Lubomir Doruzka: a concert for Haile Selassie


Lubomir Doruzka is a living legend of Czech jazz. He has been involved in music since the Second World War, when, as a teenager, he worked on an illegal jazz magazine. Because he speaks fluent English he has often accompanied musical ensembles, both jazz and classical, on tours abroad. Here he remembers an extraordinary concert in Addis Ababa during a tour of Africa in 1957, when the Janacek Quartet was invited to play for the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

Lubomir Doruzka
"The concert took place just the next day, which was a disaster, because Addis Ababa lies about 16 metres above sea level and the palace of Her Majesty the Queen, where the concert should take place, was about 2 400 metres. And if you come there without any acclimatization, and if you are supposed to play the whole concert in such climatic conditions, it's not so easy, because playing a string quartet is also a lot of physical effort.

So, we were brought into the hall and we were instructed. First the musicians come and sit on the stage. Then the court assembles and sits in the hall - ladies on the left side, gentlemen on the right side. I was sitting in the last row among the gentlemen.

And then their Imperial Majesties arrived, to sit on the throne opposite the musicians. And unless their Imperial Majesties stand up and leave the court, nobody is supposed to leave the hall. So the musicians started to play a Mozart quartet. At that height it was quite a strenuous job for them, but they finished. Their Imperial Majesties applauded a little bit, the court applauded a little bit and their Imperial Majesties remained sitting. In Europe, of course, it is customary for a string quartet to stand up after each number and take a small refreshment. Nothing like that! So the musicians went into the second quartet, which was Dvorak's American Quartet in F-Major. And again, their Imperial Majesties applauded a little bit, the court applauded a little bit, and their Imperial Majesties remained sitting. Then they started a third quartet, Smetana's Quartet From My Life, and they could hardly breathe. Then Haile Selassie, His Imperial Majesty, called his aide-de-camp and he whispered something to him. He came to the first row of the gentlemen's section and whispered something to the man sitting in the first row. And then, by some kind of silent post a whispered message came all the rows up to me, and when it came to me, it was: 'How long is it going to last?' So I told him, because they were in the last movement already that this was the last movement and that would be all. It came again by the silent post to the first row and His Imperial Majesty and His Imperial Majesty was pleased."