Born in London, Raymond Leppard grew up in Bath and read music as a student from 1948 to 1952 at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where his teachers included Hubert Middleton and Boris Ord. While an undergraduate he had conducted the Cambridge Philharmonic Society and made his London debut conducting the Leppard Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall in 1952. Initially he developed a career as a keyboard player, specialising in Baroque music, and working as a continuo player with the Philharmonia Orchestra. He started his recording career early, collaborating with artists such as violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Gioconda de Vito; and worked as a répétiteur at Glyndebourne during the 1954 and 1955 seasons, before returning to Cambridge as a lecturer in music and Fellow of Trinity College in 1957.
During this period the Leppard Ensemble was subsumed into the Goldsbrough Ensemble, which in turn became the English Chamber Orchestra in 1960. Leppard was closely associated with all three ensembles, conducting them frequently. He soon established a reputation as a sympathetic interpreter of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century music and made his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1959 conducting the Handel bicentenary production of Samson. A critical breakthrough in his career took place in 1962 with the highly successful production of his edition of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea at Glyndebourne, directed by Günther Rennert and conducted by John Pritchard, which was subsequently recorded by EMI. As a result Leppard prepared editions of a further opera by Monteverdi, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1972) as well as of Cavalli’s L’Ormindo (1967) and Calisto (1970). These were all performed at Glyndebourne in excellent productions by Rennert and Peter Hall, and conducted by Leppard, who had made his Glyndebourne conducting debut with the revival of Poppea in 1964. The success of this work allowed him to resign from his Cambridge post in 1967. Leppard was also active in the recording studio, setting down two of his Glyndebourne productions and a wide range of Baroque and Classical repertoire.
In 1970 Leppard conducted the world première of Nicholas Maw’s opera The Rising of the Moon at Glyndebourne, and his appointment in 1973 as chief conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, based in Manchester, allowed him to explore a wide musical repertoire, which he did with enthusiasm and often memorable results. He left this orchestra in 1980 to pursue a freelance career, later moving to the USA. He had made his debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969 and with the Santa Fé Opera in 1974, and went on to appear with the major American orchestras in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while continuing to conduct in Europe. Leppard was appointed chief conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1987, and enjoyed a productive relationship with this orchestra which included a distinguished series of recordings for the American Koss label. After fourteen seasons he gave up his post in 2001 to become the orchestra’s conductor laureate, while continuing to freelance as a guest conductor.
Leppard is an efficient conductor: his performances in general possess rhythmic point, infectious vitality and a love of orchestral colour, this last characteristic being particularly evident in his readings of Baroque opera. He has also used these skills to considerable effect in the several film scores that he has composed (Lord of the Flies, Laughter in the Dark and Hotel New Hampshire). His reputation as an authority on Baroque music and his numerous recordings of this repertoire have to some extent militated against his later recognition as an effective performer of a wider repertoire, although many of his recordings, such as his fine reading of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, tell another story. His discography, much of which was created during the 1960s and 1970s, is large. Leppard’s collaborations with Dame Janet Baker in both recital disc and complete recordings, for instance in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eurydice and the Mahler already referred to, have been especially successful.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).
Role: Classical Artist