Robert Irving; Musical Director for Balanchine, Graham Ballets

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Robert Irving, former musical director of the New York City Ballet, Britain's Royal Ballet and the Martha Graham Dance Company, has died at 78.

He died Friday at Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, according to a death notice published this week in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. The cause of death was not announced.

A decorated World War II veteran who also worked at the Royal Opera House, Irving accepted an invitation from George Balanchine to join the New York company in 1958, and remained until 1989.

Born in Winchester, Irving began studying piano at age 6 and the cello at 15. After graduating with honors from Oxford University, he joined the staff of the Royal Opera House in London in 1936.

After the war he was associate conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra for three years, then was appointed associate conductor at the Royal Opera House in 1949. He became musical director of Sadler's Wells Ballet, as the Royal Ballet was then known, and then went to work for Balanchine.

He met Miss Graham in 1959 when she and Balanchine were choreographing "Episodes," and conducted for her regularly throughout the 1960s and '70s.

His obituary quoted from Irving's unpublished memoirs, in which the conductor said his happiness was the result in part of his diverse interests, including mountaineering, bridge and horse racing. He owned several thoroughbreds.

"I have had no time to repine over the relative anonymity of working in the pit," Irving wrote. "And I return to my sometimes repetitive job there with, I trust, freshness and zest, after seeing my horse run a gallant, and, occasionally, a profitable race."

Irving was unmarried, and the death notice did not mention survivors.

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