Elgar Howarth was educated in the 1950s at Manchester University and the Royal Manchester College of Music - the predecessor of the Royal Northern College of Music - where his fellow students included the composers Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies and Alexander Goehr, and the pianist John Ogden. Together they formed New Music Manchester, a group dedicated to the performance of new music.
His early career as a trumpeter began at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, then as Principal with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and as a frequent Guest Principal with the Philharmonia, London Symphony and BBC Symphony Orchestras.
In 1968 he became the solo trumpeter of the London Sinfonietta and enjoyed a ten year period with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble as player, conductor, composer and arranger. In 1975 he retired from playing to follow a conducting career, appearing regularly with leading orchestras, both in the UK and worldwide, premiering Ligeti's opera "Le Grand Macabre" in Stockholm, a succession of operas by Birtwistle at Covent Garden, English National Opera and Glyndebourne, and Brett Dean's "Bliss" in Sydney in 2010. At the Garsington Festival Opera he conducted a series of 8 operas by Richard Strauss - a long-time ambition.
As a former trumpeter he writes mainly for brass. Swedish trumpet virtuoso Håkan Hardenberger has recorded several of his works, including "Canto" and "Capriccioso". He was brought up in a brass band family and maintains his interest in this traditional form, making a huge contribution to the modern repertoire by his advocacy of the bands' artistic possibilities to composers new to the medium. Many of his own works are recorded, notably by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and the Eikanger-Bjørsvig band of Norway.
Having retired from professional conducting, his current activities include an appointment as Consultant to the Royal Academy of Music as Head of their Brass Chamber Music, and as occasional conductor of an outstanding local orchestra - The Kingfisher Sinfonia - in Suffolk, his present home. He is President of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain.