Born in Budapest, Lehel studied privately with Pál Kadosa
in composition and Lázló Somogyi in conducting, and also attended the Budapest Academy of Music. He made his conducting debut in 1946, and in 1950 he began working regularly with Hungarian radio. He became music director of the Hungarian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra, also known as the Budapest Symphony Orchestra
, in 1962. Despite Communist restrictions on artists' movement, was able to tour with the orchestra and guest-conduct, and in 1974 was even appointed principal guest conductor of the Basel Radio Symphony Orchestra, but his most concentrated work was at home in Budapest. Lehel recorded a great deal of Hungarian music from Liszt
, but he was also a particularly strong champion of new Hungarian music. He received the Liszt
Prize in 1955 and 1962, was named Artist of Merit in 1967, and was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 1973.