Libor Pešek was born on 22 June 1933 in Prague. In the early phase of his musical career, he played the trombone in a student jazz band. Although he maintained a penchant for jazz throughout his life, his direction was primarily influenced by encounters with distinguished composers who appeared as guests in Prague at the beginning of the 1950s. He studied conducting at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts between 1951 and 1956 with Karel Ančerl, Václav Smetáček and Václav Neumann.
At the outset of his career, Libor Pešek mainly worked with small ensembles, above all the Chamber Harmony, which he founded in 1959 and with whom in the 1960s he gave a unique series of contemporary music concerts at the Na Zábradlí theatre in Prague. This cycle afforded the audiences the opportunity to discover new musical worlds. Pešek and the ensemble made a number of albums, including recordings of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat and Berg’s Chamber Concerto. In 1965, he established the Chamber Orchestra Sebastian, which he led until 1969. Between 1970 and 1977, he was at the helm of the Pardubice Chamber Philharmonic, which under his guidance garnered distinct artistic successes. Leading smaller ensembles enhanced his sense of detail and sonic refinement, as well as dramaturgic originality.
Engagements with large orchestras slowly started to appear. Between 1963 and 1969, Pešek was chief conductor of the North Bohemia Philharmonic in Teplice. Subsequently, from 1969 to 1975, he led the Frysk Orkest in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. He left a distinct footprint as conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he made a number of recordings. When in the early 1980s he became a permanent guest of the Czech Philharmonic, its principal conductor was Václav Neumann. Pešek was considered his successor, yet fate decided otherwise. From 1987 to 1997, he was music director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he recorded the complete symphonies of Josef suk, as well as many other works of the “grand” symphonic repertoire, including almost all of Mahler’s symphonies. Pešek extended both his own repertoire and that of the Liverpool Philharmonic. In addition to recordings of Dvořák and Suk symphonies, his work with the orchestra was crowned by highly acclaimed tours of the USA and appearances in Europe’s music centres. In 1996, Queen Elizabeth II named him a Knight of the British Empire.
Libor Pešek implemented numerous singular artistic projects. Although he devoted to opera relatively little, he did record for Supraphon the Prague version of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni and Bohuslav Martinů’s complete The Greek Passion. Noteworthy too is his memorable recording of three Bohuslav Martinů piano concertos with Rudolf Firkušný and the complete mature Dvořák symphonies. Moreover, Pešek was always keen on jazz and film music, and possesses extensive knowledge of other extra-musical subjects, including eastern spiritual teachings. His most characteristic features were overview and nobleness, great human openness, kindness and broadmindedness, qualities scarce indeed in today’s frantic world.