Jiri Belohlavek, Czech Philharmonic conductor, dies at 71

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

The musician died Wednesday in Prague, his family said Thursday. He had suffered an unspecified serious long-term illness, but orchestra spokesman Ludek Brezina declined to give details.

Belohlavek will be remembered above all for 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 Symphony Orchestra 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. Funeral arrangements weren't immediately announced.

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