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His beginnings as a professional musician was six weeks at the piano in a large department store (where he performed sheet music for potential customers). He first conducted an orchestra with a rolled-up newspaper as baton from the pit for a show called “Strike a New Note” in Johannesburg in 1945.
He later left Johannesburg in 1946 and went to live in England and studied conducting.
He was conductor of the BBC Revue Orchestra (1953–1960), music director for BBC Television Light Entertainment (1960–1968), head of music for London Weekend Television (1968–1977). He has conducted at the Hollywood Bowl 1983-1984 and also the Boston Pops Orchestra 1985-1992. He has conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke's Ismail Merchant and James Ivory 35th anniversary celebration at Carnegie Hall on September 17, 1996.
He has conducted the film scores for dozens of movies including Chariots of Fire (1981), The Remains of the Day (1993), The English Patient (1996), and Cold Mountain (2003). He has also composed music for television including I, Claudius (1976) and Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983).
He is a great believer in under-rehearsing orchestras, believing the musicians will leave smiling. A saying of his is “He never wasted his colleagues’ time”.
He has been married twice: December 15, 1944 to Lorna Thurlow (Divorced 2000) and March 18, 2001 to Mary (Mitzi) C. Scott. He has two daughters: Karen Lesley (born 1947), and Lisa Gabrielle (born 1960) and one son: Simon Oliver (born 1951). Interests include wine tasting and gathering edible fungi. He lives in Portland, Oregon five months out of each year, November through March and the rest of the time in Provence.
- Debrett's People of Today. Debrett's Peerage Ltd., 2008.
- Marquis Who's Who, 2008.
- Strauss, Neil. “Lush Odes to the Art of Two Film Makers” New York Times, September 19, 1996 page C16.
- Harry Rabinowitz at the Internet Movie Database Retrieved on 2009-03-07
- Q&A with Harry Rabinowitz, by Peter Korn January 18, 2008.