Jiří Bělohlávek was born in Prague in 1946, and his love of music became apparent at an early age. Bělohlávek studied the cello with Professor Karel Pravoslav Sádlo, before continuing his studies at the Prague Conservatory and at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. It was during these years that Jiří Bělohlávek began conducting in earnest, receiving instruction from Robert Brock, Alois Klíma, Bohumír Liška and Josef Veselka.
In 1968, the legendary Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache invited Jiří Bělohlávek to become his assistant. Bělohlávek won the Czech Young Conductors’ Competition in 1970, and reached the final of the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Competition in 1971. It was in 1973 that Bělohlávek began conducting the Czech Philharmonic to great acclaim; the start of his long relationship with the orchestra.
Jiří Bělohlávek was appointed Conductor of the Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra in 1972, a position he held until 1978. He then became Chief Conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, a partnership which lasted until 1989, and Permanent Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. Václav Neumann, the latter orchestra’s Chief Conductor (between 1968 and 1990) brought him to Berlin’s Komische Oper in 1979, where he debuted with Smetana’s The Secret. Bělohlávek went on to conduct Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress there in 1980.
Jiří Bělohlávek was appointed Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic in 1990. He built upon the orchestra’s already excellent reputation, particularly in its interpretations of Czech music, and became part of a long line of esteemed Czech conductors to direct the orchestra: Václav Talich, Rafael Kubelík, Karel Ančerl and Václav Neumann.
In 1994, Jiří Bělohlávek founded the Prague Philharmonia, whom he directed until 2005, when he became its Conductor Laureate. Jiří Bělohlávek has conducted the world’s major orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, New York Philharmonic, Philadephia Orchestra, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. In 1994, Jiří Bělohlávek was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Prague National Theatre; then in 1995 he became the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Guest Conductor, later becoming its Chief Conductor in 2006. In April 2012, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra announced the appointment of Jiří Bělohlávek as its next principal guest conductor, effective with the 2012/13 season.
As Chairman of the Prague Spring International Music Festival, Jiří Bělohlávek consistently champions the music of Czech composers. His special affinity with the music of Bohuslav Martinů has been instrumental in bringing that master to the world’s attention, and Bělohlávek has also taken the more rarely-performed works of Dvořák, Janáček, Smetana and Suk to new audiences.
In May 2012, Bělohlávek was awarded the title Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) 'for services to music' by the Queen Elizabeth II. In the Czech Republic he was awarded the First Grade Medal of Merit for service to the Republic.
In a much-anticipated reunion, Jiří Bělohlávek returns as Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic from 2012. The outstanding musicianship of the Czech Philharmonic under Bělohlávek’s inspiring direction makes this a truly exciting collaboration.
© Joanna Wyld