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Sir Philip Ledger

Former principal of Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama;

Born: December 12, 1937; Died: November 18, 2012.

Sir Philip Ledger, who has died of cancer aged 74, was principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama from 1982 until 2001, a long and productive period in its progress. During his two decades in Glasgow, he raised the academy's international prestige and presided over the opening, by the Queen Mother, of its new premises, complete with theatre, substantial concert hall and fine modern organ.

A gifted choral conductor – and, at Chelmsford from 1961, the youngest cathedral organist in English musical history – Sir Philip was also for many years director of music at King's College, Cambridge, and was selected by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in 1968 as joint artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk. This was around the time Britten had been composing his three church parables, Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace and The Prodigal Son, in which Sir Philip memorably played the vivid parts for chamber organ. The three productions were brought to the Edinburgh Festival in 1968 as part of Peter Diamand's celebratory Britten year.

One of Sir Philip's first Scottish appearances was as harpsichordist in the performances of Bach's St John Passion given in the 1960s by Sir Alexander Gibson and the Scottish National Orchestra in Glasgow and Edinburgh with Peter Pears as the Evangelist. Those were the days when British symphony orchestras still regarded Bach as part of their repertoire, and when conductors such as Gibson believed Bach and Handel were not the exclusive property of baroque specialists.

The presence of Sir Philip in any case gave the resultant performances the authenticity they needed and, for those who heard them, they went down in SNO history. Not that Sir Philip was ever a dry baroque specialist, and on one memorable occasion he conducted a Messiah at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, in which the climax of the Hallelujah Chorus was emphasised by a full-throated romantic slow-up.

Later, when the new RSAMD opened its doors up the hill from the old one, Sir Philip invited Gibson, whose name now graces the academy's opera school, to conduct a performance of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, in which the new organ made its first important appearance.

Born in Bexhill-on-Sea, Sir Philip was educated at King's College Cambridge and conducted the Cambridge University Musical Society from 1974 until he moved to Scotland. A composer in his own right, he succeeded David Willcocks as director at King's and wrote fine new descants and arrangements of Christmas carols for the annual service of Nine Lessons and Carols, as well as a requiem, A Thanksgiving for Life, which was recorded in 2008. This Holy Child, one of his last works, in which five original carols are planted in the Christmas story, will have its premiere next month.

During his Aldeburgh period, Sir Philip was closely associated with the English Chamber Orchestra, with which he and Britten frequently appeared and with which he recorded Vivaldi's Four Seasons with Pinchas Zukerman as soloist. An Elgar fanatic, he also recorded a resounding account of the Coronation Ode with the choir of King's College Cambridge as postlude to Sir Adrian Boult's famous recording of The Kingdom.

Nor should his recording of Faure's Requiem with Janet Baker – an important product of its time – be forgotten.

At Aldeburgh, he took part in the opening concert in the rebuilt Maltings at Snape and at Britten's funeral in 1976 he played the composer's Prelude and Fugue on a Theme of Victoria, Britten's solitary work for solo organ.

Choristers and student choristers alike found him an inspirational conductor, and they occupied a vital place in his career, gaining precedence over other areas of music, such as the BBC Proms, in which he made distinguished appearances between 1964 and 1972. As a pianist he also displayed a flair for chamber music, accompanying his friend, the tenor Robert Tear, in a London performance of Schubert's Winterreise which was subsequently recorded.

In Norwich, where he was director of music at the newly founded University of East Anglia, he laid the foundations of a new Music Centre, opened in 1973. As a lifelong Purcell enthusiast, he made a performing edition of the semi-opera King Arthur with the stage director Colin Graham, and conducted sensational performances of it with the English Opera Group in Britain (including Edinburgh) and abroad.

He was knighted in 1999 during his Scottish period and received honorary doctorates from the universities of Strathclyde, Glasgow and St Andrews, as well as the RSAMD. In 1963 he married Mary Wells, a principal soprano at Covent Garden, whom he had met while conducting the European premiere of Copland's The Tender Land in Cambridge. She survives him, along with a son and a daughter.

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