In Remembrance

Former New Jersey Symphony Music Director Zdeněk Mácal

Born: January 8, 1936, Brno, Czechoslovakia
Died: October 25, 2023, Prague, Czechia, the Czech Republic

New Jersey Symphony Music Director: 1992–2002
New Jersey Symphony Music Director Emeritus: 2002–2004

The New Jersey Symphony is saddened to learn that former Music Director Zdeněk Mácal passed away in Prague, Czechia, the Czech Republic, on October 25, 2023 at the age of 87.

Mácal developed a passion for classical music at an early age, and after graduating from the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in 1960, Mácal became the principal conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra and won two major conducting competitions before leaving his native Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring in 1968.

Mácal made conducting appearances with numerous orchestras like the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, NDR Orchestra of Hanover, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. Mácal also served as an artistic advisor for the San Antonio Symphony and was principal conductor of Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival. He was briefly the chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra before becoming Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for nine seasons.

Mácal joined the New Jersey Symphony as Music Director beginning in 1992, and served in this role for eleven seasons. He made a big impact during his time with the Symphony, leading the orchestra in the performances of six commissions, six world premieres and twelve New Jersey premieres, and conducted the first concert at the newly-opened New Jersey Performing Arts Center on October 19, 1997.

Some of the Symphony’s most frequent collaborations under Mácal were with Yefim Bronfman, Vladimir Feltsman, Tzimon Barto, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Joanna Johnson, Jeffrey Swann, Harolyn Blackwell, Alexander Toradze and Alessandra Marc.

Among Mácal's most notable achievements with the New Jersey Symphony, he facilitated the Symphony’s recordings of the works of his compatriot Antonin Dvořák with the help of the Westminister Symphonic Choir, with one of their recordings, featuring Dvořák’s Requiem and Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” earning him and the New Jersey Symphony a GRAMMY award for Best Engineering Album in the Classical category. Mácal was also responsible for instituting the former Winter Festival model for January programming, focusing on a single composer during each of these renditions and launching the Amadeus Festival program that would take place every summer.

After serving as New Jersey Symphony Music Director Emeritus from 2002 to 2004, Mácal left to become chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic before stepping down from that role in 2007. 

Mácal’s impact was clearly felt during his time as New Jersey Symphony Music Director, and the orchestra reached new heights as a result of his work. His tenue with New Jersey Symphony was summed up by former The Star-Ledger classical music critic Willa Conrad: “He’s moved it from being an orchestra you can admire to one that really moves you, one that really communicates with you from the stage. There’s absolutely no question he’s the most significant music director this orchestra has had.” 

We send our thoughts and prayers to Zdeněk’s family and friends, and we also join in celebrating Mácal’s great impact here at the New Jersey Symphony with our patrons, musicians, and staff who have fond memories of his time in New Jersey.

If you would like to make a gift in honor of Zdeněk Mácal, you can do so by clicking the “Make a Gift” button below.

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