John Lanchbery, one of ballet’s most sought-after conductor-arrangers, died Feb. 26 of cancer at a hospital in Melbourne, Australia. He was 79 and lived in Melbourne.
Lanchbery was long associated with American Ballet Theater, where he was musical director 1978-80. ABT used his arrangements or orchestrations for 14 productions between 1962 and 2002, including Natalia Makarova’s lavish staging of the 19th-century classic “La Bayadere” in 1980.
He was equally known for his collaborations with Britain’s Royal Ballet and its principal choreographer, Frederick Ashton. He contributed a bubbly score, compiled from numerous historical sources, for Ashton’s 1961 popular reworking of “La Fille Mal Gardee,” a much-imitated balletic comedy of 1789.
He also was a successful composer and arranger for films, notably multiple-Oscar nominee “The Turning Point” (1977), featuring dancers from ABT, and “The Tales of Beatrix Potter” (’71), with choreography by Ashton.
Lanchbery arranged two other major Ashton creations, adapting Mendelssohn for “The Dream” (1964) and Chopin for “A Month in the Country” (1976). He additionally worked at the Royal Ballet with choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, particularly on “Mayerling” (1978), arranged on Liszt.
London native trained at the Royal Acad of Music, served in the Royal Armored Corps during WWII, then became conductor of the Metropolitan Ballet in Britain, followed by work with Sadler’s Wells Theater Ballet in 1951 and on to the Royal Ballet as its principal conductor 1960-72.
He was music director of Australian Ballet 1972-78, including an arrangement of Lehar for Ronald Hynd’s “The Merry Widow” (1975). Other stints included conducted or arranging for other orgs around the world..
Kudos include the Bolshoi Medal, QEII Coronation Award and the Order of the British Empire.
Divorced from ballerina Elaine Fifield (who died in 1999), he is survived by their daughter Margaret and his companion Thomas Han.