Conductor Richard Hickox dies, aged 60

• Champion of British music had suspected heart attack
• Music world pays tributes to 'amazing colleague'

Conductor Richard Hickox, the pre-eminent champion of British music at home and abroad, has died aged 60 from a suspected heart attack. Hickox was taken ill on Sunday night at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, where he was recording Gustav Holst's Choral Symphony with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

He has left the music world - of which he was a popular and respected member - in shock. On Thursday Hickox had been due to conduct the opening night of Vaughan Williams's Riders to the Sea for English National Opera. Fiona Shaw, who is making her operatic directing debut on the production, said: "I spoke to him on Sunday, we were talking about sorting out tempi and rhythms. He sounded as happy, and ebullient, and as contented as normal. He was a complete animal of enthusiasm, and lived in the centre of his own gift ... he was gloriously energetic and fun; very smiley. And he was a wonderfully meticulous musician."

Andrew Clements, the Guardian's music critic, said his death left a gap at the heart of the nation's music-making, for there was no more energetic champion of British music "of the Elgar and Vaughan Williams axis" than he. Composer Michael Berkeley, around 10 of whose works Hickox had recorded, agreed. "He had such enthusiasm to make things happen, and he managed to get performed and recorded a whole area of music that would otherwise not have been recognised. He made some fantastic performances of Vaughan Williams and Britten; and he was loved by artists."

Ed Gardner, the music director of ENO, who may take over conducting Riders to the Sea, paid tribute to "an amazing colleague - in both good and bad times".

David Welton, managing director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, with whom Hickox regularly worked, added, "In terms of conductors' careers, he was blossoming ... he was starting to be a huge international presence." The orchestra had been planning a British symphonic celebration with Hickox for 2010, and a Britten celebration for the Olympic year, 2012. "Hickox commanded absolute respect and affection, which was very special in the hurly-burly of British musical life," he said.

At the time of his death Hickox was the music director of Opera Australia, where his sometimes controversial reign had drawn criticism. Before taking up that post he had been principal conductor of BBC National Orchestra of Wales from 2000-2006. He was also an associate guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. In a joint statement, its managing director, Kathryn McDowell, and chair, Lennox MacKenzie, paid tribute to his "musicianship, tenacity and his immense dedication to the championing of British repertoire".

Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera, added his voice to tributes to "a wonderful musician who did so much to champion British music". He had a 30-year association with Covent Garden and was due to conduct The Beggar's Opera there in January. Tonight's opening performance of Les Contes d'Hoffmann is to be dedicated to him.


Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

The GuardianTramp

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