Pešek was born in Prague and studied conducting, piano, cello and trombone at the Academy of Musical Arts there, with Václav Smetáček and Karel Ančerl among his teachers. He worked at the Pilsen and Prague Operas, and from 1958 to 1964 was the founder and director of Prague Chamber Harmony. He was chief conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic from 1981 to 1982, and from 1982 to 1990 was conductor-in-residence of the Czech Philharmonic. Since 2007, Pešek has been chief conductor of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. He is scheduled to stand down as its chief conductor at the close of the 2018-2019 season.
In the UK, Pešek was music director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) from 1987 to 1998, and now holds the title of conductor laureate. His work with the RLPO included leading the premiere of Anthony Powers' Horn Concerto (Michael Thompson, soloist).
Pešek is best known for his interpretations of Czech music. He has been a champion of lesser known Czech composers, particularly Josef Suk and Vítězslav Novák. His recordings include music of Pavel Josef Vejvanovský.
Pešek was awarded KBE in 1996 and the First Grade of Czech Medal of Merit in 1997.
- "Steven Mercurio se stává šefdirigentem ČNSO" (Press release). Czech National Symphony Orchestra. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
- Warnaby, John, "New Powers" (March 1992). Tempo (New Ser.), 180: pp. 22–24.
- Tyrrell, John, "Vejvanovský: Serenades and Sonatas" (record review) (1972). The Musical Times, 113 (1554): p. 783.
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