Jiri Belohlavek (1946-2017)

Jiri Belohlavek, former chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, has died aged 71 after a long ‘serious’ illness, the Czech Philharmonic have announced.

The news he was ill came as a surprise to me. The picture used in the Daily Mail story was a shock. Physically a shadow of his former self, its stirring to see he resolutely continued in the work that he loved as late as January of this year.

BBC Music Magazine includes a touching quote from an interview conducted last year:

If you begin to be bored, you should go home,’ he told BBC Music Magazine’s James Naughtie in March last year. ‘Indeed I think it would be a crime to stay, because you would be cheating the people – your musicians and your audiences. It would be unthinkable to stay’.

A man brimming with integrity, commitment and passion for the medium, Belohlavek’s career spanned over years and saw him conduct the Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony, and Prague Philharmonic orchestras in his native country. He later became Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, before signing a ten year deal with the Czech Philharmonic in 2012.

He exuded a warmth and passion for the genre that was touching. Many years ago when I prommed at a Berlin Philharmonic concert at the Royal Albert Hall, I saw Belohlavek stand at the side of the arena with the rest of the prommers to listen to proceedings. His act aligned himself with the audience, making a great artist all the more endearing.

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