Exhibition in the Rudolfinum: Jiří Bělohlávek 2012–2017

The exhibition entitled “Jiří Bělohlávek 2012–2017. Five Seasons with (not only) the Czech Philharmonic” was displayed at the Rudolfinum in 2018. Through photographs, quotes and accompanying texts, it showed Jiří Bělohlávek not only as a conductor, but also as an artistic personality with an unusually wide range of activities, from supporting young musical talents to successfully promoting Czech music in the world.

Its online version is now available below. The concept of the exhibition and all the texts were created by the Czech Philharmonic and we publish everything in the original form.


Jiří Bělohlávek 2012 – 2017 Five Seasons with the Czech Philharmonic (and Elsewhere)

To me, music is not just a world in which I feel safety in the embrace of beauty, but also a beloved profession, thanks to which I am able to open up this amazing world and lead others into it as an intermediary.

— From Jiří Bělohlávek’s address when he received an honorary doctorate from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in February 2016

David Mareček
Executive Director of the Czech Philharmonic

From the perspective of the Czech Philharmonic’s history of more than a hundred and twenty years, Jiří Bělohlávek’s recent return to the orchestra began just a short time ago.
At the beginning there were long summer meetings at Souvrať, raspberries hand-picked by Jiří and prepared by Anna as we laid out our plans for how to make it all work. Jiří’s visits

to the government ministers of culture and finance and his uncompromising fight to get better conditions for the musicians. Ideas about repertoire, recordings, tours, and also about how to rehearse and work with the orchestra. And then long meetings with the players, government officials, concert presenters. Convincing foreign partners that good times were ahead for the Czech Philharmonic, when it would be a joy to hear them and to attend their concerts.

Jiří’s nervousness before the opening concert of the first season over whether the programme would be rehearsed enough or whether the new seating arrangement on the stage of the Rudolfinum would work. The first big recording project with the symphonies of Antonín Dvořák. The first outdoor concert – Bobby McFerrin with Jiří Bělohlávek and the players of the Philharmonic. The performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique

at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, where Jiří got the orchestra into such a trance that the public in the hall was barely breathing. The first tentative ideas about educational programmes, which soon gave way to the masterful wizard Bělokněžník and his wife in a costume in fairytale style. Jiří, Marek Eben, and Alice Nellis convincing each other that giving a narrated concert makes sense and that people will enjoy it. Jiří’s total immersion into work with children from elementary schools of the arts and the first rehearsals with the choir Čhavorenge, which led to a stirring concert at Hradčany Square. Orchestral auditions, the creation of the Orchestral Academy, the composition contest, callbacks for talented young artists. Jiří Bělohlávek took an active part in all of this, engaged in polemics with us, forced us to find better arguments, to think up a better programme, to prepare a better rehearsal schedule. He never took anything he did lightly. He never let himself off easily, and he never took shortcuts. He was terribly stubborn, and anyone who wanted to oppose him had to have compelling arguments. He did not take “no” for an answer. The only answer was an alternative solution supported by proper justification. He demanded absolute professionalism, but at the same time he was able to be kind, attentive, and always loyal For the whole team, he was like a rock that one could lean on, and at the same time he had an open embrace and a kind word for everyone.

For the Czech Philharmonic, however, Jiří Bělohlávek was not just a reliable partner and a diligent boss; his work cannot be described merely by listing his concerts, tours, and recordings, although in “black and white” that is the most tangible result of his five years of effort. He also created a certain atmosphere of values, a kind of ethos, that had a unifying influence over all of us. He was able to surround himself with something that motivated some people to do more beautiful work – just in case the maestro might come to watch. At certain times, he was the one who would say “no” definitively to anything detrimental to the values of the Philharmonic. To him, service to music and the search for truth in art meant striving for the best possible quality and seriousness in everything he did.


Mutual respect, caution, expectations – that was the state of mind of the Czech Philharmonic and its chief conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, when they began the intensive process of meeting and getting to know each other in the autumn of 2012. The time they spent together was characterised by honest, detailed work that soon began to pay off in concerts at home and abroad. As a mature artist, the chief conductor was always perfectly prepared, and he politely formulated his artistic visions until they were realised in the actual sound of the Czech Philharmonic. He was aware that honest work is hard work and demands the right conditions. He was not indifferent to the financial conditions faced by the orchestra’s players,
and he was able to change things for the better not only by
his words, but above all by his deeds. The number of projects and concerts at home and abroad increased, and initial concerns gradually faded away. Besides their efforts to achieve artistically excellent results, a friendship began to develop between the orchestra and its chief conductor. Later, having gotten off to a good start together, the team became even closer. The fact that Jiří Bělohlávek was struggling with illness for a long time gave the cooperation between the leading Czech orchestra and its chief conductor an added dimension. The intense work continued, and the orchestra showered the conductor with its support and protection. As long as the maestro was able to be on the concert stage doing creative work, he was happy. At concerts, he was brimming with energy. He was energised and strengthened by music in general and especially by the sound of the Czech Philharmonic. Hard work, the will to live, determination, humour, and artistic planning for the coming years: that was the real life approach of Professor Jiří Bělohlávek, chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic.

My desire is to return to the Czech Philharmonic the respect that it deserves in the minds of listeners – so they will perceive it as the foremost representative of Czech symphonic music.

— Jiří Bělohlávek, novinky.cz, 19. 11. 2012

Studies, never-ending discoveries, going over details
in contexts leading to the whole. All of this was Maestro Jiří Bělohlávek’s daily bread, so he would always be perfectly prepared. At the rehearsals, there are all kinds of questions from the musicians about intricacies in their parts, exhausting tours with daily concerts; the maestro undertook all of this and much more with a single goal – successful, memorable concerts.

Prague Spring 2014 – We Are Opening!

“Smetana’s Má vlast in a single breath with a gentlemanly account of the tale of Šárka” – that was the title of one of the many reviews that flooded the press after the performance of Má vlast at the 69th annual Prague Spring International Music Festival. Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic opened the festival after twenty-six years, and at the same time, the concert
was a tribute to the festival’s founder Rafael Kubelík on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth in 2014.

From the Stage of the Dvořák Hall and Elsewhere

The maestro took just as much interest in fostering young musicians as in everything else the Czech Philharmonic did. When he did not happen to be rehearsing the orchestra,
he was helping with the selection of new instruments, planning the auditions and principles of operation for the Orchestral Academy of the Czech Philharmonic. Together with the orchestra’s management, he soon began to realise his visions. The Orchestral Academy began to be filled by students
in secondary schools and universities, while the youngest musicians were able to present themselves in the competition “Play with the Czech Philharmonic”. Young composers also
got their chance, when a competition was organised for them
as well. And what was the prize for the winner? The greatest honour for a composer – the work was rehearsed and performed by the leading Czech orchestra and its chief conductor.

Look out! The Great Wizard Bělokněžník Approaches!

Few people expected that Jiří Bělohlávek’s busy schedule of concerts, tours, and recordings would also allow so much time for the Czech Philharmonic educational programmes. This began immediately in October 2012 with the programme “An Orchestra Rehearsal” with Marek Eben, directed by Alice Nellis. Over the next five years, during these concerts with commentary, he offered a look at the inner workings of the symphony orchestra, music of the twentieth century, opera (with Richard Novák), and the phenomenon of performing the same composition by two different conductors (with Jiří Rožeň). And it was even more surprising that the maestro appeared on stage in the Dvořák Hall as the chief wizard Bělokněžník wearing a special magic robe, doing magic for children and their parents. A magical Midsummer’s Eve concert was to have been given at the Rudolfinum on 18 June 2017; as it turned out, however, that was the day when Dvořák’s Stabat Mater was played as a farewell to Jiří Bělohlávek. “Our magical language can be understood by anyone who tries and really listens. And by all who pay attention and concentrate more on themselves than on others.”
He died before having delivered this line to younger and older audience members, but it still applies – it is exactly how Jiří Bělohlávek approached music and the world around him.

We Tuned Our Hearts

“This has to sound like a cat crawling. One of those witches has the cat in her hair! And that’s what this melody is about! It has to have expression; we can’t play it like something ordinary,” says Jiří Bělohlávek, as he leads about eighty young musicians in a rehearsal of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.
And when they resume playing, you really can hear the cat. A total of three times in 2014-2016, under the leadership of Maestro Bělohlávek, pupils from elementary schools of the arts all around the Czech Republic were able to experience a lesson on true artistic work without any blueprints, mechanical approaches, or routines; with the desire to discover and to wait for the right time. “You are playing pianissimo beautifully. Just be careful that it doesn’t make a swishing sound. Make it beautiful, like a sigh. You know what? Now, I’ll slow down completely differently, and maybe that will help you make this sigh,” says Jiří Bělohlávek about a passage in Schubert’s Unfinished, and suddenly in his hands, the music sounds breathtaking.

Šalo malo šalo ma

In June 2015, the Romani children’s choir Čhavorenge performed under Jiří Bělohlávek’s baton for the first time at an outdoor concert at Hradčany Square. There was definitely some nervousness about how a spontaneous world would fit in with a world where music is governed by definite rules. But when the choirmaster Ida Kelarová declared at the first rehearsal: “You know, this place needs to come across as unrehearsed”, the conductor smiled and answered: “We’ll do that just fine.” At the end, he even joined with Čhavorenge in singing the refrain “Šalo malo šalo ma” from the song “Hej romale!” The unexpected combination of Jiří Bělohlávek with dozens of children from Czech and Slovak settlements and ghettos might be surprising. But why should it be? About their first encounter, Ida Kelarová said: “As soon as he began speaking, I stopped feeling nervous. He has a lovely voice with a balanced tone, and you could hear how interested he really was – I felt his words deeply.” And it was the depth on both sides of this discussion that made this encounter and understanding possible. This, too, was Jiří Bělohlávek.

120th Anniversary of the Czech Philharmonic

On 4 January 2016 the Czech Philharmonic and its chief conductor celebrated the 120th anniversary of the orchestra’s founding with music by Antonín Dvořák. Besides Jan Martiník’s phenomenal success singing the entire cycle of Biblical Songs, contributing to the success of the celebration was a performance of the New World Symphony.

From the first notes it was airy, full of energy, precise, dancing (scherzo), with poised tempos (more reasonable than,
for example, those of Rattle or Abbado). Through the orchestral players, the conductor lovingly shaped every phrase, every molecule of music. It was so evocative, it occurred to me that
I was witnessing a better performance than the one recorded a few years back on the Decca label in the superb complete set of Dvořák Symphonies. The enthusiastic players of the Czech Philharmonic did a remarkable job. I have yet to experience a better start to
a new year.

— Luboš Stehlík, Harmonie, 2/2016

115 Times Around the World, Reconquering Prestigious Concert Halls

With Jiří Bělohlávek’s arrival as chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, the orchestra began to appear more frequently on the stages of prestigious concert halls abroad. It visited eighteen countries, from Europe to the USA and the Far East – Japan, China, and South Korea. The orchestra’s successful concerts earned it invitations to return. After an absence of over ten years, they visited New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Wiener Konzerthaus after thirteen years, the Philharmonie in Berlin after eight years, and London’s Royal Festival Hall after twelve.
For foreign concert presenters, the combination of the Czech Philharmonic, Jiří Bělohlávek, and music by Czech composers was a major attraction. Among the most successful events were the return to Carnegie Hall and a performance of Janáček’s opera Jenůfa at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

In today’s world of pronounced, heightened competition between orchestras, it is not enough just to be excellent; we must be capable of undying engagement in every act of creation in order to defend the position we have earned.

— Jiří Bělohlávek, casopisharmonie.cz, 9. 10. 2012

A Guest on Stages Abroad

“Bělohlávek conducted from memory, finding natural shape for the music in the moment as well as creating cohesion, which carried from start to finish,” wrote the Pittsburgh critic Mark Kanny after a performance of Smetana’s Má vlast on 13 November 2015, one of the 102 performances that Jiří Bělohlávek conducted from the autumn of 2012 in concert halls and opera houses in 11 countries of Europe and the Americas. He made his most frequent returns to Rotterdam as the principal guest conductor and to London’s BBC Symphony Orchestra, as its former chief conductor, but he also conducted orchestras in Spain, Germany, Austria, China, the USA, and Canada. At the Wiener Staatsoper he prepared productions of Dvořák’s Rusalka and Janáček’s Jenůfa with the San Francisco Opera. Czech music also dominated the symphonic repertoire of his concerts abroad: not only Má vlast and the New World Symphony, but also Janáček’s Sinfonietta, Martinů’s Double Concerto, and Suk’s Asrael. Perhaps the most intensive period for him was April 2017, when he successively conducted four different programmes of mostly sacred music with four different orchestras in Leipzig, London, Rotterdam, and Munich. He said farewell with Dvořák’s Requiem, Stabat Mater, and Biblical Songs...

Celebrating the Conductor’s Seventieth Birthday

For Jiří Bělohlávek’s seventieth birthday on 24 February 2016, the maestro decided to celebrate with music, of course. On 13 February, the Czech Philharmonic got together with soloists and Jakub Hrůša on the podium, while Maestro Bělohlávek sat among the listeners. A surprise during the first half of the concert was the aria “Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém” from Dvořák’s opera Rusalka sung by the opera star Karita Mattila. After intermission, the birthday boy took up the baton. Afterwards, he received a gift from the Czech Philharmonic in the Ceremony Hall.

A Contemporary of the Future

“Hearing the music of Gustav Mahler makes any day a holiday”, said Jiří Bělohlávek in one of his interviews for the magazine Reflex. The work in question was Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, heard at subscription concerts of the Czech Philharmonic on 3, 4, and 5 May 2017. At the time, no one had any idea that these would be his last concerts with the Czech Philharmonic and conducting Mahler’s music.

Under the imaginative leadership of its chief conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, the orchestra erected a seldom-heard cathedral
of music. ... The opening funeral march was calm, firm, and especially in the sections of woodwind instruments, the music had noble hues of colour and was played without pathos....
In Bělohlávek’s interpretation, the funeral march was not merely a pose or stylisation, but made the impression of being genuine. ... The great Adagietto, probably the most “approachable” part for the audience in this work consisting of over an hour of ingenious music, was played truly “sehr langsam”, and that was a good thing. (It reminded me more of Claudio Abbado than of Václav Neumann.) Some conductors, out of a desire for discovery,
tend to dramatise the music; Maestro Bělohlávek was more philosophical... The music arose from the void, then disappeared back into nothingness.
The conductor also withstood the score’s physical demands, and from the hall, I had the feeling that he was an inspiration to the orchestra players to the very last motion of his baton... After the premiere in 1904, which was not ideal, Mahler supposedly said: “If only I could give the first performance fifty years after my death...” I think Jiří Bělohlávek’s performance, which avoided extremes and provocations and was colourfully captivating and philosophical, would probably have pleased him.

— Luboš Stehlík, casopisharmonie.cz, 11. 5. 2017

For the Last Time. In Polička

Jiří Bělohlávek and the music of Bohuslav Martinů are a combination that resonates. All his life, Jiří Bělohlávek was a tireless promoter of the music of this Polička native, and he was able to draw the attention of the music world to Martinů’s legacy to a great extent. It is symbolic that
the music of Bohuslav Martinů (Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano, and tympani) was heard at the concert when the maestro ascended the conductor’s podium for the last time. It was on 7 May 2017 in Polička for the opening of the 20th annual Martinů Festival with the Prague Philharmonia.


A feeling of stony, deep inner silence would probably be an apt description of what many experienced when they heard the news that on 31 May 2017, Mr. Jiří Bělohlávek had departed from us forever. The public was able to say its farewell to, the chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic on 7 June 2017 in the Dvořák Hall at the Rudolfinum.

The farewell to Jiří Bělohlávek with Dvořák’s Stabat Mater took place on 18 June 2017 under the baton of Jakub Hrůša.

There is a symbolic connection between Jakub Hrůša and Jiří Bělohlávek’s tenure as chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. It was he who stood in for Maestro Bělohlávek on the Czech Philharmonic’s tour of Australia in August 2012.

On 13 August 2012, Jiří Bělohlávek wrote:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I have so eagerly anticipated prefacing my taking the helm of the Czech Philharmonic with the beautiful music we have offered to our Australian hosts for their festival concerts. I thought having a “warm-up” before our concert season gets fully underway was a very fine idea.
As the old saying goes, “Man proposes, God disposes”.
I have taken ill. I am in the hands of the best physicians and healers, and we are doing all we can to overcome this complication. I firmly believe that on 27 September, I will be meeting with you at the first rehearsal to open our season.
I wish you great success with the concerts in Melbourne, pleasant flights, and a happy return home. I will be with all of you in spirit...
Yours sincerely, Jiří Bělohlávek

— Jiří Bělohlávek

Jakub Hrůša “opened” Jiří Bělohlávek’s arrival at the Czech Philharmonic, and now it was once again he who brought the era to a dignified close.

The tour of the Czech Philharmonic to Australia in the summer of 2012, which I covered for Jiří, who was ailing, took place under sad circumstances because of his illness. We had all been looking forward to him conducting the concerts. Nonetheless, it was a shared musical experience with lots of joy that brought
us and the orchestra closer together. Naturally, there was also
a coming together years later at our definitive farewell to Jiří
to the sound of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater. Sometimes, things are like that: people experience powerful moments together that bind them together more intensely, the more serious and the deeper the circumstances of their gathering are. For this reason, to me, these two events were incomparable: in Australia I was just standing in for Jiří, and while all of our thoughts were with him, at the same time we were all enjoying ourselves. During the Stabat Mater, however, we were all gazing into an emptiness that even beautiful music cannot fill. The beauty of the music and the healing power of our activity in creating that music helped us try to deal with that emptiness.

— Jakub Hrůša

Jiří Bělohlávek’s Discography 2012–2018

When we arrive at a certain level of perfection, the opportunity to create presents itself. That is not the goal; it is the beginning.

— Jiří Bělohlávek, casopisharmonie.cz, 9. 10. 2012

There are several strong recordings on the market, including an earlier one by conductor Jiří Bělohlávek himself, but for the com- bination of deep feeling, technical mastery from musicians and singers who have spent their lives getting to know the score, and soloists who not only sound beautiful but are seamlessly integrated into the flow, this Decca release may be the king of them all.

— James Manheim, reviewing dvořák's Stabat Mater recording

Between 2012 and 2018, a total of forty recordings have been released, on which Jiří Bělohlávek conducts the Czech Philharmonic and other orchestras. Of those, there are six DVDs that combine music with video. This discography includes rereleases and the issuing of older recordings as well as recently made recordings. Among the labels are such renowned recording companies as Decca Classics, Chandos, Opus Arte, Supraphon, and Euroarts. Symbolically, it appeared on the market during the month of his untimely death.
As a promoter of Czech music abroad, Jiří Bělohlávek made a number of recordings mainly with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, such as the complete symphonies of Bohuslav Martinů, which won a prestigious Gramophone Award in September 2012. A year later, he won the same prize for Suk’s tone poem A Summer’s Tale. He also devoted himself to the operatic repertoire. On the H/Mundi label in 2012 he recorded The Bartered Bride, and Onyx released his recording of Smetana’s Dalibor in 2015.



On 28 October 2001, the President of the Republic Václav Havel conferred on Jiří Bělohlávek the Medal of Merit. He presented it to him personally at the Lány Castle on 7 December of that year.

At the time when he was stepping down as principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, Queen Elizabeth II conferred on Jiří Bělohlávek the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his service to music. He received the insignia from the Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Prague, Mrs. Sian MacLeod, on 21 May 2012.

On 17 June 2013, Jiří Bělohlávek became the honorary chairman of the Antonín Dvořák Society. At the time,
he was already the president of the Dvořák Society in the United Kingdom.

On 16 November 2014 in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Jiří Bělohlávek received the Antonín Dvořák Prize from the Czech Minister of Culture Daniel Herman.

On 22 February 2016, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague conferred an honorary doctorate on Jiří Bělohlávek.

Jiří Bělohlávek received the symbolic key to the city and a decree naming him as an honorary citizen of the City of Litomyšl on 3 May 2016.

On Thursday, 22 September 2016, Jiří Bělohlávek was made an honorary citizen of the City of Prague.

On 8 June 2017 in the Lucerna Cinema, the Copyright Protection Association (OSA) granted Jiří Bělohlávek an award for the promotion and dissemination of Czech music.

On 23 June 2017 in the Great Hall of the Černín Palace, the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Lubomír Zaorálek conferred the award Gratias agit on Jiří Bělohlávek posthumously.

On 20 January 2018 Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic received a prize from the 2017 Classic Prague Awards for the best orchestral performance – their interpretation of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony on 3 May 2017, and also the Czech Television Prize – classical performance of the year for the same concert.



Jiří Bělohlávek’s Non-Musical Pleasures

I have learned that time for resting is just as important as time for active work. I have to make very precise holiday plans – that’s the time that most easily gets cut back... During my free time, I deliberately refrain from listening to music, and I let my ears have some quiet. I also try to do some gardening and go hiking in the mountains.

— Jiří Bělohlávek, reflex.cz, 2009

Five Seasons with the Czech Philharmonic (and Elsewhere)

A conductor’s task is to serve not only his career path, but above all the music itself and also the ensembles with which he is working.

— Jiří Bělohlávek, casopisharmonie.cz, 24. 2. 2016


The exhibition was prepared by the Czech Philharmonic

Text: Pavlína Landová, Petr Kadlec

Structure design: Petra & Martin Gabaš

Graphic design: Marek Pistora, Studio Najbrt

Printing: MinimaxStudio

For the providing of valuable materials and information, we wish to thank the family of Jiří Bělohlávek: his wife Anna Fejérová, his sister Růžena Černá, his daughter Marie Jedličková, and a family friend Alexander Goldscheider.

For the providing of photographs, we wish to thank BBC Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Opera (Cory Weaver), Wiener Staatsoper (Michael Pöhn), New York Philharmonic (Chris Lee) and Martinů Fest.