Rafael Kubelík

Born June 29, 1914; Býchory, near Kolín, Czechoslovakia
Died August 11, 1996; Lucerne, Switzerland

The son of violinist Jan Kubelík, Rafael Kubelík showed early promise on the piano and violin. At the age of 14, he entered the Prague Conservatory, studying composition, violin, piano and conducting. Five years later, he made his conducting debut with the Czech Philharmonic. Kubelík served as music director at the National Theatre in Brno from 1939 until 1941, returning to the Czech Philharmonic as its chief conductor from 1942 until 1948. Refusing to collaborate with Nazi occupation authorities after Communist takeover of the Czechoslovakian government, in 1948, he defected to the West.

Kubelík made his U.S. debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in November 1949, and the success of his three-week residency led to his appointment as the ensemble’s fifth music director. During his three-season tenure, Kubelík introduced dozens of new works to the Orchestra’s repertoire — including works by Bartók, Bloch, Harris, Honegger, Ibert, Janáček, Martinů, Milhaud, Still, Tcherepnin, Vaughan Williams and Walton — for which he received both praise and criticism from musicians, public and press.

In September 1951, the CSO’s first television concert was led by Kubelík and carried over WENR-TV Chicago. He also led several recordings with the Orchestra for the Mercury label, including Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Dvořák’s New World Symphony; Smetana’s Má vlast; and Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which was the first high fidelity long-playing record commercially marketed in the U.S.

Kubelík later served as music director at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and briefly as the first music director of the Metropolitan Opera. He also returned to guest conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on several occasions, and his final appearance was in October 1991, when he conducted Dvořák’s Husitská Overture, concluding the Gala Centennial Finale concert.