Raymond Leppard, the English conductor, harpsichordist, composer and scholar, has died at the age of 92. A key figure in the revival of early music, he is best known for reintroducing audiences to 17th-century works by the likes of Monteverdi and Cavalli.
Born in London on August 11, 1927, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1945 on a choral scholarship, where he also studied the harpsichord and viola. His first experience of conducting came with the Cambridge Philharmonic Society, which he continued to lead after graduating. His professional debut came in 1953 when he conducted his own ensemble, the Leppard Chamber Orchestra, at London’s Wigmore Hall.
Leppard soon became known for his performances of music from the Baroque and Classical eras, often conducting from the harpsichord. He made his Covent Garden debut in 1959 with a production of Handel’s Samson, and not long after began creating performance editions of Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea and operas by Cavalli. He conducted the latter’s L’Ormindo at Glyndebourne in 1967 in a production by Peter Hall starring Janet Baker, its first known performance since 1644.
Leppard was closely associated with the English Chamber Orchestra, with whom he made many acclaimed recordings, including Handel’s Ariodante with Janet Baker in the title role and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with the late Jessye Norman. He served as Principal Conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony, now known as the BBC Philharmonic, between 1973 and 1980, a period which marked his move away from works of the 17th century. His repertoire with the BBC Northern Symphony was broad, encompassing everything from Beethoven and Shostakovich to Grieg and Bax, and he would conduct Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at Glyndebourne in 1975.
Moving to the United States in 1976, where he based himself for the rest of his life, Leppard was appointed Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He maintained a busy international career at this time, appearing with many of the world’s top orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra.
As a composer, he wrote the score to Peter Brook’s 1963 film adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Tony Richardon’s 1969 Laughter in the Dark. Leppard leaves behind a sizable discography, numbering close to 200 recordings. One of his most famous collaborators was Wynton Marsalis, their collection of baroque trumpet concertos crowned by a Grammy win.
Leppard was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1983 and was granted the title of Commendatore della Republica Italiana by the Republic of Italy for his work on Italian music. He is survived by his husband Jack Bloom.