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Jiri Belohlavek dies; chief conductor of Czech Philharmonic was 71

Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek, above in February 2006,

Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek, above in February 2006, died on May 31, 2017. The music director of the Czech Philharmonic orchestra had had an unspecified long-term illness. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN

PRAGUE — Jiri Belohlavek, chief conductor and music director of the Czech Philharmonic orchestra, has died, his family said. He was 71.

The 71-year-old musician, who died May 31 in Prague, had suffered an unspecified serious long-term illness, but Philharmonic orchestra spokesman Ludek Brezina declined to give details.

Belohlavek will be remembered above all by his interpretations of the music by Czech composers including Bohuslav Martinu, Antonin Dvorak, Leos Janacek, Josef Suk and Bedrich Smetana.

At home, Belohlavek was in charge of several Czech orchestras, including Brno Philharmonic, Prague Symphony Orchestra and Prague Philharmonia.

Abroad, he cooperated with leading musical ensembles, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, New York Philharmonic and others.

In 2006-2012, he was chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the honor of Commander of the British Empire. He conducted Dvorak’s “Requiem” in his last appearance with the BBC SO on April 13.

“We are deeply saddened to hear that Jiri Belohlavek, Conductor Laureate & our great friend has died,” BBC SO said on Twitter. “We send our condolences to his family.”

Belohlavek three times conducted the popular final concert of the BBC Proms festival, the Last Night of the Proms, and was the first conductor not from an English-speaking country to be given that prestigious role.

Since 2012, he was chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, the top Czech orchestra he also led after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

In January, he signed a six-year extension of his contract.

“It is him who deserves credit that the Czech Philharmonic has experienced numerous successes in the last five years and again reached a respectable position at home and abroad,” the orchestra said in a statement.

He was also guest principal guest conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra since 2013.

“Music was my life,” Belohlavek once said. “I even feel joy when I read it.”

His survived by his wife and two daughters.

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