One interesting side story to the Dvorak in America period is Dvorak’s friendship and professional relationship with the American cellist and composer, Victor Herbert.
Herbert was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1859, living there until the death of his father in 1866. His mother moved the family to Germany where the young Herbert received early music training, eventually taking up the cello and studying cello performance and composition at the Stuttgart Conservatory. He later joined the Stuttgart Orchestra where he met his future wife, the soprano Therese Förster. In 1886, the couple moved to New York City where Förster had been offered a contract with the Metropolitan Opera, insisting that her husband be given a position in the opera orchestra. In 1889, Herbert took the position of cello and music composition instructor on the faculty of the National Conservatory of Music, where in 1892, Dvorak became Director and conductor of the conservatory orchestra.
Dvořák, of course, had been “lured” to America by the philanthropic founder of the conservatory, Jeanette Thurber, with the promise of substantial salaries and the opportunity to help create a “national music.” It was at the conservatory that Herbert and Dvořák became friends, even collaborating on a oversized musical pageant produced by Steele MacKaye, The Great Discovery, that was eventually abandoned before coming to fruition. Herbert’s compositional career would later be dominated by works for the theater, notably operettas (Babes in Toyland, Mlle. Modiste, Naughty Marietta, and The Red Mill, among many)
Herbert left the conservatory in 1893 to concentrate on his own composition projects, one of which was his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2, Op. 30. That work was first performed in 1894 by the New York Philharmonic Society with Herbert as soloist and Anton Seidl as conductor.
Dvorak’s own Cello Concerto was composed during his last days in New York in 1895, although he made a number of alterations after returning to Bohemia. That work was premiered in London in 1896.
The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra has programmed the Dvořák Cello Concerto for its November 17-18 Masterworks concerts with cellist Zuill Bailey.
Suggested listening: Concertos from the New World, (both the Dvorak and Herbert cello concertos), Yo-Yo Ma, New York Philharmonic conducted by Kurt Masur, Sony Classical