I started the day by going to the Konvent of St Agnes, which was close to my hotel and hosted part of the Gerhard Richter retrospective - in fact it turned out, after I went to the National Galerie to see the main part of Richter's exhibition, that his best paintings were on view for free here. I found walking through the convent truly inspiring, although it is hard to imagine the conditions under which nuns lived a few centuries ago. Then I walked to the Klementinum Reading Room, but it turned out it is closed for renovation.
This is when I went to the National Galerie for the Gerhard Richter exhibition, which was a huge disappointment. The retrospective at the Georges Pompidou Art Center a few years back in Paris was much, much better. In an alcove outside the National Galerie I saw a movie of Richter painting for free, which was the same movie I had seen for a fee in Paris during the Richter retrospective. That movie was a lot more enjoyable when I hadn't paid for it, although I'll admit I didn't stay for the whole thing. What I loved most about the National Galerie was the collection of Asian Art. That was remarkable. Without it I wouldn't have been nearly as happy about visiting the National Galerie.
I had lunch at Maitrea, the sister restaurant of Clear Head that I went to yesterday. I got my favorite freshly squeezed juice (apple-carrot-ginger) for 100 crowns and a salad with avocado but without noodles for 235 crowns. (The waitress, after I had waited for 15 minutes, said the salad took 30 minutes to prepare. A salad, really? When I finally got my salad it had smoked tofu, sun-dried tomatoes and warm toasted tortilla, and was really good. So I suppose it was worth the wait.) There was jazz playing on the sound system. Maitrea seemed a lot more oriented toward Buddhism than Clear Hear. The Maitrea bookstore next door even hosts Buddhist programs. I wonder when Prague got interested in Buddhism. This was so unexpected.
In the late afternoon I went to the Neoluxor bookstore on the street behind my hotel, in a nice-looking mall. I bought the bilingual edition of George Orwell's 1984 - I don't speak one word of Czech, but I figured it'd be a cool way to learn a few words... I've never been able to do things like everybody else - and a book in Czech by Vladimir Sevela about a KGB mole who infiltrated the CIA. The spy, arrested by the FBI, was ultimately traded with his wife on the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin and returned to Czechoslovakia a hero in 1986. He was given an apartment, a Volvo and a job at the Czech Institute for Economic Studies where future minister of finance and President Vaclav Klaus also worked.
The day ended with the concert of a lifetime: Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Mozart's Turkish Concerto and Mahler's 5th Symphony. He passed away a month after I saw him conduct the orchestra. I've written about that elsewhere so I won't go into the details here, except to say he did look like he was recovering from cancer (he was half as big as in his pictures) but throughout the concert he maintained the energy and stamina that suggested he had beaten the cancer beast. His love of music kept him alive to the end, although he must have known when he gave the concert that his end was near.
I arranged the trip to be able to see him in person and I'm just glad I didn't postpone it. (I had been wanting to visit Prague for years and I could have easily given in to inertia and postponed it one more year.) The concert was magnificent and will remain forever one of my most beautiful memories of a trip of a lifetime. I do regret not trying to reach out to Bělohlávek before he died, to tell him how much his music-making had meant to him. I hope he knew the impact he had on thousands of concert-goers.
Europeans don't give many standing ovations, unlike Americans, but when Jiří Bělohlávek returned for his third curtain call, I and a few other people got up and more and more attendees then stood up until everyone was on their feet. Bělohlávek was visibly moved. I remember how he brought his hand to his heart and bowed with a small, grateful smile.
Random observations from going to the Rudolfinum: the bilingual program cost 30 cr0wns, the Bohemian Sekt brut 65 crowns (it tasted ok, although Bohemian Sekt isn't nearly as good as real champagne). In the program I noticed how the Czech use the dot after a number to mean "th" (as in: 10th season, 20th year), like the Germans. The German influence is also obvious in the traffic lights, where the red and yellow lights shine together right before the light turns to green. Interestingly, for pedestrians, the light switches from green to red with no warning. There is no blinking green light, for instance, that would tell pedestrians to hurry across the crosswalk (and warn them not to start crossing if they haven't done so already).
But I want to end this post with a remembrance of Jiří Bělohlávek, who did so much to raise the visibility of Czech music and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra throughout the world. His recordings of Antonín Dvořák are my absolute favorites. He left us too early, but had more of an impact on the world than most of us can ever dream to have.
Musical accompaniment: Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Dvořák's 9th Symphony, "From the New World", part of the "Complete Symphonies & Concertos" set.