ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Jiří Bělohlávek
There exists no other pre-eminent artistic presence in the world of classical music that would express so boldly their firm belief in the music of Bohuslav Martinů. Jiří Bělohlávek (1946-2017), began his career as a cellist, and later on as Assistant Conductor with the legendary Sergiu Celibidache. Since then, Jiří Bělohlávek has regularly conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, New York Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra throughout his astonishing career.
Bělohlávek’s history of championing Martinů in various performances with acclaimed orchestras around the world can be traced back to as early as 1984, when he staged Martinů’s 1959 The Greek Passion in Prague, only to repeat this with a stunning success at the 1995 BBC Music Weekend at the Barbican. His devotion to championing Martinů is incessant. Normal Lebrecht recalls Bělohlávek saying that he had been reminded by a reviewere it was not possible to do Martinů without limits. “We’ll see”, said Bělohlávek, then newly appointed Chief Conductor of BBC Symphony Orchestra (2006 – 2012).
In London, he continued to perform Martinů’s music worldwide.,His extensive discography includes a whopping number of 29 Martinů recordings so far, featuring guest artist such as Isabelle Faust, Cédric Tiberghien or the acclaimed Czech pianist Ivo Kahánek, with whom he brought Martinů’s Piano Concerto No. 4 (Incantation) to Royal Albert Hall in 2007 as part of BBC Proms.
His compilation Martinů : The 6 Symphonies (2011) with the BBC SO attracted much of international critical acclaim, including the renowned Gramophone Award for the best recording of the year, being the first conductor since Herbert von Karajan to receive the Gramophone Award for Orchestral Recording two years running. In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Jiří Bělohlávek the Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to music.
Bělohlávek’s life-long passion for music of Bohuslav Martinů continued after his comeback to Prague where he began his tenure as the Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor in 2012 – the very same orchestra Martinů was part of between 1920 – 1923. He brought Martinů to the orchestra’s tours around United Kingdom and recently led the production of the revival of Martinů’s less performed opera What Men Live By, premiered in December 2014 in Prague. The performance, soon to be released as a CD as well, won a nomination for 2015 International Opera Awards. Future engagements include the series of all-Czech programme with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in January 2016 where he presented, amongst the works of Dvořák and Smetana, Martinů’s Fantaisies symphoniques.
It seems therefore natural that it was Jiří Bělohlávek who presented the premiere the new Critical Edition of Symphony No. 4 leading the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on 11th June 2015. Together with the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic, Mr Daniel Herman, Maestro Bělohlávek also assumed the role of the Critical Edition’s godfather, and officially launched the first two volumes, comprising the Symphony No. 4 H 305 and the Epic of Gilgamesh H 351.
Listen to Jiří Bělohlávek conducting Martinů 4 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra below.