Raymond John Leppard
- Honorary Degree (2001)
Doctor of Music
Presenter: Myles Neil Brand
BIOGRAPHYThe details of his career could be the basis for a question one might find in a popular board game: "How many Cambridge dons have five Grammy awards?" Or perhaps they would serve as an answer on a well-known TV show: "This conductor
performed at the Queen Mother's hundredth birthday celebration and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana."
The correct question for that answer could only be "Who is Maestro Raymond John Leppard," for he is definitely one of a kind. Those fortunate enough to have attended a concert given by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (ISO) already have an inkling of the man behind the music. IUPUI Dean of the Faculties and Vice Chancellor William Plater and IU School of Music Interim Dean Gwyn Richards write, in a joint letter of recommendation for an Indiana University honorary degree from both IU Bloomington and IUPUI, "Throughout his career, Maestro Leppard has been a leading light in all aspects of music—as performer, conductor, scholar, composer, author, and historian." "He has demonstrated unusual skill in imparting to both new and seasoned audiences a renewed appreciation for, and better understanding of, classical music through his warm and witty, engaging and informative, musical commentary," says IU Vice President for Long-Range Planning and IUPUI Chancellor Gerald Bepko. "Indiana has been extraordinarily privileged to have first attracted and then enjoyed for so many years the rare talents of this consummate artist and teacher."
Leppard was named music director of the ISO in 1986, only the fifth to hold that position in its 70-year history. In the last 15 years he has earned high praise for the changes he has brought to the organization, revitalizing its musicianship and elevating the entire orchestra to the greatest prominence it has ever enjoyed. James Bagwell, artistic advisor to the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, says, "The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has been fortunate to enjoy Leppard's leadership during the past decade; together they have uniquely raised the standard of orchestral playing in Indianapolis. These high artistic standards have elevated ISO into an enviable position of recognition throughout the world."
Leppard's celebrity has made an impact beyond the ISO, enhancing the reputation of other local performers. Plater notes, "His presence has raised the entire arts community of Indiana to new levels of excellence." Marianne Tobias, a great patron of the arts and an Indianapolis resident, says, "Maestro Leppard is a scholar, a musician, and a stunning individual. He has contributed significantly to our community both in music and outside of his field. His grace and stature are well known here and around the world."
Leppard was born in Bath, England, and raised in London. Having shown an early talent for music, he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, conducting for both the Cambridge Musical Society and the Cambridge Philharmonic Society. Leppard went on to found and conduct the Leppard Chamber Orchestra in 1953, followed by positions with a number of world-renowned orchestras, including the Glyndeboume Opera, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Northern Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. During this time, he conducted or performed in nearly 200 recordings. For almost 11 years he was a fellow and university lecturer in music at Trinity College. Among Leppard's major achievements is his revival of the seventeenth-century operas of Monteverdi and Cavalli, for which the Italian government honored him in 1973 with the title of Commendatore. Early in his career, he gained expertise in Baroque and early classical repertoires. Later he explored the works of twentieth-century composers including Benjamin Britten, Edward Elgar, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Leppard's musical scores for theatre include a number for Shakespearean plays: Love's Labour's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, Two Gentleman of Verona, and Romeo and Juliet. He has also composed for film; two of his better-known scores are for Lord of the Flies and The Hotel New Hampshire.
A musical scholar and respected author, Leppard has frequently stepped off the conductor's podium to deliver lectures (and even a sermon) on classical music. His keen intellect and willingness to share his knowledge have gained him the respect of others in his profession. Hidetaro Suzuki, concertmaster of ISO, comments on Leppard's character: "What makes me marvel at him is his continuous curiosity and open, inquisitive mind in encountering every piece of music, always ready to look at it from a new, fresh perspective. I admire most deeply his attitude of being an eternal student with utter humility in the field to which he has dedicated his life." Janos Starker, world-renowned cellist and Indiana University distinguished professor of music, says, "Maestro Leppard is among the leading conductors of his generation."
Leppard has received numerous honors and awards for his work, beginning with the Grand prix du disque francais in 1965. He received his first Grammy in 1973 and four more between 1981 and 1984. In 1973, he received the Edison Prize, followed by the Deutsche Schallplattenprei, Grand prix mondial du disque, and Grand prix national du disque lyrique in 1974. In 1983, he was given the title of Commander of the British Empire.
Locally, he has been recognized with several honorary doctorates, the Governor's Arts Award, and in 1997 as a Sagamore of the Wabash, the state of Indiana's highest award given by the governor. Leppard and his musical talents have been a gift to Indianapolis, the ISO, and the world. His many fans might not have been aware of the depth and breadth of his many and varied accomplishments, but he has nonetheless won their admiration. Though the soon-to-be conductor laureate will complete his last season with the ISO this year, this superlative artist and generous interpreter of classical music will not be forgotten. This community will long remember, in the words of Indianapolis philanthropist Christel DeHaan, Leppard's "marvelous blend of extraordinary talent, artistic achievement, wit, intellect, and charm— an enduring legacy."