South African born conductor, Alexander Fokkens, was recently appointed the Artistic Director of the Free State Symphony Orchestra in Bloemfontein. He also holds the positions of Resident Conductor at the University of the Cape Town; Music Director of the Symphony Choir of Cape Town; Resident Conductor of the Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; Adjunct Lecturer in Double Bass at the University of Cape Town; and General Music Director of the Swakopmund Musikwoche in Namibia.
Alexander received his Bachelor of Music Degree in Double Bass from the University of Cape Town and his Masters Degree in Double Bass Performance and additional studies in Theory and Conducting at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
As a student he often appeared to critical acclaim with the UCT Symphony Orchestra and Opera School; and served as the Assistant Conductor for orchestras at TCU as well as an Adjunct Faculty member.
From 1999 – 2005 he served as Director of Orchestral Activities and conductor of the Aberdeen University / Civic Symphony in Aberdeen, South Dakota; and from 2001 – 2003 served as conductor for the Fargo Moorhead Area Youth Symphony in Fargo, North Dakota.
He has served as a guest conductor for numerous orchestras and festivals in the USA and Africa; conducting, amongst others, the Latien Weed Honours Orchestra (South Dakota, USA), the Kwazulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Opera, JMI Orchestra, the Black Tie Opera company, Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, South African National Youth Concert Orchestra, Free State Symphony Orchestra and Youth Orchestra; and the Chamber Orchestra of South Africa. In August 2006, he made his European conducting debut, conducting Joplin’s opera Treemonisha in La Turbie, France.
He strives to collaborate with as many different musicians from as many different backgrounds as possible. Recently performed works include composers Jeanne Zaidel Rudolf, Robert Fokkens, Francois Sarhan; and collaboration with the Fazeka High School Choir, Rap Artist/Poet Tumi Molekane and Poet/Musician Koos Kombuis.
His conducting teachers include Omri Hadari, Gerard Korsten and German Gutierrez. He has participated in master classes with Henry Charles Smith, William LaRue Jones, Jorge Mester, Joann Falletta, Leslie B. Dunner and Ron Spiegelman.
He currently lives in Cape Town with his wife, pianist Margaret Foxcroft, and their four children.
Theodore Kuchar, one of the most prolifically recorded conductors of the past decade, appears on over 100 compact discs for the Naxos, Brilliant Classics, Ondine and Marco Polo labels. He has served as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of two of Europe’s leading orchestras, the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra (formerly the Czech Radio Orchestra) (2005- ) and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine (1994-2004). In the 2011-12 season he commenced his tenure as the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela. He presently also serves as Music Director and Conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra (2002- ) and the Reno Chamber Orchestra (2003- ) in the United States. An avid chamber musician, he served as the Artistic Director of The Australian Festival of Chamber Music (1990-2006), and presently serves as the Artistic Director of the Nevada Chamber Music Festival since 2005.
Highlights of the past several seasons have included a four-week, 20 concert tour of the USA with the Czech Symphony Orchestra and guest conducting engagements including the BBC Symphony, BBC National Symphony Orchestra of Wales (filling in on one day’s notice to conduct Josef Suk’s epic Asrael Symphony), Berlin Symphony, English Chamber Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Symphony Orchestra, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic and the National Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. He has collaborated with major artists including James Galway, Jessye Norman, Lynn Harrell, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Sarah Chang, Mstislav Rostropovich, Joshua Bell and Frederica von Stade, among others.
With the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra, Kuchar has recorded 15 compact discs devoted to the complete symphonies of Carl Nielsen, the complete overtures and tone poems of Dvorak, and the complete orchestral works of Czech composer Bedrich Smetana for the Brilliant Classics label. Also completed for Brilliant Classics was a world premiere recording of Rachmaninov’s Fifth Piano Concerto, a reconstruction of that composer’s Second Symphony based on the composer’s earliest manuscripts, and the Piano Concertos of Ravel and Bartók. With the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra, Kuchar has conducted tours of Australia, Germany, Italy, Korea, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the USA.During his tenure with the National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine, Kuchar conducted cycles of the complete symphony by Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler, Prokofiev, Schubert and Shostakovich, and led eleven international tours to Asia, Australia, Central Europe and the United Kingdom. Under Mr. Kuchar’s direction, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine became the most frequently recorded orchestra of the former Soviet Union. Between 1994 and 2004 the orchestra recorded over 80 compact discs for the Naxos and Marco Polo labels, including the complete symphonies of Kalinnikov, Lyatoshynsky, Martinu and Prokofiev, as well as major works of Dvorak, Glazunov, Mozart, Shchedrin, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. They also recorded the symphonies and orchestral works of Ukraine’s leading contemporary symphonist, Yevhen Stankovych. The recording of Lyatoshynsky’s Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 was awarded ABC’s “Best International Recording of the Year” in 1994. Their recording of the complete works for violin and orchestra by Walter Piston for the Naxos label was hailed by Gramophone (January, 2000) as a “Record of the Year” for 1999. The complete symphonies of Prokofiev, on the Naxos label, are regarded by many critics as the most accomplished cycle available on compact disc.
Kuchar remains as strong an advocate of composers of the present day as he does of the great composers of the past. In addition to his recordings of contemporary works with the NSO of Ukraine, he has also conducted premieres of works by Lukas Foss (the Capriccio for Cello and Orchestra, with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist), Giya Kancheli, Joseph Schwantner, Alfred Schnittke, Osvaldo Golijov and Rodion Shchedrin, among others.
Theodore Kuchar graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music as a student of Robert Vernon, Principal Violist of The Cleveland Orchestra. In 1981, he was awarded the Paul Fromm Fellowship from the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, subsequently reinvited for the following summer. He continues to devote several periods annually to one of his most serious passions, the performance of chamber music and has been a participant at major international festivals, including Kuhmo, Lockenhaus, the Australian Festival of Chamber Music and the Nevada Chamber Music Festival. His colleagues have included James Buswell, Martin Chalifour, Sarah Chang, Lynn Harrell, Alexander Ivashkin, Truls Mork, Paul Neubauer, Irina Schnittke, and Thomas Zehetmair. In 1994, he participated with colleagues Oleh Krysa and Alexander Ivashkin in the world premiere of Penderecki’s String Trio in New York City. He has appeared as violist in recordings on the Naxos label of works by Alfred Schnittke (with Irina Schnittke and Mark Lubotsky – this recording was awarded the BBC’s “CD of the Year” award for 2002), Bohuslav Martinu and Walter Piston. The latter recording was awarded the Chamber Music America/WQXR “Record of the Year” for 2001.
Critical acclaim has included the following:
“Theodore Kuchar, as anyone will know from his Naxos recordings, is an extremely exciting and talented conductor, and his take-no-prisoners approach works very well in this colorful music. He blasts through the Carnival and Hussite Overtures with uninhibited abandon. His performance of the Symphonic Variations is thrilling, as cogently flowing as any, and it concludes with the best, most powerfully roof-raising final fugue that I ever hope to hear.
“The other works, especially the big tone poems, also benefit from Kuchar’s enthusiasm and drive. Othello has passion and atmosphere aplenty. The Water Goblin, The Noonday Witch, and the Wood Dove are all extremely graphic and richly evocative. Kuchar holds The Golden Spinning Wheel together as well as anyone, while A Hero’s Song makes an aptly triumphant, indeed hair-raising conclusion to the whole set. The playing of the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra is very committed and gutsy … For me, though, and I suspect for many listeners, the sheer gusto of the playing carries the day and trumps all minor qualms. Besides, at the Brilliant Classics price you really can’t lose – but I would love to hear what Kuchar could do at the helm of a truly world-class ensemble.” – www.classicstoday.com
“Kuchar’s account is as infectiously spirited an account as you could wish for … To sum it up, this is a quite remarkable CD on all counts – outstandingly fine orchestral playing, vividly exciting and very Russian music-making, and a very tangible sound picture, consistently in the demonstration bracket.” – Gramophone
“Theodore Kuchar leads what is without question the most exciting complete Nielsen symphony cycle available, making this the set to get for Nielsen newcomers. He doesn’t put a foot wrong in any of these symphonies, and it’s rather amazing to hear how well he handles passages where so many conductors come to grief. For example, the finale of the Second Symphony has tremendous physicality at an aptly swift tempo. So often it’s taken way too slowly. Kuchar gets all the tempo relationships right in the tricky finale of the Fourth as well, and he drives the Fifth home with such exultant power that for once that second movement doesn’t sound like an anticlimax, coming as it does after perhaps the most inspired 20 minutes of music that Nielsen ever penned. Kuchar also isn’t at all fazed by the weirdness of the Sixth, its concluding Theme and Variations in particular. Here’s a case where simply playing what’s written as characterfully as possible really does produce the desired wacky effect far better than any sort of poking and prodding. You simply won’t hear a finer performance anywhere. Kuchar is equally sensitive to Nielsen’s ear for color – those special moments of startling sonic innovation. I’m thinking of the trumpet tremolos before the grand waltz in the Espansiva’s opening movement, or the timpani roll with brushes in the slow movement of the Second … Kuchar’s conducting really does sweep the board. Given a choice of who I would likely listen to in this music on any given day, Kuchar is the man, and I suspect that you’ll agree. He’s that good.” – www.classicstoday.com
“This is the best Roy Harris symphony recording since Bernstein’s first Third. Why? Because it gives us Harris’s ‘sound’ in a way I rarely hear it – deep, broad sonorities played at tempos slow and steady enough to create sweep, breadth and intensity without being logy … I always suspected there was a great symphony in the Seventh, but Kuchar is the first to bring it out. Eugene Ormandy’s 1955 Columbia recording is competent but the sound is too bright and raw. None of the broadcasts I’ve heard does it Kuchar’s kind of justice. The Ninth is not a great work, but it’s a good one, and Kuchar’s is the best performance I’ve heard.” – American Record Guide