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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Orchestra 'loses leader to illness'
Hans Vonk conducts the St Louis Symphony Orchestra
Vonk has conducted the orchestra for six years
The St Louis Symphony, one of America's top orchestras, has lost its artistic leader to illness, say reports.

Hans Vonk, 59, the orchestra's musical director and main conductor, is suffering from a debilitating but undiagnosed neurological condition and will step down at the end of the season, according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper.

Vonk will remain with the organisation, but in a dramatically reduced role, conducting for just two weeks a year for the remaining three years of his contract, reports the paper.

I do not feel I can give the orchestra the time and leadership it requires and deserves.

Hans Vonk

He will conduct the symphony's final concerts of the season, a programme of Haydn and Mahler, on 3 and 4 May.

The St Louis Symphony is consistently ranked among the nation's leading orchestras despite relative financial hardship.

Vonk has been its artistic leader for the last six years.

His illness causes muscular weakness in the feet and hands.

Vonk's years with the orchestra had been "the happiest and most fulfilling of my career", he told the newspaper.

Saint Louis
Saint Louis Gateway Arch: Orchestra looking for new director

But he added: "I do not feel I can give the orchestra the time and leadership it requires and deserves and at the same time adequately manage my medical treatments."

Symphony President W Randolph Adams said the St Louis orchestra would start looking for a new director of music.

Born in Amsterdam, Vonk began his career at the Netherlands Ballet in 1966.

He was a conductor with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dresden State Opera and Staatskapelle and the Cologne Radio Symphony.

He was a guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and New York Philharmonic.

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