Lawrence Foster is one of the few American conductors to have active careers in both his native country and in Europe. He made his conducting debut at the age of 18 with an orchestra of young colleagues in Los Angeles. He studied with conductors Fritz Zweig, Karl Böhm, and Bruno Walter, and participated in the Bayreuth Festival conducting master classes in the early '60s. Soon thereafter, he was appointed associate conductor of the San Francisco Ballet, a position he held until 1965. In that year, he became Zubin Mehta's assistant conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. During this period, he continued his studies at Tanglewood, where in 1966 he was awarded the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize. Foster's first European post came in 1969, when he was named chief guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Since that time, he has held many conducting positions in the United States and abroad, including music director of the Aspen Music Festival and school, music director of the Monte Carlo Philharmonic, music director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, principal conductor of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, music director of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/National Orchestra of Catalunya, and music director of the Gulbenkian Orchestra (a tenure that began with the 2002-2003 season). Foster has worked extensively in the opera pit. In 1974, he began conducting at the Scottish Opera and two years later, made his debut at Covent Garden, leading the revised version of William Walton's Troilus and Cressida featuring Janet Baker. He has conducted at the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and both the Opera-Comique and Bastille in Paris. He is a regular guest conductor at both the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Los Angeles Music Center Opera. Foster regularly guest conducts such orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Montreal Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the London Symphony, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Berliner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Monte Carlo Philharmonic, the Strasbourg Philharmonic, the Helsinki Philharmonic, the Bamberg Symphony, the Orchestre National de Lyon, the Sydney Symphony, NHK Symphony, National Arts Centre Ottawa, and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris. He also serves as music director of Orchestre et Opéra National de Montpellier.
Foster's career reveals a commitment to contemporary music. He has presented premieres of Harrison Birtwistle's Tragoedia (1965) and The Triumph of Time (1972); Alexander Goehr's Piano Concerto (1972, with Daniel Barenboim as soloist); Gordon Crosse's Symphony No. 2 (1975); and Paul McCartney's oratorio Standing Stone at the Royal Albert Hall (1997). Foster's has recorded some unusual repertoire, such as Enescu's Oedipe (2001, with José van Dam and Barbara Hendricks, which was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque), and the first recording of the revised version of Walton's Troilus and Cressida.