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Czechs hand big bouquets to Belohlávek and the BBC SO

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Phil Hall Phil Hall | 11:57 UK Time, Thursday, 24 May 2012


Smetana Hall, Prague

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 
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

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.


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