The Return of Jiří Bělohlávek
In October 2012, Jiří Bělohlávek returned to the Czech Philharmonic as its chief conductor and music director after nearly two decades. Following a period of uncertainty and turbulence, Bělohlávek’s artistic vision was both an anchor and a beacon. Through his cooperation with new management, important impulses and, above all, an orderly approach were brought to not only the orchestra’s repertoire, but also its touring, recording, and new educational activities. As a kind of mission statement, the orchestra played the complete symphonies of Antonín Dvořák (along with the three concertos) at concerts under Jiří Bělohlávek’s baton and recorded them for the Decca Classics label to worldwide acclaim. With its chief conductor, the Czech Philharmonic returned to important concert stages: New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Festival Hall, and Vienna’s Musikverein and Konzerthaus. Maestro Bělohlávek became the patron of the activities of the Orchestral Academy, supporting a new generation of orchestral musicians, serving as patron for competitions for composers and performers, and also working with pupils at elementary schools of the arts and with the Romany choir Čhavorenge.
Among the memorable concerts were performances of Janáček’s Jenůfa with Karita Mattila and Martinů’s one-act opera What Men Live By and Maestro Bělohlávek’s artistic collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Hélène Grimaud, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Nikolaj Znaider, Alisa Weilerstein, Kirill Gerstein, and Behzod Abduraimov. Jiří Bělohlávek performed Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass in the original version from 1927, and for a children’s audience he appeared as the chief wizard Bělokněžník. At one of the new open-air concerts he appeared with Bobby McFerrin, and he worked regularly with Alice Nellis and Marek Eben on the educational programme An Orchestra Rehearsal. Jiří Bělohlávek conducted a total of 269 concerts with the Czech Philharmonic, 155 of them on tours abroad.
Semyon Bychkov first appeared with the Czech Philharmonic in February 2013, and he eventually became artistic director of the Tchaikovsky Project, recording Tchaikovsky’s complete symphonies. Among other artists to collaborate with the orchestra in 2012–2017 were the conductors Manfred Honeck, Stéphane Denève, Sakari Oramo, Petr Altrichter, Peter Eotvös, Valery Gergiev, Lahav Shani, and Cristian Măcelaru, the singers Bryn Terfel and Plácido Domingo, the violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Hillary Hahn, the pianists Emanuel Ax and Katia and Marielle Labèque, the cellist Gautier Capuçon, and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Czech artists included Josef Špaček, Jan Martiník, Adam Plachetka, and Radek Baborák.
Jiří Bělohlávek died on 31 May 2017 after a long, difficult illness. One of the young participants at the of the Joint Orchestra of the Czech Philharmonic and Pupils at Elementary Schools of the Arts described working with Jiří Bělohlávek as follows: “Everything that he did, he did out of love, and he always made all of his decisions based on what he thought was best. When we tuned, we didn’t just tune our instruments. We tuned our hearts. And he was the one who gave the tuning note for that.” Dvořák’s Stabat Mater was heard at a concert held in Jiří Bělohlávek’s memory.
Jiří Bělohlávek in 2015