ALBERT ROSEN

 

ALBERT Rosen was one of the most remarkable men I have known. He personified the meeting point of west and east that lies along the axis of Vienna Prague, the cities in which he was born and bred.

For almost 10 years it was my pleasure and privilege, as RTE's concerts manager, to work closely with Albert, and in orchestral matters he was my teacher, deepening and enriching my understanding of the people involved, their work and their music. He would always speak of the work (as he did of everything else) in a down to earth, unpretentious way which nevertheless got to the heart of the matter the point where you were connected to what made the music live.

Albert was not a "cultured" man in the sense of being "well read." But he possessed an innate culture which can hardly be acquired one which he absorbed with his mother's milk and his family's dinner table talk, one which tempers the structures and power of the west with the spirit and earthiness of the east. It gave him impeccable manners of the old world type and yet the capacity for a certain raffishness, a single mindedness which still allowed him to show the utmost consideration for others; and a mixture of curiosity and risk taking which made every performance an occasion of excitement.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the orchestra pit of the opera house, where Rosen was king. His command of every phrase, every gesture, every nuance, brought shapely dynamism to the genre of music theatre. Having made his name in his chosen field of opera, as one of the resident conductors of the Prague National Opera, Albert Rosen brought this indefinable musicality to Ireland at the Wexford Festival of 1965, the year in which he was appointed Director of the Smetana Opera. I recall at Wexford (and later the DGOS) spine chilling performances of Britten's The Turn of the Screw, Janacek's Katya Kabanova and Jenufa and exuberant celebration of Smetana's The Bartered Bride and The Two Widows, which marked a quantum leap in opera standards in Ireland.

The end of the Dubcek era considerably reduced Rosen's chances of continuing success at home, not least because musicians and administrators envious of his position combined to deprive him of his status. Worse still, he had to barter whatever political credits he still possessed to safeguard the futures of his adored young children Alexander (now a computer expert) and Zuzanna (a medical research scientist) and not to compromise the international career of his sister, a top medical professor in Prague.

In 1968 RAE appointed Rosen to the principal conductorship of what is not the National Symphony, a position which he retained until 1981 when he became principal guest conductor. He brought to the orchestra the same sense of style that it had previously experienced from Hans SchmidtIsserstedt, Milan Horvat and Rosen's immediate predecessor, Tibor Paul.

The European tours which he conducted in 1976 and 1980 (the latter shared with Colman Pearce who was to succeed him as principal) marked the beginning of the NSO's international reputation. Between Rosen and a later principal, Bryden Thompson, lies the chief credit for the creation of the NSO as a firmly based international ensemble. Meanwhile his own career developed in the opera house with successes in Teheran San Francisco, San Diego and London (with Kataya and RimskyKorsakov's Christmas Eve for the English National Opera) and on the concert podium as principal conductor of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

He possessed an innate knowledge of what the audience and the orchestra needed from their conductor. He gave the band their rules and their liberties, and he gave the crowd their sense of style. Not given to histrionics, he nevertheless knew exactly how much showmanship to expend without losing control of the music.

Age did not diminish his vigour or his style, but it did increase his stature as he visibly matured growing confident and accustomed to a life that had not earned him the top international laurels but had brought him acclaim and an enviable reputation among his peers. Conductors wear somewhat better than most other musicians and go on longer. The cancer that has robbed us of Albert Rosen (due to his incessant cigarette smoking) intruded too soon into a life that I am sure held some treasures and delights. On the private level, it has deprived all of us of a friend and mentor, and in particular his sister and his children, of whom he was so proud, and his dear friend Carmel MacHale.

He was a very private person - not least because Prague had taught him the value of reticence - and he had no small talk, but was never ill at ease in social situations where he concealed his impatience behind a curtain of genuine charm.

On his 70th birthday, St Valentine's Day 1994, RTE elected him "Conductor Laureate", and at the concert which he conducted that night the citation (which I had the honour to compose) included the words: "Albert Rosen has earned a privileged place within the music profession in Ireland and in the affection of Irish music lovers ... He has brought his immense international reputation to the service of music making in Ireland which he had developed and enhanced and has thereby achieved the acclaim of audiences at home and throughout Europe. As I write this, I know that the immense personal sadness which I express speaks for hundreds of thousands of people who admired and enjoyed his performances.