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Czech Philharmonic conductor Jiri Belohlavek dies at 71

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/1/2017 Associated Press
FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2017 file photo Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek conducts The Czech Philharmonic in Prague. Former principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra died during Thursday night, June 1st, 2017, said the press-office od The Czech Philharmonic Ludek Brezina. (Michal Dolezal/CTK via AP) SLOVAKIA OUT © The Associated Press FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2017 file photo Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek conducts The Czech Philharmonic in Prague. Former principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra died during Thursday night, June 1st, 2017, said the press-office od The Czech Philharmonic Ludek Brezina. (Michal Dolezal/CTK via AP) SLOVAKIA OUT

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

The 71-year-old musician, who died Wednesday 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 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. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

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