BUDAPEST (AFP).- Virtuoso Hungarian pianist and conductor Zoltan Kocsis, celebrated for his versatile technique, died on Sunday at the age of 64, his orchestra, the National Philharmonic, said.
"The (orchestra) informs with deep sorrow that Zoltan Kocsis after a long illness borne with dignity died this afternoon," it said in a statement quoted by the MTI news agency.
"Kocsis was a giant of music," said the acclaimed conductor Ivan Fischer, who co-founded the world-renowned Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO) with the pianist in 1983.
"He was one of the rare geniuses...his influence on his generation is immeasurable," said Fischer on his Facebook page.
Kocsis had served as musical director of the National Philharmonic Orchestra since 1997 and became a household name among music fans from the United States to Japan as he took the ensemble on tour.
He underwent heart surgery in 2012, and last month cancelled upcoming concerts on the advice of doctors, according to the orchestra.
Born in Budapest in 1952, Kocsis began playing the piano around the age of three.
He first played abroad after winning the prestigious Hungarian Radio Beethoven Competition at the age of 18 in 1970, and made his first concert tour of the United States a year later.
He also performed extensively with the Berlin Philharmonic, and played with leading orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
In 1978, aged 25, he was awarded the Kossuth prize, Hungary's highest state honour for artists, an award he won again in 2005.
Often taking the conductor's baton with the BFO, Kocsis also began composing from 1987.
His pieces, along with his transcriptions of works of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and the recordings he made from them, also won him wide acclaim.
"His death is an irreplaceable loss for Hungarian culture," said a statement from Hungary's Ministry of Human Resources.
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