Ahead of performances at Hamer Hall, the maestro explains why Bohemian music is in the Czech Philharmonic’s blood.

1. You’re conducting at the new Hamer Hall this month. What prompted the Czech Philharmonic to embark on this tour? 

Well, there have been ties between Australia and the Czech Phil dating back to the 1960s when Karel Ancerl was the head of the orchestra and they made a big tour of the Far East and Australia. So we’re looking forward to strengthening that bond on this tour.  

2. You’re playing all Czech music, but with Beethoven’s Eroica thrown in as a wild card – how does that work?

We don’t want to brand the Czech Phil as solely a purveyor of Czech music. We also have qualities we want to show off in standard repertoire. And Eroica is a symphony that is adored by all music lovers.  

3. Is there a recognizably Czech sound to the orchestra?

I think the Czech Phil has always had distinctive sound qualities. One can describe it as a rich, melodious string sound combined with a very distinctive woodwind. The source of that is the members of the orchestra, who are almost all of Czech origin. Bohemian music is in their blood, and our aim is to keep this quality and transfer it to the next generations.

We’re also bringing two young Czech guys as soloists. Violinist Josef Spacek is our new concertmaster since last year. He is one of the top players in Europe, and he’s playing Josef Suk’s Fantasy in G minor. Another beautiful piece we are playing is Dvorák’s Biblical Songs with bass Jan Martinik, who is a wonderful young voice, and won the Song Prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition.  

4. How about in composition – would you say there a Czech equivalent to the distinctly Russian style of, say, Mussorgsky?

I think you could say the music of Dvorák is obviously Czech – you can just hear it. Then Janácek has such characteristic writing and a very special sound that you recognise from the first listening; and Martinu has a special musical language that sounds Czech to me.

5. When Martinu died, Czechoslovakia was still under Soviet control. As someone who grew up in the Soviet era, could you imagine you might one day have a lifestyle allowing you to travel freely around the world?

It was the permanent dream of many people. Personally, I had given up hope because the system seemed so solid and unbreakable, yet now the whole thing has collapsed. For us, it was like being reborn. The generation who has lived through this period of oppression still values this new freedom very highly. 

The Czech Philharmonic plays the new Hamer Hall on August 26 & 27. View event details here.