French maestro Georges Pretre, the preferred conductor of legendary opera singer Maria Callas, died Wednesday aged 92 after a career wielding the baton for many of the world's top orchestras.
The Vienna Philharmonic, where he regularly conducted, said on its Facebook page that it was mourning "our charming and dear honorary member Georges Pretre with whom we have performed for 50 years".
Pretre died in Naves in southwest France where he owned a chateau, the town's deputy mayor Brigitte Baux, who regularly organised events with the conductor, told AFP.
Born in northern France in 1924, Pretre entered the Paris Conservatoire aged 15 but went on to pursue most of his career outside his homeland, from Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera of New York to La Scala in Milan and London's Royal Philharmonic.
At the time of his death, he still had concerts at La Scala scheduled for 2017.
A judo blackbelt and lover of horseriding, Pretre spent his life in concert halls and opera houses but loved all types of music, having mingled with the jazz scene in post-war Paris.
"A giant of music has been lost today," said Paris Opera director Stephane Lissner.
Pretre was notably the first "invited leader" from 1986-1991 of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Austrian capital's second classical ensemble after the celebrated Philharmonic.
Pretre, who liked to say that he was himself Viennese, also twice conducted the prestigious New Year's concert by the Philharmonic, in 2008 and 2010.
He last conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in 2013 at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, with a repertoire including Ravel, Beethoven and Strauss.
In an interview in 2015, the bootmaker's son told AFP he caught the "bug" for music at the age of seven and a half, when he heard an opera's overture.
"It gave me a shock," he said. "I knew I wanted to be a musician."
Date created : 2017-01-05