President and...

„Who to ask to perform the opening night of the Prague Spring is always an essential question for the festival management and committee, as we need the performer to be representative, to have a connection to the composition, to be able to stand by his or her vision and – if possible – to offer a perspective that is both new and respectful of tradition. There are so many requirements we have…“

— Jiří Bělohlávek / Český rozhlas Vltava 2011 [ 1 ]

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Jiří Bělohlávek was bound to the Prague Spring Festival literally from the cradle. He was born in 1946, the year in which the festival was established, and he regularly attended festival concerts from an early age.

“My first experience with the Prague Spring was when my father took me to see a public dress rehearsal of one of Václav Talich’s last concerts with the Czech Philharmonic. I could listen to the Slavonic Dances then.” [ 2 ]

At the festival, he appeared forty-five times as a performer and conducted there all the orchestras where he was the chief or permanent guest conductor.

His first performance was in 1972 and he conducted the Prague Chamber Orchestra in Schubert’s Mass in A flat Major in the St. Vitus Cathedral. A year later, he had his symphonic debut, conducting the Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra. He opened the festival with Má vlast four times, the first time being in 1983 and the last one in 2014 with the Czech Philharmonic. He conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the last night of the festival twice, in 1995 and 1998.

His performances often ranked among the highlights of the year and many of them prove extraordinary still after some time: a concert with the world-famous pianist Rudolf Firkušný in 1990, two performances of Dvořák’s oratorio Saint Ludmila with the Czech Philharmonic in 2004, two concerts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2008 playing Suk’s Asrael and Kabeláč’s Seventh Symphony, and finally the opening concert with the student orchestra of the Prague Conservatoire in 2011.

Bělohlávek was not connected to the festival only as a performer and concertgoer, but, from 1993 also as a member of the team responsible for dramaturgy of the festival. In 1993, he was appointed a member of the twelve-member artistic board of the festival by the Minister of Culture. The board was chaired by Rudolf Firkušný, who just turned eighty. Other members included Rafael Kubelík, Josef Suk, Libor Pešek and Michael Kocáb. The artistic board has played an important role in the dramaturgy of the festival since the 1990s. The festival management team meets the board regularly and consults the programme which is prepared several years in advance. The experience and renown of the members contribute to the quality of each festival year. After many years as a member, Bělohlávek became the chairman of the board and the president of the festival in 2006, succeeding Josef Suk who had been the president since 2000.

Bělohlávek had formal roles of various dramaturgical and organizational nature also in other institutions, boards and associations. He was the president of The Dvořák Society for Czech and Slovak Music, which is based in England (the position is currently held by his student Jakub Hrůša). Bělohlávek founded and chaired the Musica Iuvenis Foundation, whose goal was to support young musical talents under thirty-three years of age. In 2010, he co-founded an association for a new concert hall in Prague and, together with Roman Bělor, the then director of the Prague Spring, signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Prague City Hall, signed by the then mayor Pavel Bém.

In appreciation of his propagation of Czech music and his general artistic contribution, Bělohlávek received several honorary titles and awards. In 1986, he received the Distinguished Master of Arts title from Gustáv Husák, the president of Czechoslovakia. In 2001, he received the Medal of Merit of the First Grade from Václav Havel. In 2008, he received the International Trebbia Award.

Four years later, the Queen Elisabeth II, appreciating his fantastic results with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, awarded him the title of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2013, the Czech Antonín Dvořák Society made him their honorary president. In 2014, he received the John F. Kennedy Center Gold Medal in the Arts, and the Antonín Dvořák Prize, awarded by the Academy of Classical Music. In 2016, the Academy for Performing Arts in Prague awarded him an honourable degree and he received the Artis Bohemiae Amicis Medal awarded by the Ministry of Culture to people who help promote the good name of Czech culture both in the Czech Republic and abroad.

Bělohlávek received the 2016 Gold Award of the OSA in memoriam for his lifelong propagation of Czech music in the world. Lubomír Zaorálek, the Minister of Foreign Affairs gave him the Gratias Agit award – also in memoriam on 23 June 2017 in the Černínský Palace. Bělohlávek was an honorary citizen of Prague and Litomyšl.

Main sources

  • 1.ČERNÝ, Tomáš: Reportáž z příprav úvodního koncertu letošního Pražského jara. Český rozhlas Vltava 2011. (15. 3.). Available online 
  • 2.Pražské jaro v České televizi – Česká televize na Pražském jaru. Dokument. Česká televize 2013. 26 min. Available online 

ČERNÝ, Tomáš: Reportáž z příprav úvodního koncertu letošního Pražského jara. Český rozhlas Vltava 2011. (15. 3.). Available online 


Pražské jaro v České televizi – Česká televize na Pražském jaru. Dokument. Česká televize 2013. 26 min. Available online