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Karel Ancerl

Karel Ančerl was born in 1908 in Tucapy in southern Bohemia. At the age of eleven he entered the grammar school in Prague but left four years later without his parent’s knowledge to attend the conservatory in Prague, where he studied composition, conducting and percussion. He received training in composition from Professor Haba (the “quarter-tone man”); another important teacher was Vaclav Talich, the then music director of the Czech Philharmonic. Ančerl began his musical career in Munich in 1930 where, as assistant conductor to Hermann Scherchen, he worked on the premiere of Alois Haba’s quarter-tone opera DieMutter. His next conducting mentors were first and foremost Erich Kleiber and Bruno Walter, but still more so Furtwangler, who let him attend all his rehearsals during a four-month stay in Berlin. He described his most significant encounter as being that with Alban Berg in Vienna in 1932. After an “apprenticeship year” spent conducting in Berlin, Dresden and Munich, Ančerl worked as a producer for Czech Radio from 1933 to 1939, before being forced out of all work following the invasion of the Wehrmacht and the annexation of Czechoslovakia. He was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. Recordings made for the National Socialist propaganda film shot in Theresienstadt show a scene in which he was forced to conduct the concentration camp orchestra. He was the only member of his family and almost the only participant of the film to survive subsequent imprisonment in the Auschwitz- Birkenau concentration camp, as if by a miracle. After the end of the Second World War, Ančerl worked at the Opera of the Fifth of May in Prague as artistic director, before becoming music director of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra on 1 September 1947. In October 1950 Ančerl was named artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic; in the years that followed until 1968 he secured it a position at the top of the Eastern Bloc orchestras and invitations from around the world poured in. Ančerl broadened the orchestra’s repertoire to include modern music in particular (Schoenberg, Bartok, Britten) and was a vehement champion of unpopular composers from his home country such as Bohuslav Martinů. He led the Czech Philharmonic on extensive tours of New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, India and the Soviet Union (1959), later on of the USA and Canada as well. He performed with the orchestra in numerous European countries and was becoming increasingly sought-after to conduct prominent international orchestras. After the events of 1968 Ančerl emigrated to Canada and led the Toronto Symphony Orchestra until 1972. Karel Ančerl died in Toronto in 1973.