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Hans Vonk; was conductor of symphony in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Orchestra conductor Hans Vonk, who took the St. Louis Symphony to international prominence as its musical director, died Sunday at his home in Amsterdam. He was 63.

Mr. Vonk died from a rare neurological condition similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The condition caused weakness in his hands and feet and gradually spread throughout his body.

Mr. Vonk became the St. Louis Symphony's music director in 1996 and continued in that position until his declining medical condition forced his retirement in April 2002.

"He was a craftsman in every sense of the word and put everything he had into his art," said Jim Connett, a close friend. "Having that brilliant mind trapped in a body that couldn't make music was a tragedy beyond measure."

The effects of the disease showed during a February 2002 concert when he was unable to turn a page of the score and had to be helped offstage during the performance.

Mr. Vonk was born in Nazi-controlled Amsterdam on June 18, 1941. He graduated from the Amsterdam Conservatory in 1964.

Before coming to St. Louis, he served with the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dresden State Opera and the Cologne Radio Symphony, among others.

Mr. Vonk also appeared as a guest conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic.

A memorial service was scheduled for Thursday in Amsterdam.

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