Former Philharmonic music director passes away

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Lawrence Leighton SmithLawrence Leighton Smith, who led the then-Colorado Springs Symphony  through a period of transition and growth, died at home on Friday, at age 77, after a long illness. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic sent out a news release with details of Smith’s life and career.

As music director of the Colorado Springs Symphony, Smith succeeded Charles Ansbacher, Christopher Wilkins, and Yaacov Bergman, and was instrumental in the rebirth of the orchestra as the Colorado Springs Philharmonic in 2003. He was succeeded by current music director Josep Caballé-Domenech.

Born April 8, 1936, Smith was one of the most respected American conductors of the 20th and 21st centuries, noted for his brilliant conducting career, which started in 1973 as a first prize winner of the Dmitri Mitropoulos Competition. Smith went on to appear with nearly every major orchestra in the United States, as well as frequent international conducting tours.

As music director of the Louisville Orchestra from 1982 to 1993, Smith earned international recognition for both live performances and recordings. He also served as music director of the Austin, Oregon, and San Antonio Symphonies. In addition, he became the first American conductor of record to conduct the Moscow Philharmonic, creating the widely acclaimed “Moscow Sessions” recordings.

A native of Portland, Oregon, Smith was also an accomplished pianist and started his music career as a piano soloist, beginning his conducting career at Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass., as a musical assistant to Erich Leinsdorf. He is the recipient of three honorary doctorates and, with the Louisville Orchestra, fourteen awards for adventurous programming from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

For the past thirteen years, Smith has lived in Colorado Springs with his wife Leslie.

In keeping with Smith’s wishes, there will not be a public funeral nor a memorial service. A celebration of Smith’s life will be held in Colorado Springs the weekend of November 16-17. Details will be forthcoming.

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic has established a Facebook Page where friends, students, and admirers of Smith can post their stories about him and his life at facebook.com/conductorlawrenceleightonsmith. Additional information will be posted to Facebook as it becomes available.