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WNO’s concert at St David’s Hall (14 Jan 2018) was incredibly well received by the packed audience. It was also a very special moment for Music Director Tomáš Hanus who dedicated the concert to the legendary conductor Jiří Bělohlávek who passed away a few months previously. We were honoured to be joined at the concert by his widow Anna.
Tomáš provided a special dedication for the programme:
I first met Jiří Bělohlávek in 1988 when on holiday in Krkonoše, a beautiful mountain region in Bohemia. We were staying in a mountain hotel where many musicians from across the country often chose to stay. It so happened that both my family and Bělohlávek’s were holidaying there at the same time. I was 18 years old at the time and was hoping to pursue a career as a conductor. Jiří Bělohlávek was such an icon of mine that I didn’t dare talk to him, especially as he was on holiday with his young family.
Throughout the holiday I would walk past him in awe. Only on the last day of our stay did I finally pluck up the courage to speak to him. We sat by the fireside roasting sausages and talked. As it turned out, that evening proved to be one of the most important of my life. Maestro Bělohlávek listened to me with such warmth and understanding, and encouraged me to share my experiences of becoming a conductor. After a while, he said, ‘I see you are serious about this, let’s go for a walk!’ And so we continued talking as we walked through the woods.
By the age of 18, I had come to expect that people are not often willing to help talented young people. Jiří was able to spark not just my belief in the arts (which I had already), but also my belief in humanity. He didn’t make me feel small by imposing his greatness on me; on the contrary, he made me feel so respected. As I later found out, this was characteristic of him as a teacher. He fully respected each individual student and helped them find their true identity, rather than simply copy the Maestro.
During our walk in the woods, I asked whether Bělohlávek would give me a conducting lesson. The next day, before we left, we met under a fir tree near the hilltop hotel ‘Hromovka’ for our first lesson. Sadly, I can no longer find that particular tree, as the hillside has been planted with new trees and has changed in appearance. But I know that it didn’t disappear and has always been there, part of the hillside – unpretentious, always in its place, ready to serve. What a parallel to Jiří’s life!
I have often had the chance to experience his unpretentious conducting. Perhaps the most fitting parallel was a postcard which he sent to me a few years ago. It was a picture of a well with pure, clear water flowing out of it. Jiří had written, ‘This is what I would like to be!’
Thank you, Jiří!
Welsh National Opera was proud to dedicate the concert to the memory of Jiří Bělohlávek (1946 – 2017)