For over a century, the Czech Philharmonic has represented the pinnacle of Czech cultural achievement, delighting audiences across the globe with its warm, vibrant sound. Antonín Dvořák conducted the Czech Philharmonic in its debut performance on 4 January 1896 at the Rudolfinum in Prague, which is still home to the orchestra’s Prague concerts, and is now the centre for its new Orchestral Academy.
Gustav Mahler conducted the Czech Philharmonic for the world premiere of his Symphony No. 7 in Prague, in 1908. The orchestra’s international reputation grew under the direction of Václav Talich (Chief Conductor, 1919-1931/1933-1941), with whom it made its first phonograph recording in 1929, of Smetana’s Má Vlast, for His Master’s Voice.
Talich was followed by other outstanding Czech conductors, including Rafael Kubelík (1942-1948) and Karel Ančerl (1950-1968). It was under Ančerl’s leadership that the Czech Philharmonic embarked on its busy and varied touring schedule. The orchestra performs in the world’s most prestigious concert halls, including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Musikverein in Vienna, Philharmonie in Berlin, Royal Festival Hall in London and Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Notable festival appearances include the BBC Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall, Berliner Festspiele, Lucerne Festival and Salzburger Festspiele.
The Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor between 1968 and 1990 was the great Václav Neumann. In a review of 2011, Classic FM Magazine described a vintage recording of the Czech Philharmonic performing with Neumann as ‘unforgettable music-making.’ Neumann worked closely with Jiří Bělohlávek who, in the role of guest conductor, forged a dynamic relationship with the Czech Philharmonic.
Jiří Bělohlávek was appointed Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic in 1990. In the wake of Bělohlávek’s outstanding achievements with the orchestra, Gerd Albrecht, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Zdeněk Mácal and Eliahu Inbal have taken the role of Chief Conductor. As of 2012, this journey has come full circle: in a much-anticipated reunion, Jiří Bělohlávek makes a welcome return as Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. Of this reunion, Jiří Bělohlávek has stated:
‘The Czech Philharmonic is a first-rate brand and is recognised in the world as a prestigious orchestra. I would like to return it back to its traditions of hard work and high artistic aspirations, to achieve the level that our best orchestra merits. Most of all I would like to give the Czech Philharmonic once again the joy of music.’
The partnership between Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic is among the most celebrated in the orchestra’s history. Together they have given significant world-premieres, including works by Jan Klusák and Milan Slavický, as well as critically-acclaimed performances of famous Czech works and the mainstream orchestral repertoire. The Naxos label wrote of Bělohlávek’s discography:
‘His most outstanding recordings are those in which he leads the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, where the high calibre of orchestral execution and Bělohlávek’s deep musicianship result in performances of exceptional quality.’
The Czech Philharmonic has received numerous awards and nominations, including ten Grands Prix du Disque de l'Académie Charles-Cros, five Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie française, several Cannes Classical Awards, a position in Gramophone’s Top 20 Best Orchestras in the World (2008), as well as nominations for Grammy and Gramophone Awards.
The Czech Philharmonic has welcomed as Principal Guest Conductor some of the world’s foremost interpreters of the orchestral repertoire, including the late Sir Charles Mackerras. With Mackerras, the Czech Philharmonic made numerous definitive recordings which garnered effusive reviews in the international press. Of the Czech Philharmonic’s recording of Suk’s Asrael Symphony, The Sunday Times noted, in 2011, ‘... the advantage of an orchestra that has lived and breathed this music for 100 years.’ Of the same disc, The Financial Times wrote:
‘The Czech Philharmonic’s live performance breathes a conviction and beneath-the-skin rapture that you won’t find in any other recording.’
To be thus described in 2011 demonstrates an orchestra returning to the high standards of its golden age, in exceptional performances which are attracting international recognition. Under the baton of the inimitable Jiří Bělohlávek from 2012, the Czech Philharmonic looks forward to entering a new era, combining tradition with innovation as an orchestra at the height of its powers.
© Joanna Wyld, 2012
The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra's last performed for La Jolla Music Society in the Celebrity Orchestra Series on February 24, 2008.
For more information visit www.ceskafilharmonie.cz/en/