Death of a leading international conductor, 78

March 2, 2018 by norman lebrecht


The Spanish conductor Jesús López Cobos, one of the most reliable maestros of recent times, died this morning in Berlin of cancer-related causes.

Jesús López Cobos was general music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 1981 to 1990 and music director of the Orquesta Nacional de España, 1984-88. From 1986 to 2000 he was music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and from 2003 until 2010 of the Teatro Real in Madrid.

He worked with many other orchestras in Spain and around the world. I remember him leading the LSO at the Salzburg Festival in the 1980s, working with precision and without ostentation to produce world class performances.

He conducted 92 times at the Vienna Opera, making his last appearance on January 8 this year and withdrawing recently for health reasons from April’s Aida.

He was the ultimate professional.

Rest his soul.

Comments (21)

  1. Speranza says:

    We lose a great Maestro and an incredible human being 🙁 condolences to his family . RIP Maestro Jesus

  2. jan schultsz says:

    Very sad indeed!

  3. Caravaggio says:

    Very sad news. Here is Mo. López-Cobos in a Walküre Generalprobe back in ’84 at his Deutsche Oper. The cast included Catarina Ligendza, Cheryl Studer, Simon Estes, Julia Varady, Matti Salminen, Peter Hofmann, Rest in Peace.

    Audio only.

  4. Bruce says:

    How sad. Too soon. One of the really good ones.

  5. Fabio Luisi says:

    A wonderful conductor. We will miss his seriosity and his integrity.

  6. Sylvia Samis says:

    Maestro Lopez-Cobos was a wonderful musician and human being. It was a great joy to make music with him for 16 years. He will be greatly missed in the musical community!

    1. Manfred Gerber says:

      What a wonderful artist, musician and personality.
      A Great Privilege having toured him with his two
      Orchestras, Cincinnati Symphony in Europe and
      Orquesta Nacional de España in Japan.
      Unforgettable his personal care for everyone on
      the tour.
      Many Friends worldwide will miss him, for
      good reasons. RIP !

  7. Frank Proto says:

    JLC was not only a sensitive artist who had the ability to adapt to different musical styles and situations, but the kind of person who cared as much about humanity as he did his music making.

  8. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    Sad. Jesús was very generous to me as an apprentice conductor with the Cincinnati Symphony. He could spin out beautiful long lines and was a model for possessing a calm temperament and musical passion. When I got my first professional engagement he went over every score page with me, telling me what I would need to rehearse, what would fix itself, and what would be fine with a 2nd or 3rd repetition. He was right and it helped me succeed. I’m so grateful to him and mourn his loss.

  9. Russell Platt says:

    I heard and (anonymously) reviewed his performance of “Thaïs” at the Met (with Renée Fleming). It was absolutely wonderful. I never met the man, and never saw any of his rehearsals, but he seemed to be getting out of the way of the music while shaping its progress with both passion and care. Memorable.

  10. John Willan says:

    When I arrived at the London Philharmonic, Jesus was principal guest conductor. He was a wonderful musician and the players loved working with him. He was truly of the old school. Sadly, a few years later, his wife was taken ill. Jesus had three concerts booked with us. He had to cancel the first and then the second. The last concert he also cancelled: it was the Mozart Requiem. I wanted to get someone a bit special: Martin Campbell White told me that he had heard terrific things about a young Austrian – so I booked him, unseen. That was the first time Franz Welser Most worked with the orchestra. The rest is history…..

    1. Caravaggio says:

      Yes but it took a long while to shed the Frankly Worse Than Most reputation, merited or not.

  11. John Willan says:

    Nick naming of conductors is one of the many endearing qualities of London orchestras – screaming skull (Solti) – demented stork ( Tennstedt). Frankly, of course went on to become music director, Cleveland and had a bit of a thing with the Opera House in Vienna. Still, I suppose they could all be stupid…..

    1. Talking the Talk says:


    2. Saxon Broken says:

      Genuine question: why doesn’t “Frankly” come back and guest conduct regularly at the LPO? Isn’t it normal, if the relationship is reasonably good, for that to happen?

      Actually, Haitink, the only other living former chief conductor, doesn’t guest conduct for the LPO either (but maybe that is because he guests at the LSO).

  12. Thurmond Smithgall says:

    Apologies. I wasn’t able to see that my first commentary went through

  13. Paul c rey says:

    This is very sad news indeed, he left us a wonderful legacy his recording on xenon of the haydn 6 7 8 symphonies is one of the finest!

  14. Jeff Alexander says:

    We lost today a wonderful conductor and extraordinary human being.

    It was my great honor and privilege to work closely with Maestro Lopez-Cobos for 15 years at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, including 12 as his Artistic Administrator and General Manager. Jesús, our President Steve Monder, and I were joined at the hip, working day in and day out on the short and long-term goals of the organization. His concerts were beautifully conducted and his commitment to the institution, community, members of the orchestra and administration was unyielding.

    Jesús leaves a wonderful legacy of recordings, radio and television broadcasts with the CSO and several other orchestras around the world. His music-making was extremely sensitive and heartwarming, and I am certain will be remembered with great fondness by the millions of people who attended his performances over his 50+-year career.
    My wife, Keiko, and I became very close friends with Jesús and his wife, Brigitte, and will cherish that friendship for the rest of our lives. We last spoke with him by phone on Christmas Day, as we had every previous Christmas Day for the past 30 years. We will miss him dearly, and be forever grateful for the musical experiences he gave us, and for his warm, nurturing and supportive friendship.

  15. Owen Lee says:

    Thank you Mr. Lebrecht for your touching remembrance of Maestro López-Cobos. I owe him so much and am forever thankful he took a chance on me in 1996 and invited me to be his principal bassist in Cincinnati where I have built my entire adult life. The kindest man and a profound artist and philosopher. There are no words to express the gratitude and love I have for this for this great gentleman. How fitting that this past weekend of his passing we performed Wagner and Bruckner, composers he loved dearly and conducted incomparably.

    He was always a perfect gentleman, so refreshing in these crazy times. A soul surfer. ☯️☯️☯️

  16. Greg says:

    I only saw him live once (a wonderful Alpine Symphony in Boston) but have enjoyed a number of his recordings from Cincinnati for many years. Church Windows, Mahler 3, Bruckner 7 and 8 to name a few. The orchestra always sounded wholly committed to what he was doing and the playing is very exciting. Several people I have known in the orchestra have always said how much they respected him and enjoyed playing for him. RIP, Maestro.

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