Rafael Kubelik was without a doubt a conductor of great humanity; his interpretations were always full of emotion and spontaneity. This may go some way to explaining why he did not stay in his native country after it came under a Communist dictatorship.
The son of the great violinist Jan Kubelik and a Hungarian countess, Rafael Kubelik, studied the piano, violin and conducting at the Prague Conservatoire. At the end of his studies he acted as accompanist to his father for a year. In 1937, he had his first concert at the head of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he became Musical Director in 1942. He decided to leave with the arrival of the Communists in 1948, going into exile in the United States. In 1950 he took the reins of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was often targeted by critics and decided to return to Europe in 1955 to become Musical Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
In 1961, Rafeal Kubelik signed the most important contract of his career to work with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; he ran the orchestra until 1980. There he produced a series of themed concerts – the complete works of Beethoven in chronological order, a programme linking Palestrina and Stravinsky, a Bach cycle followed by one by Hindemith. His recording of the complete Mahler Symphonies was a major event. In 1967 he naturalised, becoming Swiss. During these illustrious years he was regularly invited to conduct some of the most prestigious European orchestras – the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam), the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1990, following the fall of the Iron Curtain, Rafael Kubelik returned to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra as a guest conductor. They toured Japan together the next year.
Rafael Kubelik had a large repertoire ranging from Bach to contemporary, 20th century composers. Although, a fondness for Czech composers, such as Antonin Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana, Leos Janacek and Bohuslav Martinu, persisted throughout his career. He was less well known for his compositions but left behind five operas, two symphonies, five concertos and chamber music.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Rafael Kubelik
1937 – First concert conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
1942 – Became the Musical Director of the Czech Philharmonic
1948 – Exile in the United States, after the arrival of the Communists
1950 – Became the Musical Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
1961 – Became the Musical Director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
1990 - Returned to the Czech Philharmonic, after the fall of the Iron Curtain
Six Key Recordings by Rafael Kubelik (for Deutsche Grammophon)
Schumann, Complete Symphonies, 1964-1965
Mahler, Complete Symphonies, 1961-1969
Schoenberg, Gurrelieder, 1965
Janacek, The Glagolitic Mass, 1971
Schumann and Grieg, Piano Concertos, with Geza Anda, 1964
Dvorak, Complete Symphonies, 1971-1976