There has been yet another major loss for the classical music world. Karel Husa, the internationally known composer and conductor, and winner of the 1993 Grawemeyer Award and the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Music passed away on December 14, 2016 at the age of 95. He died at his home in Apex, North Carolina.
Ruth and I were privileged to know Mr. Husa when we were both performing with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. The Czech-born composer wrote “Music for Prague 1968” to memorialize the events surrounding the Soviet crack down on the Czech reform movement. Although the music was originally composed for wind ensemble, the Rochester Philharmonic gave one of the earliest performances in America of Husa’s transcription for full symphony orchestra, with Husa himself conducting. When the RPO performed the work in Ithaca NY, Ruth and I were invited to Husa’s Ithaca home for a post-concert reception. We knew him as a gentle spirit with humility on the outside and with a burning passion for music and humanity on the inside, a passion that is so clearly evident in his “Music for Prague 1968.”
NEXUS also crossed paths with Karel Husa on several occasions. In October 1986 NEXUS performed in Barnes Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, where Husa was on the faculty. After our concert, with a number of large instrument trunks packed and ready to be hand carried down a long flight of stairs to our waiting truck, Husa – already at a respectable age, not to mention his towering professional status – started lifting some of the NEXUS cases. He actually made several trips down those stairs with rather heavy cases before we finally were able to persuade him that it was best to let us do the moving.
In April 1999 NEXUS unexpectedly met Karel Husa at breakfast in the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C., where NEXUS was staying during a week with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. Husa was having breakfast with cellist, Lynn Harrell, who would be performing Husa’s Cello Concerto later in the week, and we briefly jumped into their conversation with our greetings. As usual, Husa was genuinely warm and gracious to us.
The next (and last) time NEXUS met with Karel Husa was in February 2002 at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Eastman Wind Ensemble in Rochester. With Husa himself in the audience, NEXUS performed his “Concerto for Percussion and Wind Ensemble” with the Eastman Wind Ensemble under the direction of Mark Scatterday, who also had a longtime friendship with the composer at Cornell University.
We were fortunate indeed to have shared even these few brief moments with this wonderful human being, Karel Husa.