Alumni in the News: Lawrence Leighton Smith, former Oregon Symphony conductor, dies
Author: David Stabler, The Oregonian
Posted: October 28, 2013

Lawrence Leighton Smith graduated from Portland State University in 1957 with a bachelor's degree from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Read the original article in the Oregonian here

Lawrence Leighton Smith, who led the Oregon Symphony from 1973 to 1980, died at his home in Colorado Springs, Friday. He was 77. Smith died of complications of Binswanger's disease, a form of dementia. He suffered a heart attack Oct. 10 and had been in hospice care.

"It's part of my journey," Smith said in an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette in 2011. "Thank God there's no pain. ... I know what's going to happen (with the disease). I say, bring it on."

Smith's Oregon connections run deep. He studied piano with Ariel Rubstein in Portland and led the Sunriver Music Festival for 17 years. He earned bachelor's degrees fromPortland State University in 1956 and Mannes College of Music in 1959. He also earned a doctorate from the University of Louisville in 1992.

"He truly wanted us to play better for the benefit of the community," said Stephen Price, retired viola player. "He also had the courage to grab the bull by the horns and make us play in tune. Before that, I didn’t know that the strings tend to play sharp when we are in D major. He put us on the path to becoming the orchestra we are now. He was also the first one to conduct us from the keyboard during a Mozart piano concerto. That was exciting. I think he was the first forward-thinking visionary conductor on our podium."

Robert Naglee, a retired bassoon player, chaired the committee to find a new conductor to replace Jacques Singer. "Larry was like the 'Second Coming'," Naglee says. "While he was music director, I went to a doctor and during my appointment, the Doc said to me 'I hear it is difficult to get tickets to the Symphony,' and that pretty much sums it up. We were playing to sold-out houses and for a local kid to make good was a spectacular achievement."

"He was always happy, always agreeable," said Pat Messick, who worked her way from bookkeeper to chief financial officer at the Oregon Symphony from 1967 to 1991. "He was a hometown boy, just easy to deal with."

Smith won first prize in the Mitropoulos International Conducting Competition in 1964. He was assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera 1964-1967 and music director of the Westchester Symphony Orchestra 1967-1969. He was principal guest conductor of the Phoenix Symphony 1970-1973 and music director of the Austin Symphony 1972-1973.

After James DePreist took over the Oregon Symphony from him in 1980, Smith led theSan Antonio Symphony from 1980 to 1985. According to Wikipedia, Smith was the first American conductor to conduct the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, in 1986, and the recordings, entitled "The Moscow Sessions," featured works by Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Shostakovich.

He became the artistic advisor and principal guest conductor of the North Carolina Symphony 1980-1981, and music director of the Louisville Orchestra 1983–1994. He remains a laureate conductor for Louisville. He was also principal guest conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra 1997-2000.

In 2000, he became music director of the Colorado Springs Symphony and in 2003, he became the first music director of the new Colorado Springs Philharmonic.