Maestro Lawrence Leighton Smith, 77, has died in Colorado. The cause was complications arising from Binswanger’s disease, a form of dementia. He was widely admired by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and its supporters for having stood by the orchestra during its period of financial turmoil and bankruptcy and then beyond. continuing to conduct until his last concert with them – Beethoven’s Ninth – in April 2011.
North Carolina audiences will remember the fine performances he led in the year following John Gosling’s abrupt and not altogether congenial departure as Music Director in 1980. The title awarded Lawrence Leighton Smith here was Principal Guest Conductor but he was much more than that for he worked tirelessly as the orchestra’s artistic advisor while charting a sound and rewarding musical course during this troubled period. Among the fringe benefits of his work were the appearances with our state orchestra of many outstanding NC-based performers from colleges, universities, and the community at large – artists who were eager to demonstrate their skills but who would not normally have been offered such opportunities. In retrospect that period – and the following year, too, before the appointment of the next music director – may be seen as emblematic of the NCS functioning to a considerable degree as a true state orchestra, employing state-based soloists alongside the orchestra’s resident instrumentals. Things weren’t all bad, back then.
Lawrence Leighton Smith worked at the Metropolitan Opera (1964-7) and in Louisville (1982-93), New Jersey (1997-2000), and Oregon (through 2010), at the Sunriver Music Festival. His guest engagements included work in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Grand Rapids, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Miami, New York, Quebec, Rochester, Saint Louis, Santa Barbara, Syracuse, and Tampa.
We extend our sympathies to his wife and to his countless colleagues, friends and admirers around the world.