The leading Hungarian pianist, orchestral founder and respected conductor has passed away aged 64.

The important Hungarian pianist and conductor Zoltán Kocsis has passed away aged 64. Kocsis, who has been the Music Director of Hungary’s National Philharmonic Orchestra since 1997, died on November 6 “after a long illness borne with dignity” the Philharmonic said in a statement.

Kocsis was born in Budapest in 1952 and studied with Pál Kadosa, Ferenc Rados and György Kurtág at the Liszt Academy of Music, graduating in 1973. He rose to prominence when he was 18, however, when he won the Hungarian Radio Beethoven Piano Competition. He toured to the USA the following year and soon built an impressive international career. He was awarded the Liszt Prize in 1973 and the Kossuth Prize in 1978. He was appointed to teach at the Liszt Academy in 1976 and several years later he co-founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 1983 with fellow maestro Ivan Fischer.

Kocsis was a passionate exponent of contemporary music and Hungarian music. He gave the first performances of a number of compositions by Kurtág, worked with the Hungarian avant-garde New Music Studio and recorded the a benchmark set of the complete piano works of Béla Bartók on the Philips label. He was also well respected for his performances of works by Rachmaninov and his recording of Debussy’s piano works won him a Gramophone Award in 1990. “He has an impressive technique,” wrote musicologist Péter Várnai, “and his forthright, strongly rhythmic playing is nevertheless deeply felt and never mechanical.”

Kocsis underwent major heart surgery in 2012 but was still conducting and had been scheduled to conduct concerts throughout the 2016/2017 season. In October 2016 he cancelled most of his concerts on medical advice, to rest and recuperate after ill health. “The vacuum he leaves is immeasurable,” said the Philharmonic.