PRAGUE (AFP).- Leading Czech maestro, Jiri Belohlavek, former chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, has died aged 71 after a long illness, the Czech Philharmonic said on Thursday.
The orchestra's spokesman, Ludek Brezina, confirmed to AFP that Belohlavek died early Thursday.
And the Czech Philharmonic paid tribute to him on its Facebook page.
"It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Jiri Belohlavek, Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic ... following his brave struggle with a serious disease," it said.
Regarded as one of today's leading interpreters of Czech music, particularly composers such as Antonin Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana and Bohuslav Martinu, Belohlavek was born in Prague in 1946.
He led several Czech orchestras -- including the Brno Philharmonic and the Prague Symphony Orchestra -- from 1972 to 1989, before taking the helm at the Czech Philharmonic for the first time in 1990-92.
In 1995, Belohlavek was named the BBC Symphony Orchestra's chief guest conductor and in 2006 he became its chief conductor.
Belohlavek rejoined the Czech Philharmonic as chief conductor in 2012 and had signed a new six-year contract with the Prague-based orchestra in January.
The conductor had a reputation for being stern, but was highly respected for his artistic integrity, making the highest demands of the musicians he worked with.
He conducted many of the world's leading orchestras, such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Belohlavek also conducted in top opera houses, such as Covent Garden in London, the Bastille in Paris and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
© Agence France-Presse