Album detail
Catalogue number: SU 4202-2

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 concert halls…
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 I right?
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 today too…

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 challenging?
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 his score.

So the final symphony, the Eighth, was the most challenging?
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 manner.

Imagine a person who does not know much about Miloslav Kabeláč, is virtually unfamiliar with his music … How can the symphonies address such a listener?
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 approaching it.

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