Not a virtuoso of the amaze-and-stun variety, Josef Suk made his considerable reputation through a conscientious approach to the masters, a keen appreciation for Czech music, and a musical imagination of the first order.
Grandson of Josef Suk (the composer and member of the Bohemian String Quartet) and great-grandson of Antonín Dvorák, the violinist amassed an extensive catalog of recordings and traveled to most of the world's major concert halls. Despite the acclaim he achieved as a soloist, Suk remained a devoted proponent of chamber music and led his own chamber orchestra in distinguished performances and recordings.
After private music lessons, Suk entered the Prague Conservatory, studying with violinist Jaroslav Kocian before entering the Prague Academy. During his student days, Suk had already been engaged as a member of the Prague Quartet. In 1951, he formed the Suk Trio, with pianist Jan Panenka and cellist Josef Chuchro. He also collaborated with two other musicians whose reputations would grow to match his own: pianist Julius Katchen and cellist Janos Starker. In 1954, his official solo debut in Prague met with spectacular success; critics rejoiced that a new artist had emerged to carry forward the tradition of great Czech violin performance. Suk was a frequent guest artist with the Czech Philharmonic, playing concerts in Prague and touring with the orchestra to America, Japan, Australia, and other parts of Europe. He served as artistic director of the Suk Chamber Orchestra and appeared as a guest artist with the Smetana Quartet in concert and on recordings. Recording for EMI, Decca, and Supraphon, Suk collaborated with Julius Katchen in the Brahms' sonatas and with Iona Brown and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante. In the latter project, Suk performed the viola part. To no one's surprise, Suk recorded many works by Dvorák, including quartets, serenades, waltzes, piano quartets, trios, and string quintets. Works by Fibich, Martinu, and Janácek also figure prominently. On six occasions, Suk won the Grand Prix du Disque; other awards include the Wiener Flötenuhr and the Edison Prize. Suk retired from performing in 2003, but remained honorary president of the Prague Spring International Music Festival. He died of cancer at the age of 81 in Prague on July 6, 2011.