David Lloyd-Jones obituary | Opera North


David Lloyd-Jones, who died at the age of 87, was not only a conductor, but also an academic, a translator and a leading figure in British musical life. Perhaps only his friend Charles Mackerras before him displayed such a wide range of expertise and sympathies, Lloyd-Jones’ editions ranging from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov to Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers.

He made his biggest mark in 1978, when he co-founded, with Lord (George) Harewood and Graham Marchant, Opera North, known in its early days as English National Opera North. Marchant acted as general manager, while Lloyd-Jones became the first musical director of the society and its orchestra, known initially as the English Northern Philharmonia, the first of its kind in Leeds. The touring schedule to other regional centers and distant locations was just as vital as the performances at the Grand Theatre, the company’s base.

Lloyd-Jones was keen for the operation to gain independence from the English National Opera in London, from which Harewood had launched the operation. It happened in 1981, and Lloyd-Jones’ passion and determination ensured that the business became an ever-thriving institution.

During his military service, David Lloyd-Jones studied Russian at the Joint Services School of Linguists. Photography: Opera Nord

The first of the 50 productions directed by Lloyd-Jones during his 12 years at Opera North was Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saëns. Lloyd-Jones had given the UK premiere of Prokofiev’s War and Peace at the London Coliseum in 1972 for Sadler’s Wells Opera before it became ENO, and Russian operas were prominent among the wide range of works that followed for Opera North. It was quite a feat for a small company to mount Russian epics such as Borodin’s epic Prince Igor and Boris Godunov, and the production of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges which he directed in 1989 marked the start of productions the greatest and most eccentric of Richard Jones for the operatic stage. There were also UK premieres for Ernst Krenek’s Jonny Spielt Auf and Strauss’ Daphne.

Born in London, David was the son of well-to-do parents, Margaret (née Mathias) and Sir Vincent Lloyd-Jones, a High Court judge. However, comfort was soon undermined by the wartime evacuation to a farm in West Wales. David heard nothing of the music that was to be his life until he was nine years old, and on his 10th birthday his father took him to the concert at the Royal Albert Hall, with Thomas Beecham at the head of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Laurence Olivier’s performances were no less impactful.

From Westminster School he went on to national service and had the crucial good fortune of being enrolled in the Russian program at the Joint Service School of Linguists. At Magdalen College, Oxford, he graduated in German and Russian (1958), his friends including actor Dudley Moore, an excellent pianist; As a student, the latter was an organ specialist and violinist, conducting the college orchestra when, in 1957, Lloyd-Jones conducted a recently rediscovered Haydn Mass.

Like so many others who progress to conducting, Lloyd-Jones began his career as a rehearsalist at the Royal Opera House and took on freelance engagements as a conductor, which led him to the Wexford Festival, Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera. In 1971 he performed at Covent Garden as a conductor, and by the time he became assistant musical director of Sadler’s Wells company the following year he provided an English translation – still widely used – for Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky and a revised edition by Mussorgsky. Boris Godounov, which he also translated.

Published by Oxford University Press in 1969, it builds on the pioneering work of Russian musicologist Pavel Lamm featuring all the music from Mussorgsky’s original seven-scene version of 1869 and the additional scenes and interpolations of 1873. This score served as the basis for several recordings featuring what has dubbed the “super-saturated” Boris – in other words, the best of both worlds.

Along with his other main hat, the love of English music, Lloyd-Jones served as editor of the same publisher’s edition of the orchestral works of William Walton, and he also edited Falstaff’s opera Sir John in Love by Vaughan Williams. The composer had been kind when meeting the young Lloyd-Jones; he in turn was renowned for his kindness and positive attitude.

Lloyd-Jones’ musical sympathies were wide and deep, as his concert repertoire over the years amply demonstrates. After leaving Leeds in 1990, he became best known for his British music championship, notably in a series of recordings for Hyperion and Naxos. In ballet scores from the medley of Pineapple Poll by Sullivan-Mackerras to Job by Vaughan Williams and Checkmate by Bliss, and in the symphonies of Arnold Bax and Alan Rawsthorne, he left a superbly recorded and performed legacy.

In 1964 he married Carol (Carolyn) Whitehead and they had two sons and a daughter. She passed away in 2016.

David Mathias Lloyd-Jones, conductor, born November 19, 1934; passed away on June 8, 2022

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