By Penny Johnson, Contributing Author
The Glenn Gould Foundation is deeply saddened at the death of Czech-Canadian pianist, Antonin Kubalek, who passed away on January 19 at the age of seventy-five because of complications following a surgery to remove a brain tumour.
A well-known figure in the Canadian music scene after moving to Canada from his native Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) in 1968, the partially-sighted Kubalek went on to make over two dozen recordings – two of which were nominated for Junos in the 1990s – and taught regularly at The Royal Conservatory and York University. He was also frequently featured on CBC Radio.
In 1969, Glenn Gould first heard Kubalek on a CBC Radio broadcast and learned of Kubalek's efforts to make a new life in Canada. In the Gould biography, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, Kevin Bazzana writes that as a young man, “Gould occasionally performed for charitable purposes, and over the years he quietly donated money to many musical and charitable organizations. Privately he helped many people.” After hearing Kubalek and learning of his plight, Gould sent Kubalek a generous cheque, and subsequently “wrote on Kubalek’s behalf to the Royal Conservatory of Music and advised him on concert management – all of this before meeting him in person.”
The two later worked together in 1973, Gould serving as producer for a recording that featured Kubalek playing the piano music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Executive Director of The Glenn Gould Foundation and co-founder of the music label Dorian Records, Brian Levine noted that “this was the only time Gould ever did this for another pianist.” The recording was released on the small Genesis Records label in 1974 with liner notes written by Gould. The notes can be found in The Glenn Gould Reader.
As one of the finest interpreters of the music of Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann, Kubalek also had an affinity for the music of his homeland, especially the composers Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk, Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek. He also commissioned many new works from such Canadian composers as Walter Buczynski, Ka Nin Chan and Marjan Mozetich. As a collaborative musician, Kubalek worked with Roxolana Roslak, the singer with whom Gould recorded Hindemith’s Das Marienleben.
Kubalek returned to his native homeland in 1991 for a series of concerts that helped to re-establish his ties with the country, and in 2002 received the Czech Music Council’s Honorary Award for the “promotion of Czech music and the representation of Czech performing arts abroad.” In 2003 he inaugurated the first Antonin Kubalek International Piano Courses in Zlate Hory, Czech Republic.
Kubalek is survived by his second wife, Patricia, and daughter, Karolina, who is pursuing piano studies in Prague. A musical memorial service will likely be organized in the spring.