Spanish conductor Jesús López Cobos, renowned for his bel canto interpretations and his 15-year tenure as music director of the Cincinnatti Symphony Orchestra, has died aged 78 following a battle with cancer.

López Cobos began to conduct while studying philosophy at the University of Madrid. He studied conducting with Franco Ferrara and Hans Swarowsky. Three years later he won first prize in the Besançon Competition and made his debut as a professional conductor in opera at the Teatro La Fenice.

He held long-standing music directorships with the Teatro Real in Madrid (2003-10), Lausanne Chamber Orchestra (1991-2000), Deutsche Oper Berlin (1981-90), Spanish National Orchestra (1984-89) and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1986-2001), and was principal guest conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra between 1981 and 1986.

López Cobos conducted regularly at the Wiener Staatsoper and Grand Théâtre de Genève, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala, San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. His years at the Deutsche Oper Berlin included major Ring Cycles at the Berlin Festival, Washington DC’s Kennedy Center and the first ever complete performance in Japan.

His 26 critically-acclaimed Cincinnati recordings for Telarc included works by de Falla, Bruckner, Strauss and Wagner, culminating in the Grammy-nominated Music of Turina and Debussy. He also recorded operatic and symphonic repertoire for Philips, London/Decca, Angel/EMI, RCA Victor and the LPO label.

He has received numerous awards, including the Cross of Merit (First Class) of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Prince of the Asturias Award in 1981 and the Medal of Bellas Artes in 2001.