Iona Brown, 63; Directed L.A. Chamber Group

Times Staff Writer

Iona Brown, the celebrated British violinist who led the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1987 to 1992, has died. She was 63.

Brown died in her sleep Saturday morning at her home in Salisbury, England, after a long battle with cancer, said her husband, bassist Bjorn Arnils.

Brown was one of the few women in classical music to hold a leading position in an orchestra.

“She was an inspiration to several generations of the Academy’s players,” Sir Neville Marriner, founder of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, said in a statement issued Tuesday, “although the altitude of some of her technical and musicianly demands broke a few spirits, and her vibrant personality broke a few hearts.”


Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Executive Director Ruth L Eliel said Tuesday: “Our audiences still talk passionately about their love of her great musicality and the warmth of her presence onstage. She had a major impact on this orchestra and our audience.”

Brown was born into a musical family in Salisbury. She studied violin as a child and in 1955 joined the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, where she remained for five years. Her teachers included Hugh Maguire in London, Remy Principe in Rome and Henryk Szeryng in Paris and Nice, France.

She played in the Philharmonia Orchestra of London from 1963 to 1966. In 1964, she joined the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, where she served as music director from 1974 to 1980. She was named music director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in Oslo in 1987.

Because that position overlapped with her post with the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, her L.A. contract was not renewed in 1992. Board President David L. Gersh and Executive Director Deborah Rutter, the leadership team at the time, said that Brown’s inability to spend more than six weeks a season with the orchestra led to their naming Christof Perick as her successor.


The news blindsided Brown. “It was a great shock,” she told The Times. She said she was “deeply sad -- deeply, deeply sad” about leaving the orchestra.

But after Perick’s departure in 1994, Brown returned to serve as principal conductor and musical advisor from 1995 until Jeffrey Kahane began serving as music director in 1997.

Typical of local critics’ response was a 1993 Times review by Timothy Mangan: “There are very few musicians who in performance can get across their sheer love of music as strongly as does Iona Brown,” he wrote. “Locally, one probably has to hark back to Carlo Maria Giulini [L.A. Philharmonic musical director from 1978-84] to think of another.”

Because of severe arthritis, Brown stopped playing the violin after a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” in Tokyo in 1998 in order to concentrate on conducting, her husband said. Her last appearance on the podium was leading the London Philharmonic in Salisbury Cathedral in 2001.

Brown left a rich recorded legacy. Her many discs with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields include “The Lark Ascending,” Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” the complete set of Mozart violin concertos and Handel’s Concerti Grossi, Opus 6.

She also recorded Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto with conductor Simon Rattle and the Philharmonia and David Blake’s Violin Concerto, which was written for her. She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1986.

In addition to her husband, Brown is survived by two brothers, Timothy Brown, principal horn of the BBC Symphony, and Ian Brown, a pianist and conductor with the Nash Ensemble; and a sister, Sally Brown Hallam, a violist with the Bournemouth Symphony.

A funeral service will be Tuesday in Salisbury.