Raymond Leppard, champion of Baroque opera, and so much more, has died

Gramophone Wed 23rd October 2019

Born August 11, 1927; died October 22, 2019

Raymond Leppard (Photo: Godfrey MacDominic/Bridgeman Images)

Raymond Leppard (Photo: Godfrey MacDominic/Bridgeman Images)

The conductor, harpsichordist, composer and editor Raymond Leppard has died; he was 92. A man of huge musical sympathies, Leppard will, perhaps, be best known for his role in reviving interest in mainly Italian operas of the Baroque era – Monteverdi and Cavalli above all. 

Born in Bath, where he was educated, Leppard went up to Cambridge where he studied harpsichord and the viola, but also developed his interest in choral conducting. During this time, he would often work with the Goldsborough Orchestra (an ensemble which would become the English Chamber Orchestra, and with which Leppard would retain a long relationship). He would stay in Cambridge, as a lecturer but also as Director of Music at Trinity College, a role he maintained until 1968.

For Glyndebourne in the 1960s Leppard would prepare performing editions of the Monteverdi operas (starting in 1962 with L’incoronazione di Poppea) and those by Francesco Cavalli. To today’s ears, his realisations seem over-elaborate and rather brightly coloured, but they played a huge role in drawing these works into the operatic canon. His editions would remain in Glyndebourne’s repertoire right up until the 1980s (there is a DVD of Poppea from 1984 with Maria Ewing in the title-role and with Leppard conducting the London Philharmonic). Many of these operas were recorded by Philips and enshrine some magnificent performances, most notably from Dame Janet Baker (their recording of Cavalli’s La Calisto, alongside Ileana Cotrubas and James Bowman is a classic).

Leppard made his North America debut in 1969 with the New York Philharmonic and the Westminster Choir. In 1973 he was appointed Principal Conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (the Corporation’s Manchester-based orchestra, now the BBC Philharmonic) and his repertoire was very broad: he proved a very fine interpreter of the music of Arnold Bax, recording a number of the symphonies for Lyrita, and made a series of excellent recordings of the music by Grieg for Philips.

He maintained a busy schedule as a guest conductor appearing in major operas house around the world, including San Francisco, Covent Garden, Paris, Hamburg, Santa Fe and New York (both at the Met and at City Opera). He conducted the world premiere of Nicholas Maw’s The Rising of the Moon at Glyndebourne in 1970. 

Between 1987 and 2001, he served as Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra where he conducted a wide repertoire recording music as different as Mozart piano concertos (with Pascal Rogé for Onyx) and American orchestral works by Barber, Chadwick, Foote, Carpenter and others for Decca (‘Throughout, Raymond Leppard draws a consistently alert and affectionate response from his Indianapolis band, and their efforts have been very well served by the Decca sound engineers’ wrote Andrew Achenbach in 8/99). ‘While his tenure as Music Director will be remembered for raising the artistic profile of the orchestra through international tours, recordings, and broadcasts, his influence on the ISO continues to this day. By making Indianapolis his permanent home, Maestro Leppard was able to serve as a champion of classical music in this city, conducting concerts, teaching, and inspiring others to cherish the music he loved. He put an indelible stamp on this city and this orchestra. We will think of him fondly every time we hear or perform one of his favorite works', commented the Indianapolis SO’s CEO, James Johnson. He was also Music Advisor to the Louisville Orchestra between 2004 and 2006.

Leppard’s dynamic and energised approach to the Baroque and Classical music made him an ideal partner for artists like Wynton Marsalis, with whom he collaborated on his first classical recordings (trumpet concertos by Haydn, Hummel and others), the violinist Cho-Liang Lin and the late Jessye Norman (with whom he recorded Purcell's Dido and Aeneas).

As composer he wrote films scores for Peter Brook’s 1963 film of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Tony Richardson’s 1969 Laughter in the Dark and conducted a score based on the music of Offenbach for Richardson’s 1984 John Irving-based movie, Hotel New Hampshire.

Leppard became an American citizen in 2003 and made his home in Indianapolis where he died. 

 

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