Sad news: Rock’s classical sponsor has bladder cancer

Sad news: Rock’s classical sponsor has bladder cancer


norman lebrecht

October 18, 2015

Almost 25 years ago I broke the story of a rock legend who had developed a passion for esoteric contemporary music, most of it by British composers. More than that, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead put his money where his heart was.

He sent money to composers and their widows to help get their music recorded. Havergal Brian, Harrison Birtwistle and Robert Simpson were three early beneficiaries.

Phil was modest and unassuming when I tracked him down. He just loved modern music.

I was very sorry to read today that he is suffering from bladder cancer and send him all good wishes. Phil, 75, has cancelled some gigs but says the tumours are non-aggressive and the prognosis is good.

My original exclusive story was published in the Independent, Der Standard, the Los Angeles Times and various other newspapers around the world. You can read it here.


phil lesh


  • John Borstlap says:

    I don’t know what is more embarrassing: information about contemporary music being ‘saved’ by a rock musician or news about the state of his urine tracts.

    • MacroV says:

      Isn’t Birtwistle perhaps more similar to the Grateful Dead than to Beethoven, at least in many “classical” listeners’ minds? And I wish him well in battling his cancer.

    • William Safford says:

      Do you really think it’s embarrassing to discuss cancer?

      Lesh studied with Berio, and was a classmate of Reich. Think of him as a well-educated patron of the arts.

    • Gerhard says:

      None of it seems as embarassing to me as this comment.

  • John Grimshaw says:

    As Chairman of the Havergal Brian Society, I am very sad to hear this news. Phil was one of our keenest supporters in the early years and I remember well meeting him on a couple of occasions when he was in London – including once backstage at a Grateful Dead concert at Wembley. A quite charming man and I hope he makes a full recovery.