Obituary: Harold Lawrence (1923–2011)

LSO General Manager (1968–73)

The LSO is sad to announce the death of former General Manager, Harold Lawrence, on 22 August 2011 in California; he was 88.

Harold Lawrence was born and brought up in New York. He had always wanted to be a concert pianist but at age 15, started too late. Instead his career began at WQXR Radio and in 1956 he became Music Director of Mercury Records. His editing skills became legendary and it was at this time that he brought together the LSO and conductor Antal Dorati. Over the next ten years this winning combination made a series of acclaimed recordings.

In 1966, the LSO and its manager, Ernest Fleischmann, parted company. The Orchestra struggled along for some time without a manager but it became obvious that a firm hand was needed to control its ailing finances. A suggestion by Neville Marriner (then Principal Second Violin) that Harold Lawrence be appointed was considered by the Board. In view of his knowledge of the classical music and recording businesses and his familiarity with the LSO, he was asked to take on the task.

When Lawrence arrived in London in 1968, the LSO’s Principal Conductor, Istvan Kertesz, had just resigned. It was obvious to Harold that a new conductor must be found as soon as possible. He listed his criteria to the Board, which included ‘someone who was a serious musician, who would bring business (although this was not a prime consideration), was good for publicity and was forward-looking’. André Previn was the conductor he had in mind. Previn was duly appointed and held the position for eleven highly successful years.

Harold’s wife, Mary Morris Lawrence, worked tirelessly to support her husband in his endeavours for the Orchestra. It was Mary who discovered the redundant Holy Trinity Church in Southwark, which was to become a much needed rehearsal and recording space for the LSO and the LPO – Henry Wood Hall. Mary was also a talented photographer and catalogued many of the LSO’s landmarks during their time in London. She died two years before Harold.

By 1970 it became apparent that the LSO’s early plans for residency at the Barbican had become unworkable. Lawrence and Howard Snell, the LSO’s Chairman and Principal Trumpet at the time, put together a revised plan which involved subsidy from a new partnership of the Corporation of London, the Arts Council and the Greater London Council. Happily this plan was accepted and was the forerunner to the residency which the LSO enjoys to this day.

By the time Harold Lawrence left the LSO to run the New York Philharmonic in 1973 he had delivered five consecutive years of profit, increased the Orchestra’s turnover by sixty per cent, organised sixteen foreign tours and netted enormous quantities of film, recording and TV work.

In the late 1970s Harold and Mary moved from New York to Oakland, California, where they made their home and became very involved in the community. Harold managed the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and the Oakland Youth Orchestra until 1987 when he established his own successful video production company.

A memorial service was held for him in Oakland on 15 September.

(In the photo: L–R Ronald Moore, clarinet; Terry Palmer, Personnel Manager; Howard Snell, LSO Principal Trumpet & Chairman, André Previn, Harold Lawrence. Photo by Mary Morris Lawrence.)