Dvořák’s Legacy
Jiří Bělohlávek (1946-2017)

Kiran Ridley 2013

Credit: Kiran Ridley 2013

Acknowledged as “the most profound proponent of Czech orchestral music,” conductor Jiří Bělohlávek has died aged 71. He is best remembered for his radiant interpretations of Janáček and Martinů, two towering voices that forcefully carried the rich legacy of Czech music into the 20th century.

A conductor of great sensitivity and subtlety, Bělohlávek started his musical career as a cello student at the Prague Conservatory and Academy of Performing Arts. After graduation he studied conducting with Sergiu Celibidache and won the Czech national conducting competition in 1970. Appointments at Brno and with the Prague Symphony Orchestra soon followed, and Bělohlávek became one of the greatest exponents of Czech music by championing the essentially neglected compositions of Janáček and Martinů. His initial tenure with the Czech Philharmonic was short-lived, but undeterred, he founded the Prague Philharmonia supported by government funding and private sponsorship. He initially worked with the BBC Symphony Orchestra as its principal guest conductor, and in 2005 he was named chief conductor. During his BBC tenure, Bělohlávek conducted an impressive Mahler cycle and introduced British audiences to the six symphonies of Bohuslav Martinů. In opera, he conducted Jenůfa, Rusalka and Tristan at Glyndebourne.

Bělohlávek was re-appointed Music Director and Artistic Director of the Czech Philharmonic in 2012. Under his leadership the Czech Philharmonic toured Europe and Asia, with performances in Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, and Beijing. Ceaselessly promoting Czech masterpieces to a wider audience, Bělohlávek was admired for the vivid fluency of his performances. He was not a great showman, but quietly attempted to convey his often deeply profound musical insights. Bělohlávek essentially spent his life and career in Prague, never seeking positions that would take him away from home. He made recordings for the Supraphon, Chandos, Harmonia Mundi, Warner Classics and Deutsche Grammophon labels, and conducted 10,074 performances of 1,680 works during his extensive and fulfilled musical career.

Bohuslav Martinů: Piano Concerto No. 4

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