Sir Colin Davis dies

- 14 April 2013

Sir Colin Davis, 1927-2013

Sir Colin Davis, veteran conductor and giant of the British classical music industry, died on the evening of Sunday 14 April. He was 85.

The London Symphony Orchestra, with which Sir Colin had a particularly fruitful and long-term association, released the following statement:

‘It is with deep sadness that the LSO announces the death of its esteemed President, Sir Colin Davis.

‘Sir Colin first conducted the LSO in 1959 and became Principal Conductor in 1995. He was the longest serving Principal Conductor in the LSO’s history and has been at the head of the LSO family for many years.  His musicianship and his humanity have been cherished by musicians and audiences alike.

‘Sir Colin’s role in British musical life was immense.  Alongside his commitment to the LSO, he forged special relationships with the Royal Opera House, the BBCSO, and the English Chamber Orchestra, as well as mentoring many young performers and conductors at the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School.

‘He was internationally renowned for his interpretations of Mozart, Sibelius and Berlioz, and music lovers across the world have been inspired by his performances and recordings.

‘Sir Colin passed away after illness on Sunday evening, 14th April,  at the age of 85.  He will be remembered with huge affection and admiration by the LSO and our thoughts are with his family at this time.’

The LSO’s chairman, Lennox Mackenzie, told Radio 4′s Today programme that Davis’ 11 years as principal conductor were ‘a total joy for us as musicians in the LSO’.

‘This is a deeply sad day for the LSO,’ said Mackenzie. ‘We have lost our beloved and esteemed president and one of the world’s greatest ever conductors, but also our close friend and without doubt the head of the LSO family for many years.

‘Sir Colin was simply a master conductor who possessed an innate understanding of great music, but he performed it with astonishing energy as well as care, warmth and affection.

‘Colin was ego-free, he could never understand conductors who practised self-aggrandisement. There was only one thing that Colin was truly interested in and it was music. It was his priority and it was his love, and he made it fun, and he made it extraordinary and very special.’

Sir Colin Davis, right, with his successor as LSO principal conductor, Valery Gergiev, at the Barbican in 2005
Photograph: Olivia Hemingway

Sir Colin Davis was President of the London Symphony Orchestra and Honorary Conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle.

During his career he conducted the BBC Scottish Orchestra, moving to Sadler’s Wells Opera House in 1959. He spent 1967 to 1971 as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, became music director of the Royal Opera House in 1971 and also principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1972 and the London Symphony Orchestra in 1975. He spent 1983 to 1992 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, was principal guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1998 to 2003 and was honorary conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle from 1990. He was principal conductor of the LSO from 1995 to 2006 and became the orchestra’s ninth president in 2007.

Sir Colin made his debut with the LSO in 1959 at the Royal Festival Hall. In the 1960s and seventies he conducted many of the LSO’s annual series at the Royal Festival Hall, including the Jubilee Season. In 1964 Sir Colin embarked with the LSO on its first world tour, taking in New York, West Coast USA, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong. He conducted the LSO’s Tippett/Berlioz Festival in 1982: the orchestra’s first major concert series in the newly opened Barbican. In 1993 Sir Colin and the LSO gave three complete performances of Les Troyens. In 1997 Sir Colin travelled with the LSO to New York to conduct their first residency at the Lincoln Center, and the LSO’s ‘Berlioz Odyssey’ throughout 1999/2000 saw Sir Colin conduct the orchestra in all of Berlioz’s major works. In 2007/8 he performed Berlioz and Sibelius with the LSO, and throughout 2009-2011 he conducted the LSO in a landmark series of Nielsen Symphonies, conducting these works for the first time.

Sir Colin Davis recorded widely with Philips, BMG and Erato as well as on LSO Live. Recordings for which LSO Live and Sir Colin have received awards include two Grammy awards, a Classical Brit Award and the Gramophone Award for Best Opera 2002 for Les Troyens, and the Best Opera Grammy Award in 2006 for Verdi’s Falstaff. In 1995 Sir Colin won the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal, followed by the Classic Brit Male Artist of the Year Award, and the Critics’ Award, in 2002 and the Classic Brit Male Artist of the Year Award again in 2008.

Sir Colin was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1965, and received a knighthood in 1980. He was awarded international honours by Italy, France, Germany and Finland. He was named a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2001, received the Queen’s Medal for Music in December 2009, and was awarded the Commander of the Order of Dannebrog by the Queen of Denmark in 2012.

Sir Colin Davis was born in Weybridge, Surrey in 1927.

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