Only a few days in advance of being due to conduct English National Opera's new production of Vaughan Williams' opera Riders to the Sea, the leading conductor Richard Hickox has died of a suspected heart attack. He was just 60 years old.
Hickox is survived by his wife, the mezzo-soprano Pamela Helen Stephen, and his three children, Tom, Adam and Abigail. He was Musical Director of Opera Australia; Associate Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra; Founder and Music Director of the City of London Sinfonia; Co-Director of the period instrument group Collegium Musicum 90 and Conductor Emeritus of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Stephen Lumsden, Managing Director of Intermusica, Hickox's agent for over 20 years said:
'The shock of Richard Hickox's sudden and unexpected death will resonate right around the globe and has robbed the music world of one of its most popular and respected musicians. It also takes away from his beloved family a deeply devoted husband, father, son and brother. Literally thousands of musicians who were touched by his talent, energy and that remarkable generosity of spirit of his will feel that loss as well.
'Richard never wavered or faltered in his commitment and support for others even when faced with the most daunting challenges. His ability to inspire the best through his passion for the music he conducted created countless memorable performances in the concert hall, on the opera stage and on disc. His championing of British music and his international successes, particularly in Sydney as well as his legacy of 100s of recordings across the whole spectrum of repertoire will remain for many years to come.
'All those who knew him will feel deeply for his wife Pamela and his three children to whom we offer our most sincere and heartfelt condolences.'
Richard Hickox was appointed Musical Director of Opera Australia in 2005 and had recently had his contract extended to 2012. For Opera Australia, Hickox conducted the first Australian productions of major works in the repertoire such as Love of Three Oranges and Rusalka (both recorded live for Chandos to international acclaim as part of an ongoing programme) and was widely credited with having galvanised the house with his energy, commitment and depth of knowledge and experience.
One of the most popular figures in the musical world, Hickox regularly conducted the major UK orchestras and appeared many times at festivals such as Aldeburgh, Bath, Cheltenham and the BBC Proms. Richard Hickox was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Jubilee Honours List in 2002 in recognition of his position at the centre of British musical life.
Richard Hickox was also one of the busiest conductors in the studio with a discography of over 300 recordings. In 2006 he received his 5th Gramophone Award – the Editor's Choice award for his recording of Stanford sea songs on Chandos with Gerald Finley and the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales. In 2001 he was awarded Gramophone Record of the Year and Best Orchestral Disc for his recording with the London Symphony Orchestra of Vaughan Williams' Symphony No.2 in the original version (which also received a Classical Brit Award). He also won a Grammy (for Peter Grimes), two Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards, the first Sir Charles Groves Award, the Evening Standard Opera Award, and the Association of British Orchestras award. He was an Honorary Fellow of Queens' College Cambridge, where he was Organ Scholar, and was awarded a Doctorate of Music at Durham University in 2003.
Hickox had a long connection with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, where this season he was due to conduct L'elisir d'amore and the Britten arrangement of The Beggar's Opera. Past productions there included Paul Bunyan, Billy Budd, Tales of Hoffman, Mitridate and A Midsummer Marriage. He has also conducted Billy Budd at the Vienna State Opera, Washington Opera and in Cologne; Salome, I Capuleti e I Montecchi and Rigoletto at Los Angeles, and many productions for English National Opera. In 2004 BBC 2 televised his Turn of the Screw (Katie Mitchell production for television). He was Music Director at the Spoleto Festival in Italy for five years, where his productions included Rosenkavalier, Cunning Little Vixen, Prokofiev's War and Peace, and Menotti's The Consul.
Hickox's international career saw him conduct many of the leading orchestras in Europe, Japan and North America, including most recently the Bavarian Radio Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Orchestre de Paris, New York Philharmonic, and Philadelphia Orchestra.
He was a regular guest with the Philharmonia Orchestra, with whom in 2008 he undertook a series of some 20 concerts, presenting the entire cycle of Vaughan Williams Symphonies at the Royal Festival Hall and across the UK to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the composer's death.
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