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Subject: John Lanchbery, Who Arranged Music for Ballet

Dies at 79
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Date Posted: March 02, 2003 10:23:20 EDT

John Lanchbery, one of the dance world's most successful and sought-after conductors and arrangers of ballet scores, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Melbourne, Australia. He was 79 and lived in Melbourne.

The cause was cancer, said Kelly Ryan, a spokeswoman for American Ballet Theater.

Mr. Lanchbery was long associated with Ballet Theater, which used his arrangements or orchestrations for 14 productions between 1962 and 2002, including Natalia Makarova's lavish staging of the 19th-century classic "La Bayadère" in 1980. He was also that company's musical director from 1978 to 1980.

Yet he was especially known for his collaborations with the Royal Ballet in Britain and its principal choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton. When Ashton wished to do a totally new version of "La Fille Mal Gardée," a much imitated balletic comedy of 1789, Mr. Lanchbery examined the scores for the work that various composers had provided for choreographers over the years. The one he compiled was essentially based on music that Ferdinand Hérold had composed in 1826, but also included music from other sources. Ashton's "Fille" was an instant success at its Royal Ballet premiere in 1961 and Mr. Lanchbery's bubbly score contributed to the merriment.

He arranged two other major Ashton creations, adapting Mendelssohn for "The Dream" (1964) and Chopin for "A Month in the Country" (1976). He also worked successfully at the Royal Ballet with the choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, most ambitiously on "Mayerling" (1978), a stormy multiact production to arrangements of Liszt.

As an arranger Mr. Lanchbery knew how to use music for dramatic effect. As a conductor he respected the integrity of scores, at the same time subtly adjusting tempos to suit the dancers onstage.

Mr. Lanchbery was born in London, trained at the Royal Academy of Music there, served in the Royal Armored Corps during World War II, and after the war became conductor of the Metropolitan Ballet, a small British group known for its high standards. He began working with the Sadler's Wells Theater Ballet, the Royal Ballet's second company, in 1951, and later moved to the main company, serving as its principal conductor from 1960 to 1972.

Mr. Lanchbery always maintained ties with the Royal Ballet, yet he loved being a globe-trotting musician. He grew fond of Australia, served as the music director of the Australian Ballet from 1972 to 1978, and arranged Lehar's music for Ronald Hynd's popular balletic version of "The Merry Widow," which that company staged in 1975.

Mr. Lanchbery also conducted or arranged scores for troupes in Paris, Stockholm, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Houston. Last year he conducted in several Japanese cities.

His ballet experience made him a successful composer and arranger for films, notably "The Tales of Beatrix Potter" (1971), Ashton's choreographic treatment of those stories; and "The Turning Point" (1977), featuring dancers from Ballet Theater.

Mr. Lanchbery's honors include the Bolshoi Medal, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award and the Carina Ari Medal. In 1991 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

Mr. Lanchbery married the ballerina Elaine Fifield; they divorced, and she died in 1999. He is survived by their daughter, Margaret Lanchbery, of Melbourne. Mr. Lanchbery is also survived by his companion, Thomas Han.

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