Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra
• Founded 1954
Often appears with
Uniquely among the Czech Republic's top orchestras, the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra is located not in Prague but in the northeastern Czech city of Ostrava. Its Czech name, in fact, is the Janackova Filharmonie Ostrava. Despite its regional origins, the orchestra has been somewhat oriented toward the West, especially since the fall of Communism; it has programmed much Western contemporary music and toured the U.S. multiple times. The Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1954, with Otakar Parik as its first conductor. The orchestra was led from 2005 to 2014 by the Ukrainian-American Theodore Kuchar, who opened additional doors for the group in the U.S. Since 2014, its chief conductor has been Heiko Mathias Förster, and its artistic director Jan Zemla. The orchestra quickly gained a reputation even west of the Iron Curtain, and it made its first foreign tour in 1958, going as far afield as Australia the following year; it was only the second Czech ensemble to tour abroad. In addition, the orchestra has toured Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, as well as most European countries. Unusually for an orchestra in the former East Bloc, it has benefited from corporate support, from the Arcelormittal steelmaking firm. The Philharmonic appears frequently in other Czech cities besides Ostrava, and leading conductors from the Czech Republic and beyond -- Jiří Bělohlávek, Václav Neumann, Charles Mackerras, and Helmuth Rilling -- have mounted the podium as guests.
The Janácek Philharmonic has been especially notable for the size and variety of its recorded catalog. Even before the breakup of Czechoslovakia it recorded several albums for the U.S.-based Centaur Records, including an album of Dvorák's Slavonic Rhapsodies; Suite for a Large Orchestra in 1992. Since then the group has recorded for various labels: the budget-line Brilliant in the Netherlands, Denon Classics in Japan, the contemporary-leaning Navona, Albany, and New World labels in the U.S., and Oehms, CPO, and Berlin Classics in Germany, among others. In 2018 the orchestra, under conductor Anthony Armore, issued a recording of symphonic poems by Australian composer Mark John McEncroe.