Georges Pretre, a French conductor who for seven decades led some of the world’s finest orchestras, found a second home in Vienna and forged close relationships with singer Maria Callas and composer Francis Poulenc, died Jan. 4 at his chateau in Naves, in southern France. He was 92.

His death was announced by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, where Pretre held the title of honorary conductor, and Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where he was scheduled to lead concerts in March.

The peripatetic conductor led orchestras in cities such as Chicago, New York, Paris and Rome — holding few permanent conducting positions, he said, to avoid overly involving himself with the business and managerial sides of classical-music performance.

He was most closely associated with Vienna’s world-renowned Philharmonic Orchestra, where he had remained a formidable though itinerant presence since conducting Charles Gounod’s opera “Faust” in 1963, and the Vienna Symphony, where he was first principal conductor from 1986 to 1991.

At what amounted to a farewell concert with the Vienna Symphony, Pretre earned standing ovations for his rendition of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” in October.

“Georges Pretre was both a sound wizard and a musician with an unparalleled intensity,” Vienna Symphony Chairman Thomas Schindl wrote on Facebook. “He combined concentration and individuality in a unique way and his daring and adventurous personality always spurned us on to perform at our very best — and sometimes beyond of what we believed to be capable of.”

Pretre, whose last name means “priest,” sometimes conducted as though he were possessed, shaking his arms and writhing at the rostrum in a manner that reminded some observers of his American peer Leonard Bernstein.

He considered himself a musical “interpreter,” not a hand-waving conductor, and typically sought to extract a maximum of emotion from the works he conducted — orchestral pieces as well as operas, in his native French and also in German or Italian.

Reviewing his performance of “Bolero” with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1995, Philadelphia Inquirer critic Lesley Valdes noted that under Pretre’s baton, the work’s “musical stresses … verged on the orgasmic. Not for him the stringencies of Ravel’s intentionally formulaic layering of color over basic pattern; not for Pretre the chiselings … of precise and graduated sonority. This was a siren dying to squeeze out of her girdle, so voluptuous was its interpretation.”

Pretre’s emotion-driven approach to music made him a favorite of Poulenc, who entrusted him with the 1959 premiere of his opera “La Voix Humaine,” about the final phone conversation between a woman and her lover.

It also endeared him to Callas, a Greek American soprano with whom he recorded several acclaimed albums, including Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen” in 1964.

Pretre’s offstage hobbies, including judo and karate, may have also played a role in the friendship.

“He was a man of my own heart,” Callas said of Pretre, according to a 1997 biography of Callas by David Bret. “With Georges I could curse to my heart’s content, and he never so much as batted an eyelid. Most of my conductors only wanted to take me to dinner after we’d finished working. This one, a black belt, wanted me to take judo lessons!”

The son of a cobbler, Pretre was born in Waziers, in northern France, on Aug. 14, 1924. He studied at conservatories in Douai, near his home town, and in Paris, playing the trumpet and — not his first choice — the oboe, because the instrument was cheaper to acquire, he said.

He learned conducting in Paris under Andre Cluytens before debuting at the Opera de Marseille in 1946, honing his understanding of the classical repertoire with weekly performances of “Tosca,” “Carmen” and “The Valkyrie.”

Pretre was music director of the Opéra Comique in Paris from 1955 to 1959, when he made his U.S. debut at the Chicago Lyric Opera. He was in New York five years later, conducting the Metropolitan Opera in Camille Saint-Saens’s “Samson and Delilah,” and returned to Paris in 1970 to briefly serve as music director of the Paris Opera.

An early marriage to mezzo-soprano Suzanne Lefort ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Gina Marny, and their daughter, Isabelle Pretre. A son, Jean-Reynald, died in 2012.

Pretre’s conducting, which employed an improvisational technique of sometimes slowing and sometimes speeding ahead through the score, was occasionally criticized as erratic. Yet he said his effectiveness was determined more by the nature of the orchestra than by his conducting style.

“I have only to set the pitch. They understand me right away. There is no need for many rehearsals,” he told the Italian news agency ANSA in 2004. “But if the orchestras are mediocre, there is nothing to be done. Further rehearsals are useless.”