C1062. JIRI BELOHLAVEK Cond.BBC S.O.: 'Asrael' Symphony in c (Suk); Sinfonia da Requiem (Britten). (Czech Republic) 2-Supraphon 4095, Live Performances,1 June, 2008, Prague Spring Festival. - 099925409524
“Recorded live for the Czech Radio at the concert of the 63rd Prague Spring International Music Festival in the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House, Prague, on 1 June, 2008. A unique and symbolic encounter: the most distinguished Czech conductor of the present time and a fabulous British orchestra communicate the profound messages in the works of great national composers. Jirí Belohlávek has mediated Czech music to orchestras and audiences worldwide, yet in 2006 – as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra – he became above all a Londoner. The recording at the 2008 Prague Spring festival of Suk’s Asrael and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem will for ever serve as evidence of the extraordinary understanding between Jirí Belohlávek and the orchestra.
The common denominator of the two works is the figure of the Angel of Death. A sad and immensely powerful inspiration for Suk was the passing away of his beloved wife Otilie and his dear teacher Antonín Dvorák.
Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, dedicated to the memory of his parents, is one of the composer’s early masterpieces. The recording marks a symbolic leave-taking on the part of Jirí Belohlávek, who after six intense years as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra is returning ‘home’ to the Czech Philharmonic. Suk and Britten, Jirí Belohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra – a meeting of the powerful traditions of English and Czech classical music.”
- Zillah D. Akron
“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