His career included stints as head of the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Sadler’s Wells opera in London.
But he retained a particular link with the LSO, which during his association — his principal conductor tenure was preceded by 20 years as principal guest conductor — rose to become the marquee orchestra in London. The association remained vivid in the minds of Americans who saw him lead the orchestra in annual appearances in New York, and sometimes other cities (they came to Washington in 2001) as well.
As a conductor, he did particularly memorable work as a Mozartean, even though he had no use for period instruments and the so-called historically informed performance movement. He was able, the pianist Mitsuko Uchida once told the London Guardian, “to unlock the pure joy that is contained within the music.”
Perhaps it was no accident that he had a special knack for Berlioz the maverick. In his later life, he projected the image of a serene and intellectual elder statesman, what with his knitting, pipe-smoking and voracious reading habit. But he was considerably more volatile, and more of an outsider, in his youth.
Passionate and mercurial, he alienated some musicians and failed to establish the kinds of working relationships he wanted with his own country’s leading institutions. He had what he described as a crisis in the mid-1960s that led not only to a career implosion, but also to the destruction of his first marriage, to the soprano April Cantelo, when he fell in love with their two children’s Iranian au pair, Ashraf Naini, known as Shamsi. They were married in 1965 and had five children before her death in 2010.
Still, that marriage did not entirely end the ups and downs of his career, particularly during his tenure at the Royal Opera House, which saw some brilliant successes (including a seminal recording of Britten’s “Peter Grimes” with Jon Vickers) and some ostensible fiascoes.
Even after he stepped down from Covent Garden and was without a fixed artistic home in Great Britain, he never gave up his London address. Nor did he yield to the entreaties of some of the leading orchestras in the United States, including those in Cleveland, Boston and New York (where he was for a time principal guest conductor). Instead, he took the posts in Munich and Dresden, cultivating a new interest in the German repertory.
There is no question that the LSO post represented something of a coming home.