Albert Rosen, Austrian-born and Czech/Irish-naturalised conductor associated with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, the Wexford Festival Opera, the National Theatre in Prague and J. K. Tyl Theatre in Plzeň (Pilsen), is born in Vienna on February 14, 1924. He has a strong affinity with the works of Czech composers such as Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Bohuslav Martinů, and Leoš Janáček.
Rosen’s mother is Czech, while his father’s family is Austrian-Jewish. After Anschluss of Austria in 1938 they move to Bratislava, and after the Slovak version of Nuremberg Laws comes to force in September 1941, he escapes discrimination and genocide via the Danube and the sea to Israel (then Mandatory Palestine). There he works in the Shaʽar_HaGolan kibbutz, manually and as an amateur chorus master, until 1945, when he returns to Bratislava.
In 1946–47 Rosen studies piano, composition and conducting at the Vienna Academy of Music with Joseph Marx and Hans Swarowsky, and continues to study conducting at the Prague Conservatory under Pavel Dědeček and Alois Klíma (1947–48). He starts his career in J. K. Tyl Theatre in Plzeň (Pilsen) as a correpetiteur, assistant conductor and chorus master (1949–52) and conductor (1953–59), participating on the production of 11 operas, 19 ballets and, as the composer of stage music, 17 dramas. In 1960 he is engaged by National Theatre in Prague, to be appointed in 1964 the chief conductor of Smetana Theatre, the National Theatre’s opera stage. He holds this position until 1971, conducting 11 ballets and 9 opera productions.
In 1965 Rosen comes to Ireland for the first time to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra (under its former name, the Radio Telefís Éireann Symphony Orchestra) at the Wexford Festival. This leads to regular appearances at the festival until 1994, conducting 18 Wexford productions, more than anyone else. In 1969 he becomes the orchestra’s chief conductor, until he becomes principal guest conductor in 1981. In 1994 he is honoured with the title Conductor Laureate of the orchestra.
Rosen’s operatic repertoire includes standard works such as Carmen (Bizet), Tosca and Madama Butterfly (Puccini), Il trovatore and Don Carlos (Verdi), Lohengrin (Wagner), Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti), Otello and L’italiana in Algeri (Rossini), Káťa Kabanová (Janáček), La Wally (Catalani), The Bartered Bride (Smetana), and Salome (Richard Strauss). He also conducted unusual works such as Smetana’s The Two Widows and The Kiss, and Dvořák’s Rusalka, The Devil and Kate and The Jacobin.
In October 1978, in Dublin and Cork, Rosen conducts the National Symphony Orchestra in only the second and third performances of André Tchaikowsky‘s 2nd Piano Concerto, Op. 4, which are the first performances with the composer as soloist. He is to record the work in 1982, again with Tchaikowsky at the piano, but the composer becomes ill and the recording is cancelled. His other work with the NSO includes standard orchestral repertoire as well as major pieces such as Olivier Messiaen‘s Turangalîla-Symphonie and Gustav Mahler‘s Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand). In 1992, the orchestra tours ten cities in Germany, having a major success with Die Fledermaus in Stuttgart.
Rosen makes his American debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1980, in Janáček’s Jenůfa. In Australia, he is chief conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra from 1983 until 1985, and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in 1986. He conducts the British premiere of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s opera Christmas Eve with English National Opera in 1988. He becomes music director of the Irish National Opera in 1993.
Rosen often conducts the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland during the 1990s, in challenging works such as the tone poems and An Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss. Other opera orchestras he conducts included those of the Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera, Vancouver Opera, San Diego Opera, and the Dublin Grand Opera Society.
Rosen becomes an Irish citizen by naturalisation. His own conducting students include John Finucane.
Rosen dies at the age of 73 in Dublin on May 23, 1997, of lung cancer.
(Pictured: Albert Rosen conducts the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra in St. Patrick’s Training College in Drumcondra, Dublin, in 1972)