Zdeněk Mácal -a respected musical force at home and abroad

Zdeněk Mácal, photo: archive of Czech Radio

Zdeněk Mácal, one of the most prominent Czech conductors of the present day, turned 85 in January. For political reasons, Mácal first gained recognition abroad, and only later shone on the music scene in his native country.

In the mid-sixties he was on the road to success, having won a number of international competitions, including the Dmitri Mitropoulos Competition in New York. In the autumn of 1967, he became the principal conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. When Soviet tanks dashed hopes of a better life, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated from Czechoslovakia to the West. Zdeněk Mácal did likewise and continued his promising career abroad.

Soon after emigrating, he became music director of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Hanover Radio Orchestra. He got noticed overseas, and was offered a series of important engagements, among them  chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

He was guest conductor of some of the best American orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in Europe. During his career Zdeněk Mácal conducted more than 170 orchestras on four continents. However, during much of this time he was almost forgotten in his homeland, because the communist regime censored news of the success of emigres.

After the fall of communism Zdeněk Mácal returned  to the country of his birth, to re-establish his connection with Czech orchestras. In 2003, he became chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, but due to disputes with members of the orchestra, he terminated his engagement prematurely after four years. However he always praised it as an outstanding ensemble, saying there was no orchestra in the world  that could match it in its interpretation of Dvořák.

It was with Dvořák, but also Mahler, Janáček and Brahms, that Zdeněk Mácal himself celebrated the greatest successes the world over.