Elgar Howarth studied music at Manchester University and the Royal Manchester College of Music, where his first study was composition. His conducting career began in the early 1970s and since then he has appeared regularly with all the leading orchestras of Great Britain, both in the concert hall and in the recording studio. He has appeared at major festivals abroad - mostly in Europe - and toured Japan with the London Sinfonietta, an orchestra he has conducted regularly both in the UK and abroad from the beginning of his career. His operatic achievements cover a wide repertoire and include the world premiere of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, followed by productions of the same work in Hamburg, Paris and London.
In 1985 he made his debut at Covent Garden with Tippett's King Priam which he later performed with the same company at the Athens Festival. He conducted the world premiere of Birtwistle's Gawain at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in May 1991 and the revival in 1994, which has been released by Collins Classics. In 1996 he conducted Henze's The Prince of Homburg and Zimmermann's Die Soldaten, both at the English National Opera. For his work on these productions he won the 1997 Olivier award for "Outstanding Achievement in Opera". He retains an interest in composing especially, as a former trumpet player, for brass instruments. His works are published by Chester Music and Novello, and are much recorded, particularly on the Decca label.