BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Zoltan Kocsis, a famed pianist and conductor and musical director of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, has died at age 64.
The Philharmonic said Kocsis died Sunday afternoon. No specific cause of death was given, but Kocsis underwent major heart surgery in 2012.
Last month, the orchestra announced that he was suffering from poor health and, following doctors' orders, cancelling most of his concerts to rest and recuperate.
"We announce with deep mourning that Zoltan Kocsis died this afternoon after a long illness borne with dignity," the Philharmonic said in a statement. "The vacuum he leaves is immeasurable."
Hungary's Ministry of Human Resources, which oversees cultural affairs, said Kocsis, who also was a composer and arranger, had been "a giant already in life" and his death was an "irreplaceable loss for Hungarian culture and contemporary music history."
Kocsis founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 1983 with Ivan Fischer and became musical director of the Philharmonic in 1997.
"Zoltan Kocsis was a musical giant, one of the rare geniuses," Fischer said on his Facebook page. "His impact on his whole generation is immeasurable."
Born in Budapest on May 30, 1952, Kocsis began playing the piano as a toddler. His career was launched at age 18 when he won Hungarian Radio's Beethoven piano competition.
Kocsis was considered the foremost piano interpreter of Hungarian composers Bela Bartok and Gyorgy Kurtag, as well as a distinguished performer of works by Claude Debussy and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
He received numerous Hungarian and international awards and distinctions, including Hungary's Kossuth and Liszt Awards. His recording of Debussy's piano works won a prestigious Gramophone Award in 1990.
After taking over the Philharmonic, then still known as the State Concert Orchestra, Kocsis controversially required the existing musicians to audition; 26 of them did not pass and were fired.
In 2003, Kocsis took the orchestra on its first U.S. tour in 18 years, a 2-month trip that included performances in a range of venues.
"My whole artistic philosophy, my aesthetic values and ethical norms protest against giving attention to venues based on their significance," he told The Associated Press at the time.