Dennis Burkh was born in San Francisco on 5 October 1935 to a Polish mother and a Russian father who, according to family legend, invented the surname ‘Burk’ on their arrival in America, their true surname remaining a mystery. The spelling ‘Burkh’ apparently arose when posters for a concert in Italy early in his conducting career added an ‘h’, which so appealed that he retained it.
Precocious musical talent led to piano lessons at the age of four followed, a year later, by his concerto début with the San Francisco Symphony. However, growing interest in conducting resulted in his admission to a major conductors’ course in The Netherlands at the unprecedentedly young age of seventeen (he was also the first American admitted), as well as training in Sienna. He was assistant to Ferdinand Leitner at the Stuttgart State Opera from 1957 to 1960 and to Antonio Votto at La Scala from 1960 to 1966, before returning to the USA to teach at Michigan State University, where he remained until 1983. While there, he founded the Opera Company of Greater Lansing and made frequent guest appearances with orchestras in Asia and Europe, a Fulbright Fellowship (1978-9) allowing him to spend a year in Seoul. He joined the staff at the University of Massachusetts in 1984 and directed the prestigious Five College Orchestra there.
However, it was not until his appointment as chief conductor and artistic director of the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra in 1991 that Dennis Burkh began to attract the attention of the record-buying public. Among the recordings that brought him late fame are his two CDs of Vieuxtemps Violin Concertos for Naxos (Nos 1 & 4 on 8.554506; Nos 2 & 3 on 8.554114). He died at the age of 72 in Chicago on 13 July 2008.