Raymond Leppard was among the most important and prolific British conductors of the 20th century, identified for many years by his work with the English Chamber Orchestra. He was a scholar and a noted film music composer, and both as scholar and performer, he played a major role in the revival of Baroque music worldwide.
Raymond John Leppard was born in London on August 11, 1927, but grew up in Bath. At Trinity College, Cambridge, he studied viola and harpsichord, the latter an unusual course at the time. While at Trinity College, he conducted choirs and the Cambridge Philharmonic Society, and after graduating in 1952, he gravitated toward conducting. He formed his own Leppard Ensemble and gave a concert with it at London's Wigmore Hall in 1952. He often conducted the Goldsbrough Orchestra, which in 1960 was renamed the English Chamber Orchestra. Leppard was also noted as a harpsichord recitalist, but he did not transfer the ethos of historical performance to his orchestral groups; such a thing would have been rare for most of his career. He did, however, expand the role of the harpsichord in the continuo realization in Baroque chamber music, often drawing notice for his lively accompaniment role.
Leppard became a lecturer in music at Trinity College in 1957, rising to the position of Director of Music before leaving his post in 1968. By that time, Leppard's career as a film composer was well underway; among his credits was the score to the classic Lord of the Flies (1963). His activities as a conductor of Baroque opera also expanded in the 1960s, fueled in part by his work as an editor: he made editions of then little-known Baroque operas, including Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, which he conducted at England's Glyndebourne Festival in 1962. His opera editions, like his orchestral performances, did not seek to reflect period practices, and certain of their features, such as their modern-style orchestrations, were criticized by some musicologists. The editions, however, remain in use and continue to exert influence. Leppard was conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra from 1973 to 1980, and later in his career he was increasingly active in the U.S. After a 1969 debut with the Westminster Choir and New York Philharmonic, during which he played a Haydn keyboard concerto on the harpsichord, he made conducting appearances at the Santa Fe Opera (in Cavalli's L'Egisto) and, in 1978, at the Metropolitan Opera (in Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd). Leppard served as conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1984 to 1990, and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1987 until the early 2000s. He built that group into one of the few U.S. orchestras specializing in Classical-period music.
Among the general record-buying public, however, it was Leppard's work with the English Chamber Orchestra that was best known. He made at least 170 recordings, many on the Philips and Koss labels, and centered on, but not exclusively, involving music of the Baroque and Classical era.
Leppard remained active well into the 2000s decade, continuing to live in Indianapolis. He died there on October 22, 2019, at age 92.
© James Manheim /TiVo