The son of a Romanian émigré family, Lawrence Foster studied conducting in Los Angeles with the German conductor Fritz Zweig and piano with Joanne Grauden, and also came into contact with Karl Böhm and Bruno Walter. Having made his conducting debut in 1960 with the Young Musicians’ Debut Orchestra in California, he subsequently became its music director, in addition to serving from 1962 until 1965 as conductor of the San Francisco Ballet, with which he toured extensively. This was followed by a period, 1965 to 1968, as assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, working with its chief conductor Zubin Mehta and forging a close relationship with the orchestra that continued thereafter. Foster won the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize at the Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood, in 1966, also working there with Gunther Schuller, Erich Leinsdorf and Sir Adrian Boult.
Lawrence Foster made his debut in the United Kingdom in 1968 with the Hallé and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, and was chief guest conductor of the latter for four years from 1969. In 1971 he was appointed chief conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, being promoted to music director the following year, a position that he retained until 1978. As his career has gathered pace and consolidated, Foster has held a large number of permanent positions, including the chief conductorships of the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra (1978–1994), the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra (1985–1990), and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra (1996–2002), as well as similar permanent positions with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the Aspen Music Festival and School. From the start of the 2002–2003 season he took up the position of chief conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra, Lisbon.
In addition to his concert work Foster has been active as a conductor of opera. In 1976 he made his debut at Covent Garden, conducting Dame Janet Baker in a revised version of Sir William Walton’s Troilus and Cressida, a recording of which was subsequently issued by EMI. From 1982 to 1988 he was chief conductor at Duisberg, with responsibility for both the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, which serves Duisberg and Düsseldorf, and the Duisberg Symphony Orchestra. Since the opening of the Los Angeles Music Center in 1986 he has been a regular conductor of the Los Angeles Opera, as well as at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. In addition to the work that these regular relationships entail, Foster also has an active schedule guest-conducting with major symphony orchestras and opera houses across Europe and America.
Foster is an excellent example of the highly capable conductor who, although a musician of considerable calibre, works just below the highest level. His discography is firm evidence of a highly discriminating musical taste. A key work in his repertoire is the masterpiece of the Romanian composer George Enescu, the opera Oedipe, which he has recorded for EMI with José van Dam in the title role. With the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra he has also recorded Enescu’s Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 and Suites Nos 1–3, as well as his Chamber Symphony with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. Another rarely heard but major vocal work which he has recorded is Pablo Casals’s oratorio El pessebre (The Manger). Foster has also been a strong champion of the music of the German émigré composer and conductor Franz Waxman, recording his The Song of Terezín as part of Decca’s Entartete Muzik series, plus two further discs of shorter works by Waxman with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. A further strand in this musician’s versatile repertoire is that of lesser-known Romantic concertos. For Hyperion he has recorded award-winning accounts of piano concertos by Scharwenka and Sauer with Stephen Hough as soloist, and for Koch International the Violin Concerto of Dohnányi, with Mark Kaplan. But perhaps the work with which Foster is most closely connected in the mind of the general public is Sir Paul McCartney’s oratorio, Standing Stone. He conducted its first performance in 1997 and subsequently recorded the work for EMI.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).