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A remembrance: Raymond Leppard, ISO Music Director from 1987-2001, Died at Age 92 on Oct. 21, 2019

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A remembrance: Raymond Leppard, ISO Music Director from 1987-2001, Died at Age 92 on Oct. 21, 2019

"Since music was the most palpably religious of all my experiences, I used it as a basis of a celebration of life and the living of it, for it has made everything worthwhile for me." – Maestro Raymond Leppard, 1927-2019

Raymond Leppard made attending an ISO concert a party. Yet our being present was expected to nurture being knowledgeable. The carefully considered programming was offered to touch us at our point of entry and raise us up a notch or more. Because Raymond Leppard’s zest for life was marked by infectious curiosity, we followed right along his paths of wonderment, gaining deeper understanding of a long-loved work, learning nuances of a newly created composition, which he nurtured; and approaching the breadth of a player’s interpretation with an open heart and mind. We, in the audience, intuitively knew we were the sole reason for ISOs largesse, that connecting us with what he loved was the most important aspect of his reason for being alive. Yet it worked both ways. He told us we inspired him, and we loved him for this honesty during his fourteen-year ISO tenure, and his even longer University of Indianapolis connection, where he conducted free community concerts.

A five-time Grammy Award winner, on top of multiple other accolades, Leppard accepted the recognition of striving for the best as a way of giving back to those who inspired him, while in turn, inspiring forward momentum. “During his tenure with the Orchestra, he led eight recordings, two tours to Europe and initiated Indianapolis On-The-Air, a nationally syndicated radio broadcast of Indianapolis Symphony performances that now airs on more than 250 stations across the United States,” notes Kristin Cutler in the Oct. 21 ISO news release. 

In his Dec. 14, 2015 review, longtime NUVO classical music reviewer Tom Aldridge wrote, “Conductor laureate Raymond Leppard concludes his annual 18-concert series on a high note. Since 1998…Classical Christmas has been a once-a-year brainchild of our conductor laureate Raymond Leppard, launched three years before he retired from his ISO music director post. In combing through my reviews of past Classical Christmases, two stand out for me: (1) the very first one in 1998 featuring the world's most beautiful soprano voice of our current era (i.m.h.o.) in the person of Kathleen Battle, and (2) the 2010 concert in which Leppard conducted Wagner's Siegfried Idyll with orchestral forces almost as small as when it received its world premiere on Christmas morning 1870… I confess to getting moist eyes just a little in experiencing Leppard's version.”


The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis [1994] notes, “Internationally renowned conductor, musicologist, and composer Raymond Leppard took up the [ISO] baton in 1987, successfully combining musicality, scholarship, and creative marketing strategies to advance the ISO’s proud heritage.”

The profile also informs: “The ISO utilizes a number of educational formats. Its innovative Studio Series combines analysis by Raymond Leppard with full performances of masterpieces.” 

Though we in Indianapolis most remember Raymond Leppard as a beloved conductor, his career covers a wider range. As a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, he presented harpsichord recitals, was a choral conductor, and music director of the Cambridge Philharmonic Society. His London conducting debut in 1952 debut led to conducting his own Leppard Ensemble and to reviving Baroque music, particularly the operas by Monteverdi and Cavalli. 

The ISO news release further notes: “A prolific recording artist, Raymond Leppard earned such international prizes as the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, a Grammy® Award, a Grand Pro/Am Music Prix du Disque, and the Edison Prize. Mr. Leppard composed a number of film scores, including the music for Lord of the Flies, Laughter in the Dark, and Hotel New Hampshire. His second book, Raymond Leppard on Music: An Anthology of Critical and Personal Writings, was published by Resources in 1993.”

Born in London, Raymond Leppard was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. The Queen of England honored Raymond Leppard with the title Commander of the British Empire (CBE). The Republic of Italy conferred upon him the title of Commendatore della Republica Italiana. He received honorary degrees from Purdue University, Butler University, and the University of Indianapolis.

He became a U.S. citizen in 2003.

“The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra family is heartbroken by the loss of our dear friend and Conductor Laureate Raymond Leppard,” said CEO James Johnson. “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. Our thoughts are with Maestro Leppard's family and close friends as they grieve the passing of this generous artist and wonderful man.”

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of our Conductor Laureate, Maestro Raymond Leppard,” said Music Director Krzysztof Urbański. “He uplifted the ISO with striking artistic insight and inspiration and touched so many people through his love and stewardship of classical music. He will be profoundly missed, but his legacy will live on through his writings, his recordings, his compositions and arrangements, and most especially in the musicians whose lives were remarkably influenced by his artistry.”

“The world of music has lost one of its foremost interpreters,” said Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly. “Our beloved ISO has lost a cherished visionary. I have lost a true and dear friend. The joy that is Raymond Leppard shall be forever remembered.” 


Upon ISO retirement, Raymond Leppard made his home in Indianapolis, tending a garden we marveled at. Spinning back to all the wonderment he shared with his sparkling humor and love of life, it is true to say his gardens now are embracing him, as all these years he embraced them. 

Photo credit: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

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