Elizabeth Iona Brown was born in Salisbury and attended Salisbury Cathedral School. Her parents, Antony and Fiona, were both musicians. Her brother Timothy is principal horn of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, her other brother Ian is a pianist and her sister Sally plays viola in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
From 1963 to 1966, Brown played violin the Philharmonia Orchestra. In 1964, she joined the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, working her way up through the ranks to become concertmistress, solo violinist and director in 1974. She formally left the Academy in 1980, but continued to work with them for the rest of her life.
In 1981, she was appointed artistic director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. The Norwegian royal family later awarded her the accolade Knight of First Class Order of Merit for her success with the NCO. She directed the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1987 to 1992, and returned as its principal conductor from 1995 to 1997. From 1985 to 1989, she was guest director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. As her health declined and her arthritis progressed, she shifted her focus from the violin to conducting, ending her violin career in 1998. In her last years, she was chief conductor of the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra of Denmark.
From 1968 to 2004, Brown's principal residence was in the Wiltshire village of Bowerchalke. When she took part in the BBC Radio 4 program Kaleidoscope, explaining how hard it was to play her signature piece The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams, she said that the singing of larks she heard during long walks on nearby 'Marleycombe Down' decisively influenced the way played it.
She died of cancer in 2004 at age 63 in Salisbury. She was married twice, and was survived by her second husband, Bjorn Arnils.
As director and violinist
- 12 Concerti Grossi Op. 6, George Frideric Handel. Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. (1983 digital recording. 3-LP set, Philips 6769 083)
"La Cetra" Op.9,Antonio Lucio Vivaldi.Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.(1978 recording. 3-LP set, Argo D99D3)
As solo violinist
"Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; The Lark Ascending; Five Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus' ", Ralph Vaughan Williams. Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields (1972 Decca recording, reissued on CD as Argo 414 595-2)
- "Iona Brown - Telegraph". London: www.telegraph.co.uk. 11 June 2004. Retrieved 2010-11-19.