Jaroslav Karlovsky, a long-time viola teacher and string coach at the School of Music, passed away recently. A renowned musician, he played in the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the Prague String Quartet, and on numerous recordings. In his years at UVic, he was mentor to countless students. One of them recalls him, below.
by Dr. Charles Barber (BMus '85)
It was easy to be drawn into his orbit. For me, it began 17 years ago when UVic conductor George Corwin said that my career as a violinist was a dead-end, that I should join the world of violas and study with Jaroslav Karlovsky. "He'll know what to do with you," Corwin said.
So I acquired a viola and a week later had my first lesson.
"Come een," he smiled. Bearded, bulky, alert-eyed and quick to joke, Mr. Karlovsky beckoned. "Zit here. Do not play. Hah hah hah. I must tell you about me. I am peasant. I play saxophone in zircus. Hah hah hah. I tell you who I am, then you decide. If I like you, I will teach. If you like me, you will learn." And so it began. An hour later he was still talking, telling me about being Czech, about rhythm, Slibovitz, his escapades in a mental hospital, rhythm, a bass player in the Army, Josef Suk, half-positions, bow arms, Vaclav Talich, rhythm, and bad conductors.
At last he said, "We play now. Make scales. Do like this." And every lesson thereafter he took out his viola and played. His sound was the aural goal to which every student aspired.
Now he put music on the stand. "Play this," he said, pointing at a Paganini caprice. I blundered for awhile, made noises and prayed he would stop me. He did not. I rattled on, utterly embarrassed then stopped finally. There was no way to continue with this mess, and I was cursing Corwin.
"Char-less, I tell you zeese. I haf students with big talent. I haf students with no talent. I even haf students with anti-talent. If you work, you will make wonders. If not, will be dees-aster."
And so began my share of life with Jaro. Every student knew his energy, his passion, his impatience, his sly jokes and outrageous slanders, his endless will to work, his gift for translation from notes to the soul of notes and the song within. This endemic musicianship changed all of us, shaped and charged us with a current we had never felt before. He moved from compelling musical eloquence to sheer silliness, an alternating current of rigour and fun. Every lesson was like this, and none were ever the same.
Jaroslav survived in a world which could barely make sense of him, and which made little or no sense to him. He succeeded because of the steadiness of his cellist wife Hannah, and because of the power and constellation of his gift for teaching, humour, raised horizon.
With first word of his passing in February, dozens of students activated the old network, sharing what we had learned and remembered.
We know his name was Jaroslav.
We cannot know his influence. It has been living in us for years. It rings today.Charles Barber is a conductor at Stanford University in California.*