C1004. Jirí Belohlávek Cond. Prague Phil.: Bohemian Impressions, incl. Smetana, Dvorák, Suk, Novák, Martinu, Janácek & Fibich. (Czech Republic) Supraphon 4058, recorded 2011. - 099925405823
“Jirí Belohlávek, the leading Czech classical music conductor of his generation, had an unusual history with the Czech Philharmonic. He was chief conductor twice: for about a year after the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which replaced the Communist government, and again since 2012. He also led the country’s Brno Philharmonic, Prague Symphony Orchestra and Prague Philharmonia; was the popular chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Britain from 2006 to 2012; was a guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and conducted at the Royal Opera House in London and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. ‘Jirí Belohlávek was the most devoted and to my mind the most profound proponent of Czech orchestral music in the world today’, said Michael Beckerman, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music at New York University and a Czech specialist. He was apprenticed to the Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache and in 1970 won the Czech Young Conductors’ Competition.
Under the Communist regime, he was denied permission to conduct in Berlin and in Israel. He was conductor of the Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra from 1972 to 1978 and chief conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra until 1989. After the Velvet Revolution, he came to the Czech Philharmonic, the country’s major orchestra, which was founded in 1896, and 12 years later presented their premiere of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. In an era of globalized music-making, the ensemble has distinguished itself by retaining much of the bright, tangy sound and infectious intensity of its historical heyday. Mr. Belohlávek’s initial tenure there was short-lived, when the musicians, newly given the power to elect their leader, voted to replace him with Gerd Albrecht, a German, whose European contacts, they thought, would attract lucrative recording contracts and concert bookings. ‘I was shattered’, Mr. Belohlávek recalled in an interview in THE NEW YORK TIMES in 2014.
After leaving his first stint with the Czech Philharmonic, Mr. Belohlávek founded the Prague Philharmonic and remained its music director until 2004. He was principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony beginning in 2000, was named chief conductor in 2006 and conducted the popular Last Night of the Proms three times. He resisted repeated entreaties to return to the Czech Philharmonic, but was eventually attracted by a new administration that promised to solve the orchestra’s longstanding financial and administrative difficulties. Two decades after leaving, Mr. Belohlávek was reappointed in 2012. In 2014, the ensemble toured the United States, including Carnegie Hall, where, James R. Oestreich wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES, ‘The strings were warm and caressing, the brasses brash and incisive; the woodwinds sang with a slightly nasal, Slavic character and danced with a playful show of elbows and knees’.”
- Sam Roberts, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1 June, 2017