Farewell to a great Czech musician

The death of the conductor Jiří Bělohlávek

The death of the Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek on 1 June marks the passing of one of the truly great conductors of his generation.

Born in 1946 in Prague he was a student of Sergiu Celibidache. He conducted the Brno Philharmonic from 1972 to 1978 and the Prague Symphony Orchestra from 1977 to 1989. From 1990–92 he was chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, succeeding Václav Neumann. In 1994 he founded the Prague Philharmonia. From 2006 to 2012 he was chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London and from autumn 2012 again conducted the Czech Philharmonic, the most glittering ambassador for Bohemian musical culture. He recorded all of Antonín Dvořák’s symphonies and concertos with the orchestra for DECCA.

Bělohlávek was a Professor at the Prague Academy of Music, where his students included an entire generation of new star conductors such as Jakub Hrůša, Tomáš Netopil and Tomáš Hanus.

Jiří Bělohlávek’s deep commitment to the music of his countrymen Dvořák, Janáček, Smetana, Suk and Martinů was always at the heart of his work, but he also enjoyed tremendous success as an opera conductor in London, New York, Zurich, Vienna, Glyndebourne, San Francisco and elsewhere.

The special high points of his rich conducting career include a concert performance of  Janáček’s “The Makropulos case” in August 2016 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the “Proms”, and conducting Bohuslav Martinů’s opera “Julietta” in 2012 at the Grand Théâtre in Geneva.

Bělohlávek had regular contact with Bärenreiter-Verlag. On the 25th anniversary of the founding of Bärenreiter Praha he wrote in 2016: “The critical editions of the famous works, but also of unknown masterpieces, enrich our horizons. On this lovely twenty-fifth anniversary of the Prague publishing house, I wish you much strength on your future journey.”

With Bělohlávek, Bärenreiter has lost a friend and a fellow campaigner for the heritage of Czech music.