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In memoriam: Lawrence Leighton Smith, past music director of Yale Philharmonia

October 25, 2013
Smith in front of Woolsey Hall in 2004

Smith in front of Woolsey Hall in 2004

Today, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic announced with sadness the death of Lawrence Leighton Smith, their beloved music director emeritus. Smith died at home on Friday, October 25, 2013 in the company of his family. He was 77.

Born April 8, 1936, Smith was one of the most respected American conductors of the 20th and 21st centuries. His brilliant conducting career began in 1973 when he became a first prize winner of the Dmitri Mitropoulos Competition. Smith went on to appear with nearly every major orchestra in the United States and to tour internationally.

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. He became the first American conductor of record to conduct the Moscow Philharmonic, creating the widely acclaimed “Moscow Sessions” recordings.

Known for his commitment to working with student musicians, Smith led many performances at the Yale School of Music, as well as the Manhattan School of Music. During his ten years at Yale (1995–2004), he was the music director of the Yale Philharmonia and the head of the conducting program. A native of Portland, Oregon, Smith was also an accomplished pianist and started his music career as a piano soloist.

He began his conducting career at Tanglewood as a musical assistant to Erich Leinsdorf, also spending time at the Peabody School of Music. He is a recipient of three honorary doctorates and, with the Louisville Orchestra, fourteen ASCAP awards for adventurous programming. As music director of the Colorado Springs Symphony, Smith 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.

In keeping with Smith’s wishes, there will not be a public funeral or memorial service. A celebration of Smith’s life will be held in Colorado Springs the weekend of November 16–17, 2013; details will be announced at a future date. 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. Additional information will be posted to the page as it becomes available. VISIT PAGE 


To all of you who were privileged to know and love Larry Smith,
I refer to him by the name he gave me when I first met him as a trumpet player in the Sunriver Music Festival orchestra near Bend, Oregon. Through our annual meetings and performances at Sunriver we became friends. I was an associate professor of music at Central Oregon Community College and was conductor of the Central Oregon Symphony at the time. I admired Larry’s musicianship, conducting, and magnificent piano playing. At our invitation he came to Bend in the winter of 1979 and gave several piano performances at the College, including one for two pianos with his colleague at Portland State University, pianist and composer Thomas Svoboda. He rehearsed our orchestra and performed Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto with me conducting. He then rehearsed our Central Oregon Symphony in a performance of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. We were honored to have him leading us and showing us the way to a greater understanding and performances of the music of the masters.
Thank you Larry, you are loved and missed.

Jerome Yahna
Emeritus Professor of Music
Central Oregon Community College

August 10th, 2014 | Jerome Yahna

It is with deepest regret to learn Maestro Smith passed away.

August 28th, 2014 | Ting So

A great musician and a wonderful man whom I worked with in the
creation of the Sunriver Music Festical at Sunriver, Oregon.
He is deeply missed…
Jerome Yahna

March 12th, 2017 | Jerome Yahna

Larry was a true gem. I had the pleasure of being his assistant conductor at the Music Academy of the West for the summer of 1988. What an life changing — and life affirming — experience that was! Such depth of knowledge, insight, artistry, and most of all, humanity this man embodied. Larry and I stayed in touch over the years, and he was always an inspiration an mentor to me. He is greatly missed.

July 1st, 2017 | Ethan Dulsky