Conductor and former principal guest conductor with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Born: August 11, 1927;

Died: October 22, 2019

RAYMOND Leppard, who has died aged 92, began his career as a scholar reconstructing and conducting the earliest operas and then graduated to conducting early operas with major companies and gained much renown in the concert hall.

His pioneering of baroque opera revolutionised what music was played, sung and performed. He brought to the baroque era a zeal and a musicologist’s understanding of the music that brought an insight and drama that made it come alive for modern audiences.

Some academics took exception to Leppard’s rather personal interpretations of the composer’s intentions. The original scores were, however, sketchy and his consummate musicianship broadened them out considerably. “In preparing scores that are often only skeletons, I have to make decisions,” he once stated

Raymond John Leppard was born in London and grew up in Bath. He demonstrated a prodigious talent on the piano and after Trinity College, Cambridge University where he studied harpsichord and viola he discovered a fascination with early and baroque music.

After graduating in 1952, he did national service in the Royal Air Force and then acted as musical adviser to the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford. In 1962 he made his London debut conducting and founding the English Chamber Orchestra. is break came in 1962 when he made an edition and conducted Monteverdi’s rare L’incoronazione di Poppea at Glyndebourne. This completely reawakened the public – and opera companies – to the music of the early 17th century. He returned to Glyndebourne in 1967 to conduct Cavalli’s L’Ormindo directed by Peter Hall and starring Janet Baker.

At Gyndebourne, Leppard was known as a missionary for early music, but it would be wrong to pigeon-hole him only as an early music specialist. In fact, he was associated with contemporary music and often conducted Benjamin Britten notably his opera Billy Budd at the Metropolitan in New York.

Other contemporary music included the world premiere of Nicholas Maw’s Rising of the Moon and, in 1975, Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, directed by Jonathan Miller both at Glyndebourne. His fine interpretation of more modern music was always true to the composer’s wishes. He once stated, “If you play Bach well, you’ll probably play Brahms better.”

He made his debut at Covent Garden conducting Handel’s Samson in 1958 with Joan Sutherland and Jon Vickers and in 1972 he led a star-studded cast (Geraint Evans and Kiri te Kanawa) in The Marriage of Figaro.

He made over 200 recordings often with both the English Chamber Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO). With the latter, with whom he served as principal guest conductor from 1978-85, he recorded several of Mozart’s symphonies and memorable recital arias with both Tereza Berganza and Frederica von Stade. Other discs included Baroque Music for Trumpets with Wynton Marsalis, Le Calisto with Janet Baker and Dido and Aeneas with Jessye Norman.

Scotland saw Leppard often both on the podium and in the pit. He was first heard with Scottish Opera in 1973 conducting Poppea in a fondly remembered production by Anthony Besch. In 1983 he returned for another operatic rarity, Cavalli’s Egisto directed by John Cox.

At the 1984 Edinburgh Festival he conducted SO’s new production of Cavalli’s Orion. In 1999 he was in charge of SO’s new production of Marriage of Figaro and in 2002 of Guck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.

He was a frequent visitor to the Edinburgh Festival and first came as conductor of the Leppard Ensemble in 1959. Other notable visits included a recital with Janet Baker (1969) and a concert of Schubert and Stravinsky with the SCO (1982).

Leppard moved to the US in 1976, and served as music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. As a composer he wrote the music for the films for Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies and Tony Richardson’s Laughter in the Dark.

He remained a most undramatic conductor – much admired for his sheer love of music and his phenomenal memory of the exact tempo he had chosen for a work which seldom altered from the first rehearsal.

Leppard reserved particular disdain for artists who grew too grand. He also preserved a delightfully sane approach to the glamour of publicity and the limelight.

“Who wants to work with Pavarotti any more, for instance?” he once asked in an interview. “Even Kiri Te Kanawa has gone out of sight. I used to work with Kiri, but now she actually believes her PR. She has become a silly girl and needs a good slap on her bottom.”

Leppard, who was made a CBE in 1983, died in Indianapolis where he lived with his husband Dr Jack Bloom who survives him.