Conductor Jakub Hrůša aims to balance his work on opera & concert stages

Jakub Hrůša (here leading the CSO in 2021) returns to Orchestra Hall for a program featuring Mahler's Ninth Symphony on June 8-10. He calls the work one of "the best pieces of classical beauty in the whole canon of Western music."

For Jakub Hrůša, opera is the highest calling for a conductor. “The genre, when it is done well, is the peak of what one as a musician can do,” he said.

Accordingly, the 41-year-old Czech conductor jumped at the chance to become music director of the Royal Opera House in London, an appointment that was announced in October 2022. He will take over the reins in September 2025 and will hold the title of music director designate in the meantime.

As much as he admires opera, he thinks too often artistic, technical or financial compromises diminish the final product onstage. “It’s not easy to do it really on a top level even in the great metropolises of the opera world,” he said. But the Royal Opera House, where he conducted Carmen in 2018 and Lohengrin in 2022, stands as a shining exception, a place where the artistic working conditions are “fantastic.”

“There is a huge tradition and love of opera in the whole community,” he said. “But there is also an extreme care about the result, about the details and the whole scale. There is freshness of artistic work there, and what I have experienced is an absolute top level of execution.”

It also helps that he loves London, where he previously served as guest conductor of the Philharmonia, and maintains his principal residence.

But as devoted as Hrůša is to opera, he is also committed to keeping a balance in his professional life between that genre and the symphonic world. Hrůša spoke from Vienna, where he was preparing to lead the Vienna Philharmonic on a four-concert tour of Europe. He returns June 8-10 to Symphony Center to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, the composer’s final completed work in the form.  

“Some people have said that I have been a more frequent presence on the concert stage, which might be the case occasionally,” Hrůša said. “But I always answer that it’s not because I find or would ever have found the concert stage somehow more important than theater work, but because I have found it a little easier in the past to achieve the fantastic quality of what musical achievement can be like on a concert stage. In general, there is a little more attunement and connection to the minute details of artistic result [in the symphonic world].”

Hrůša took over as music director of the Bamberg Symphony in 2016, and his contract there has been extended through the 2025-26 season. He also serves as principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and principal guest conductor of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Italy. Asked if he was planning to relinquish some of those posts, given his future responsibilities at the Royal House, the conductor said he would, of course, honor his contractual obligations in Bamberg. Beyond that, discussions are under way regarding his future with all three ensembles.

“I think it is more than likely, bordering on certainty, that I would continue in Prague, because my relationship with the Czech audience, where I come from and where I owe everyone, if nothing more, gratefulness for my beginnings and where the audiences are just splendid and the culture of listening to classical music is very high,” Hrůša said. “I would definitely stay there.”