Czechs hand big bouquets to Belohlávek and the BBC SO
Smetana Hall, Prague
BBC Symphony Orchestra sub-principal viola Phil Hall reports on an extra-special 'coals to Newscastle' tour and a singular honour for Jiří Belohlávek, who takes the podium for his last concert as Chief Conductor tonight.
With Jiří Belohlávek 's tenure as chief conductor of the BBCSO entering its home straight, it seemed fitting that the orchestra give two concerts in this year's Prague Spring Festival. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and always a joy to visit with every time seeming like the first. Resplendent with
medieval churches, synagogues, cobbled streets and amazing Art Deco
buildings, bisected by the romantic Vltava river.
After a restless night in a hotel that seems to have starched its duvets into large crisp packets, we breakfast and walk across the old town square, to rehearse in the Smetana Hall. This is the home of Jiri's old orchestra, the Prague Symphony, and he is proud to welcome us. The acoustics (like the weather) are wonderfully
warm. Four years ago we gave a memorable performance of Suk's Asrael
Symphony here (in the presence of the composer's grandson) and this
time we bring another part of his trilogy: Zráni (The Ripening) which glows magically and likewise Ravel's Shéhérazade shimmers. But to fly the flag we open the concert in the evening with some English string music: Tippett's Concerto for double string orchestra to which the audience listens intently. For the Suk the orchestra is joined by three offstage Czech trumpeters and the ladies of the Prague Philharmonic chorus. This difficult polytonal piece goes very well but still leaves me gasping for some Czech Pils.
Jiří Belohlávek receives his honorary CBE from H.E. Sian MacLeod, UK Ambassador to the Czech Republic
The next day there is a reception at the British Embassy where Jiří is presented with an honorary CBE (see photo). The British Ambassador, H.E. Sian MacLeod (also pictured) greets us all individually and we are served Earl Grey tea on the lawn, hard by the huge castle.
The second concert goes equally well with a new piece by local composer Jiří Kadeřábek and the Brahms violin concerto with Ivan Ženaty. Martinů's optimistic 4th Symphony officially ends the concert but offstage Jiří puts on his new gong and returns to conduct two Slavonic Dance encores. There is something very special about playing Czech music in these hallowed walls, even more so when it is so appreciated by the Czechs themselves. These famous dances earn us a
standing ovation and from nowhere huge bouquets of flowers arrive that
wouldn't have looked out of place in The Day of the Triffids. All too soon we are saying fond farewells and heading off to the airport.
- Listen to the orchestra and Jiří Belohlávek perform Brahms's Violin Concerto and Suk's The Ripening from 7.30pm on Thursday 24 May.
- The Meaning of Maturity: Paul Allen explores the work that inspired Josef Suk's The Ripening. Listen from 810pm on Thursday 24 May
- Read about Maestro Belohlavek and his honorary CBE