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Leonard received his musical education at the Royal Academy of Music and the École Normale de Musique de Paris. His musical career began at age 16 as an orchestral cellist with the London Symphony Orchestra, playing under such conductors as Sir Henry Wood, Richard Strauss and Leopold Stokowski. He was Associate Conductor of the BBC Northern Orchestra and Assistant Conductor to Sir John Barbirolli at the Hallé Orchestra (1963-1968). At the request of Leonard Bernstein, he conducted the London premiere of West Side Story in 1959. Leonard was also a close friend of cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung, and participated, both as conductor and composer, in the celebrated Hoffnung Concerts in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1964 he conducted the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's chamber opera Martin's Lie at the Bath International Music Festival.
He was Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1968-1973), where two of his orchestral compositions were premiered (an adaptation of Machaut's Grande Messe de Notre Dame in 1972 and Group Questions for Orchestra in 1973). Other original orchestral compositions include Four Pieces, Four Contrasts, Break, Processional, A Short Overture, A Swinging Tune and the symphonic poem Mezoon (written for the Sultan of Oman). He arranged Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for piano and orchestra in 1977. He also conducted the Edmonton Symphony in a 1971 concert featuring the British rock band Procol Harum, which was recorded and released commercially as Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, although due to an apparent distaste for rock music, from the start of the project he disowned any association with the performance and went so far as to refuse to have his name listed in the credits. The concert and resulting recording went on to become the most successful live pairing of symphony orchestra and rock music to date and went on to become a worldwide best seller, even spawning a hit single, "Conquistador".
In 1980, Leonard wrote The Horn of Mortal Danger, a children's adventure tale set in a secret civilisation underneath London. It was a 'completely new departure' from anything he had done before.
In later years, he was Professor of Conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Morley College, and regularly conducted the Royal Academy of Music Chamber Orchestra. He also authored the irreverent yet insightful book 1812 and All That: A Concise History of Music from 30,000BC to the Millennium.
|Music Directors, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
"Lawrence Leonard obituary". Music and Vision. Retrieved 2006-09-01.
Baker, D.T. "Edmonton Symphony History". Edmonton Symphony Orchestra website.