Festival and opera company director;

Born: February 7, 1923; Died: July 11, 2011.

Lord Harewood, who has died aged 88, was for a very small portion of a very long life the best, most famous and most dramatically creative director the Edinburgh Festival has ever had.

Yet this achievement was in no way a flash in the pan. Before succeeding Robert Ponsonby as festival director in 1961, he had served twice as a director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, had founded and edited Opera magazine in the 1950s, had risen to the rank of captain in the Grenadier Guards in the Second World War, and had fought in Italy, been captured by the Germans and imprisoned in Colditz.

On leaving the Edinburgh Festival in 1965, he was appointed artistic adviser to the New Philharmonia Orchestra, which had recently become self-governing after its founder Walter Legge had disbanded it. Thereafter he ran English National Opera at the London Coliseum for 13 years and served as its chairman for a further nine years. In addition he was artistic director of the Leeds Triennial Festival (his country seat, Harewood House, being in the vicinity of that city) and of the Adelaide Festival in Australia.

But in Scotland it is for his directorship of the Edinburgh Festival that we specially remember him, and for the utter freshness he brought to this event during his five years at the helm. As he made plain in his introduction to the festival’s souvenir brochure in 1961, composers mattered more to him than performers. Echoing Giordano’s advice to Puccini that he should find a good song and build an opera around it, Harewood employed as a motto his belief in the importance of finding the right composer and buildng the Edinburgh Festival around his choice of person.

His choices – Schoenberg in 1961, Shostakovich in 1962, Boulez in 1965, to name just three – were nothing if not brave. Each year was like a major retrospective of some famous artist but, in the case of composers who were still alive, new works were also included and Boulez took part in performances of his own music, conducting the Hamburg Radio Symphony Orchestra in the British premiere of his large-scale masterpiece Pli Selon Pli.

Yet, as Lord Harewood remarked, the Edinburgh Festival was so big and contained so many performances that you could ignore the emphasis on a chosen composer and still have plenty to hear – including Berlioz and Janacek surveys as festivals within the festival. Moreover, along with the music came close attention to the other arts, particularly the great Jacob Epstein exhibition devised in 1961 by Richard Buckle, who filled the Waverley Market, in Lord Harewood’s words, “with corridors and vistas, temples and grottoes in which to display the sculptures and bronzes”. It was an expensive exhibition but one that made a profit.

Though Edinburgh traditionally placed less emphasis on drama – to have a play put on at the festival, said Kenneth Tynan, was the kiss of death – Lord Harewood arranged major literary and drama conferences at the McEwan Hall in conjunction with the publisher John Calder, at one of which, in 1963, a notorious incident took place. This was when, according to Lord Harewood, a “lady who seemed to be unclothed was trundled across the organ loft at the back of the stage”. Without directly blaming Lord Harewood, Lord Provost Duncan Weatherstone complained that “three weeks of glorious festival” had been “ruined by one squalid little episode”.

But by 1964 Lord Harewood himself was in potential disgrace when his private life began to be scrutinised. Having been involved since 1959 with Patricia Tuckwell, the Australian violinist and sister of the hornist Barry Tuckwell, he disclosed to the Lord Provost that he had had a child by someone other than his wife and that “divorce was in prospect though not yet imminent”.

The Lord Provost feared this could have serious effects on the festival, and Lord Harewood was advised by Lord Cameron, senior member of the festival council, to prepare a letter of resignation that could be kept in the Lord Provost’s safe and used “only when the moment came”.

This happened sooner than expected but Lord Harewood was permitted to direct the ambitious 1965 festival, with Messiaen and Tippett as key figures alongside Boulez, before stepping down. One newspaper’s clamorous headline from earlier in his directorship: “Godlessness and Dirt, Harewood Must Go” had achieved its purpose, though the private life of his German-Dutch successor Peter Diamand proved scarcely less complex.

Born in London and educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, Lord Harewood was the son of Viscount Lascelles and first grandchild of King George V and Queen Mary. His musical expertise, which he exercised superbly and without scandal during his years with English National Opera, was rare for a member of the royal family. His admirable autobiography, The Tongs and the Bones, was published in 1981, and he revised and expanded Kobbe’s Complete Opera Book several times between 1954 and 1997.

Lord Harewood had three sons by his first wife Marion Stein, daughter of the Viennese music publisher Erwin Stein, and a further son by his marriage to Patricia Tuckwell in 1967.