Dennis Burkh, 72, of Chicago, a former director of the Five College Orchestra and faculty member in the Music and Dance Department, died July 13.
Born in San Francisco in 1935, Burkh began studying the piano at age 4, and at age 5, appeared with the San Francisco Symphony in a performance of a Haydn piano concerto. At age 17 he became the first American and youngest student ever to be admitted to the International Conductors Course in Holland. He later became an assistant to Ferdinand Leitner at the Stuttgart State Opera (1957-60) and to Antonio Votto at La Scala in Milan (1960-66).
In 1984, Burkh moved to Amherst where he began teaching in the Music and Dance Department and directing the Five College Orchestra. In 1991 he became chief conductor and artistic director of the Janacek Philharmonic in the Czech Republic.
Burkh founded the Opera Company of Greater Lansing, while teaching at Michigan State University (1966-83). This ambitious undertaking brought world class opera to many Michigan residents. Through the 1970s and 1980s he performed regularly with major European and Asian orchestras, and was a Fulbright Fellow in Seoul Korea.
His recordings included works by Ravel, Faure, Reger, Strauss, Janacek, Dvorak, Schumann, Vieuxtemps, Beethoven, Weber, Kvandal, Soderlind, Franzetti and Whalen. His recording George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue/American in Paris” on Opus, sold more than 1 million copies.
He leaves his wife Vendula, daughter Stefania and son Gregory. Memorial donations can be made to support Parkinson’s research.