as an
individual can easily fall victim to the majority. I assume that in his time
the subject matter was in the air and that the individual still has to strive to
defy the majority pressure nowadays. Something similar has to be dealt with
Which of Miloslav Kabeláč’s symphonies are particularly close
to your heart?
I would say that all of them are close to me. They are different from each
other, when it comes to their intellectual message, instrumentation and
aesthetic base. I have been greatly impressed by the Seventh, for orchestra and
reciter, which, as I said, is set to Biblical texts. Then I was astonished by
the Sixth, for clarinet and orchestra, which could be performed as a regular
clarinet solo piece, as it affords the soloist the opportunity to showcase all
his/her skills. But I am of the opinion that Kabeláč’s early symphonies
possess value too and occupy certain positions within the context of symphonic
music. The First, for instance, although being rooted in the conventional
interwar aesthetics, already reveals the characteristic traits of
Kabeláč’s style – compendiousness, obstinacy, cogency.
And which of the symphonies do you, as a conductor, deem the most
I would say that the higher the number, the higher the demand factor. When
making the recording, the first tough task occurred with the Third, built on
constant acceleration. The symphony contains a long arc, within which you must
keep speeding up the tempo. Retaining this gradation is a tough nut to crack for
the conductor. Also exacting was the Sixth, primarily as regards the metre and
rhythm. Challenging too was the Seventh, entirely written in proportional
notation, with no bar lines, only the time axis; then it is up to the conductor
to explain this to the orchestra and deal with some passages technically. I did
my best to make the result meet the composer’s wishes, in line with
So the final symphony, the Eighth, was the most
Yes, it is extremely challenging indeed. Conceived as a site-specific project,
intended to be performed in a church, it counts with the precise placement of
two choirs, the solo singer, the percussionists, the organ, in space. Yet since
we were recording it at the Rudolfinum concert hall, we could not completely
abide by this requirement. But we tried our best. Two choirs, the involvement of
many other components, often working in different, parallel metres – it was
not easy at all. And I am very grateful – specifically in the case of
Symphony No. 8 – to Lukáš Vasilek, who was really helpful, making our work
much easier owing to his having prepared his choir in a highly professional
Imagine a person who does not know much about Miloslav Kabeláč, is
virtually unfamiliar with his music … How can the symphonies address such a
Granted, 20th–century music is still not very popular among the fans of
“classical”. But I would like to tell them that Kabeláč’s music is
highly communicative, sometimes even more communicative than the music of
Bohuslav Martinů. It is not difficult to listen to, yet it is highly intense,
so you need time to absorb it. It does not contain merry moments, it is music
that comes across as melancholic, dramatic, imbued with an unyielding
pertinacity. This type of music is not to everyone’s liking. Some lovers of
pleasurable music may be disappointed if they put it on while having dinner. Yet
it is a music that grabs hold of you and won’t let go. I would say that every
one of Kabeláč’s symphonies has a claw which can clutch you.
Now a few words about you. You are known for liking –
let’s say – extraordinary, unconventional projects. After all, making a
recording of Kabeláč’s symphonies is actually an extraordinary
accomplishment too. But you have also co-created the National Theatre
productions of Miloš Forman’s A Walk Worthwhile and the opera Tomorrow
There Will Be … Why are you enticed by exquisite, extraordinary things, often
of an experimental nature?
Perhaps because I have always been concurrently a composer and a conductor. As
well as, in a way, a sort of musical plebeian, who – when put in a very
simplified way – can love Alfred Schnittke’s symphony on the one hand
and a Beatles song on the other. The concept of “music” is very wide for me.
I am aware that a number of my colleagues – which is totally
understandable – like specialising in a certain type of music, many of those
classically trained do not recognise anything but so-called serious music,
whereas other friends of mine solely stick to popular music and have never
listened to classical. I for myself am glad that I can, with a certain
aloofness, move about in the interspace and undertake projects that somehow veer
off from the straight and narrow. I like demolishing pigeonholes – it is
actually my objective. I say that music can be either good or bad –
regardless of the category it is in. By and large, I think that there is only
one music, and we are lucky to have so many options of absorbing and