Norman René Del Mar was one of the most respected of British conductors, although he did not became a famous international name in his profession. He was also a noted scholar on the subject of music.
He studied violin, horn, and composition at London's Royal College of Music. His composition instructors were R.O. Morris and Ralph Vaughan Williams. He had conducting lessons with Constant Lambert. During World War II he saw service as a member of the Royal Air Force Central Band. He was also a member of the Royal Air Force Symphony Orchestra and appeared as such when it toured the United States in 1944.
He worked as a composer, and arranger after the war, while conducting an amateur orchestra, which eventually grew into the Chelsea Symphony Orchestra. The group was famous for giving premieres of music, including works by Dohnányi, Richard Strauss, Hindemith, and Poulenc, and for presenting for the first time to British audiences little-known but important works that had been premiered in Europe during the preceding 15 years or so. This led him to become an assistant conductor with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1947.
In 1948, when the aging Richard Strauss came to England for a Strauss Festival, Del Mar made his professional debut in one of the concerts attended by the great composer. After that he frequently conducted at Sadler's Wells and English Opera Group performances. While building his professional career, he showed his continuing interest in student and amateur orchestras, and typically received fine results with them.
He became conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 1960, leaving it in 1965 in remarkably improved condition. He was also the chief conductor of the Göteborg (Gothenburg) Symphony Orchestra (1969 - 1973) and of the Chamber Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music (1973 - 1977).
He began devoting more time to teaching. In 1972 he was appointed an instructor of conducting at the Royal College of Music. He was principal guest conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (1982 - 1985) and artistic director of the Århus Symphony Orchestra (1985 - 1988).
Meanwhile, he had published critically acclaimed studies of Paul Hindemith (1957) and Richard Strauss (in three volumes, 1962, 1968, and 1972). He wrote an exceptionally valuable sets of essays on the interpretation of many of the major compositions in the standard orchestral repertory, and other books more oriented towards general readership.