Jiří Bělohlávek

Jiří Bělohlávek

A collection of performances featuring the late great Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, former chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic.

About Jiří Bělohlávek

Despite getting his start as a cello student, Jiří Bělohlávek (1946 – 2017) became arguably the greatest conductor of the Czech canon following Václav Talich and Václav Neumann before him. Seven years after passing, he is remembered for his unmatched Janáček and Martinů interpretations - which The Guardian called, for good reason, ‘luminous’.

The son of a barrister and judge, Jiří was born in Prague, the then-capital of Czechoslovakia. Growing up amidst post-war and post-liberation turmoil, young Jiří took to studying the cello under the guidance of Miloš Sádlo. Later, he graduated from the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Performing Arts and went on to study conducting for two years with Sergiu Celibidache.

In 1970, Bělohlávek won the coveted Czech Young Conductors' Competition, going on to serve as an assistant conductor at the Czech Philharmonic. Following his tenure there, he went on to lead ‘Janáček's’ Brno Philharmonic (the orchestra hailing from the composer’s beloved native Moravia) and later the Prague Symphony Orchestra. In the early years of his career, the Communist authorities prohibited Bělohlávek touring Berlin and Israel, but 1989’s Velvet Revolution allowed his star to rise overseas.

Although he was appointed chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic in 1990, his first role with the orchestra was short-lived, as a dramatic reorganization led him to resign in 1992 to found the Prague Philharmonia. Internationally, he went from principal guest conductor to chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and, in 2007, he became the first non-native English speaker to conduct and make the traditional speech at the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Czech conductor kept doing so until the very end of his life. Even while battling cancer, Bělohlávek still led the Czech Philharmonic and made a return to the Proms - all in the name of Janáček, the composer with whom he has since become nearly synonymous. His final concert, held less than a month before his passing and featuring a performance of Martinů with the Prague Philharmonia, stands as a testament to Bělohlávek’s lifelong mission to tirelessly present the beauty of Czech music to the world.

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