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Sergiu Comissiona; conductor transformed music, orchestras

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Sergiu Comissiona, the Romanian-born conductor known for the spontaneity and flair that he brought to orchestras in more than 25 countries, died Saturday. He was 76.

The New York resident apparently died of a heart attack in an Oklahoma City hotel room hours before he was to serve as guest conductor for the city's philharmonic, officials said.

Mr. Comissiona held music directorships with some of North America's leading ensembles, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, and the Vancouver Symphony. The music director of the New York City Opera, Mr. Comissiona conducted several times at Symphony Hall in Boston and Tanglewood.

In Bucharest, where Mr. Comissiona was born and where he was a permanent guest conductor with the George Enescu Philharmonic, the philharmonic's artistic director Nicolae Licaret called his death a ''very heavy loss."

''He had an exceptional relationship with the orchestra and the choir. He was always diversifying the repertoire for the audiences and bringing lesser-known works," Licaret said.

Mr. Comissiona began playing the violin at 5, joined an orchestra when he was 10, and made his debut as a conductor at 17.

From childhood, Mr. Comissiona wanted to conduct. ''From 7 years, I started to go to concerts, collecting autographs and preparing the scores for the concert during the week and, of course, dreaming that the conductor would be sick. Then I would jump on the stage, make my debut and I would be famous."

He became principal conductor of the Romanian State Opera in his early 20s.

Mr. Comissiona immigrated to Israel in the 1950s. He was music director of the Haifa Symphony from 1960 to 1966 and of the Goteborg, Sweden, Symphony from 1966 to 1977. He was chief conductor of the Radio Philharmonic in the Netherlands, starting in 1982.

Mr. Comissiona and his wife, Robinne, became American citizens at Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor on July 4, 1976.

''I'm an American conductor, despite my accent," he said in a 1987 interview. ''I love French music, German, Russian. I'm very young in this respect; I'm not ashamed of loving music. When I'm doing a moment of 'Pagliacci,' I'm ready to jump on the stage to be with them to sing."

Mr. Comissiona spent 15 years with the Baltimore orchestra, transforming it from a little-known ensemble into a nationally respected orchestra. He led the symphony on its first global tour and was at the helm when it made its first recordings.

''He elevated this orchestra to a level that had never been aspired to, and he created the platform from which to build a world-class orchestra," John Gidwitz, former president of the Baltimore Symphony, told the (Baltimore) Sun.

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