It was a musical happy jubilee with the best musical audience I could ask for! We celebrated, next to the musical friendships and the music itself, also the milestones of the European history that brought the most precious gift there is: Freedom. And for that we sold every seat in the house!
The fall of 1918 brought the end of the devastating WW I and it also ended the rule of the monarchy of
Habsburgs that dominated many nations of Central and Eastern Europe for centuries. Many received a long-wish-for independence, Czechoslovakia on October 28, 1918 among them. A few unhappy peripeties happened in the "Bohemian" history after that as Hitler taking the Czechoslovakis (1939) and after his defeat the infamous totalitarian regime came in (1948), but a happy occurance happened in November of 1989 when we booted out loudly peacefully and joyfully the unwanted Commies, and FREEDOM, svoboda, came at last. I was in the streets of Prague fighting for ten days my own fight for freedom screaming with thousands of others that we want nothing more than freedom. I cherished it ever since daily.
And so, the reasons above made us produce the last and the seventh concert of the 2018 Point Loma Series, in the Bohemian tunes of Dvořák, Smetana and Drdla.
Dvořák is not a stranger in America. Almost everyone recognizes his beautiful melody of Largo from his New
World Symphony (1893), a melody also known as a song Going Home (1922),written by Dvořák's student William Arm Fischer who adapted Largo's longing melody for his text. Dvořák spent in America
two and half years, 1892-1895, when he was appointed by a wonderful philanthropist and a founder of the very first American higher education music school — A New Conservatory in America, Ms. Jeannette Thurber. She chose Dvořák as she felt he is able seamlessly incorporate into his pieces the Slavic and Czech character yet still deliver a pure classical work accessible to all. Thurber was an idealist and humanist and she wanted to accomplish with her conservatory two nobel goals: To introduce in the curriculum of the composition department a way how to teach the American students to compose music permeated with the character of America: the melodies of spirituals and folk songs of native Indians. Thus Thurber was aiming at creating "American classical music" just like there is a recognizable Russian or Norwegian, Hungarian or Czech "classical music". She deemed Dvořák the most suitable for the job and offered him generous conditions to come to the New World. (His salary was 35 times bigger than he had home!) Thurber's second goal was to enable any student who shows talent to study a tuition free. Her students counted women, African-Americans, Native Indians....The conservatory was quite successful, educating about 3,000 students, nevertheless, later waned away as the Juliard School took prominency. Thurber enthusiasm and especially idealism were greater than the realities, and the lack of government help did not allow her to survive. Nevertheless, all of the greatest higher music schools in America stand on the firm foundations and idealism Thurber established.
In this concert, the audience enjoyed Dvořák's last chamber piece written in America, his op. 100, Sonatina in G major (1893). He wrote it for his children, Otylka (15) and Tonik (10) who were with him in the USA. The Sonatina opens and ends as a joyful, whimsical, upbeat and melodious beautifully harmonized duo piece. The second melancholic movement is expressing his longing for home, just like the mentioned Largo from his 9th symphony. That second movement was inspired by the beautiful Minnehaha Falls in Minnesota that Dvořák visited. He loved Longfellow's poem The Song of Hiawatha (1855) in which Minnehaha is a lover of Hiawatha and when visiting the Falls, he was so moved by the beauty of it that the inspiration came so suddenly he had to scribble the main melody on a cuff of his shirt!
Our next composer on the program, Smetana, is also known in America. His Moldau (1874), its tune reflected in the Israel's national anthem Hatikva (1888), although the similarity is most likely a happenstance, is quite internationally recognizable: a story of a river from its spring to passing through various places and events as a wedding, deep forest, rapids, Prague castle and ending in a North Sea with two loud orchestra bangs...
Smetana is a symbol of Czech identity. There is not a piece he has written that would not be Czech in a certain
way. Czech history, legends, fairy tales, dances, songs, Czech lands were the inspiration for Smetana. His patriotism is hard to match in spite of the facts that his well-to-do family spoke German and he had to perfect his Czech on his own! Smetana was also a leading inspiring figure for the fight for the Czech theater and opera and other Czech official activities as they were finally, after centuries, allowed by the Habsburg understanding emperor Franz Joseph. It was Smetana who was at the foundation of the National Theater that opened with his opera, and was built purely from peoples' collections. It was Smetana who inspired people to collect money again after the National Theater burned. It opened in 15 months, and again with Smetana's opera for the grand reopening.
Smetana, unfortunately, had to face many tragedies in his life: the loss of his beloved three girls age four, two and one within two years was devastating enough only to face a death of his wife Katerina, the love of his life, who died at 32. Later Smetana, as a director of the first Czech opera (Dvořák played under him in a Provisional Theater 1866-1871), faced criticism that he is too much under the influence of the "foreign" composers. Smetana had to deal with a clique determined to destroy him, but he prevailed. Finally, the biggest tragedy happened when he completely lost his hearing in October 1874. He had to leave his post of a music director, had to leave his beloved Prague to live with his daughter in the country...but he kept on composing and his Moldau as well as many other famous pieces were written after that tragedy.
At our concert we heard two Smetana's pieces: Trio in G minor, (1855) a beautiful dramatic, riveting piece that was written just after his four year old Bedřiška died, the piece reflects his rattled feelings: We heard sorrow and joy; dark and light, hope and despair. His harmonies, melodies, accentuating rhythms makes for a revealing, intimate piece expressing the most intimate feelings easily detected from the music.
The second piece From my Homeland (1880) is a tribute to the Czech land and its folk songs. The piece mutates from major to minor just like many Moravian songs do, you hear dynamic as well as melancholic melodies that are attractive and innovative. Just beautiful! As a side note: Smetana left his long time Hamburg publisher Hugo Pohle, who refused to print a Czech equivalent of the title, Z domoviny, under the German title Aus der Heimlich. Smetana, the proud Czech, would not have that and left the publisher.
The last composer on our program was František Drdla (1868-1944), a less known composer, but a household
name in 1920's in America when he came to his two highly successful American tours; also his composition Serenade (1903) was used as an encore in each concert by the most internationally famous Czech violinist Jan Kubelik, who charmed America. Kubelik's Christmas concert in 1901 at San Francisco square was listened to by more than 100 thousand hearers! Drdla pieces were also performed often by the renown violinists Jasha Heifetz and Fritz Kreissler.
Drdla had prestigious posts: the first violinist in the Court Viennese Opera and especially a musical director of the theater An der Wien, a formost venue where years ago Beethoven produced many of his premieres. Drdla left Vienna to return back to the newly created Czechoslovakia in 1918 as he was a great patriot and wanted to be back at home. He launched a very successful violin virtuoso career, that took him later abroad again. He is famous for his attractive short arabesque romantic pieces with unusually warm welcoming innovative melodies and harmonies, out of which we heard Souvenir, the mentioned Serenade, The Fountain, and the dynamic Fantasie Espagnol. A new name for the audience and I would say a new on list to pay attention to!
The music was performed by international musicians: Irina Bendetsky, formally from Russia, excelled on the piano, Ondrej Lewit, formally from the Czech Republic, on the violin, and "local" American Gordon Grubbs brought in a soulful cello. All musicians have an impressive resume and their performance was rewarded with a standing ovation.
Thus ended our last concert of the season and I was happy to see such a joyful crowd of people who love classical music as much as I do and who were leaving happy. And let us hope the excellent Czech beer and a selective fine wines we offered were not the only reasons for the happiness!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone, I appreciate very much all of you!
Thank you: Jana Fiserova, Adelka Hancova, Eva Fisherova, Vlada Hanc, Jody Applebaum, Dottie Laub, Zoe Fricker!