Magazine article Gramophone

Sir Colin Davis: Born September 25,1927; Died April 14, 2013: Sir Colin Davis's Remarkable Career Conducting Many of the World's Finest Ensembles Has Forever Enriched the Catalogue

Magazine article Gramophone

Sir Colin Davis: Born September 25,1927; Died April 14, 2013: Sir Colin Davis's Remarkable Career Conducting Many of the World's Finest Ensembles Has Forever Enriched the Catalogue

Article excerpt

The English conductor Sir Colin Davis died on April 14 at the age of 85. Davis's career started in earnest when he was appointed assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra (now the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) in 1957, where he was able to explore more unusual repertoire (the principal conductor tending to focus on the 'core' works), not least the composer of whom he would become a great and loyal interpreter, Hector Berlioz.

In 1959, Davis stood in for an indisposed Otto Klemperer for a performance of Don Giovanni at London's Royal Festival Hall--the critics were impressed. A year later he replaced a sick Sir Thomas Beecham in Die Zauberflote at Glyndebourne and his Mozartian credentials were established. In 1960 he joined the Sadler's Wells Opera Company and the following year became its musical director. After five years embracing the music of Mozart, Stravinsky, Weill, Pizzetti, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, as well as the world premiere of Richard Rodney Bennett's The Mines of Sulphur, he left in 1965 with some acrimony.

Passed over by the London Symphony Orchestra, which appointed Istvan Kertesz as its principal conductor in 1965, Davis was given the job of principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra where he was encouraged by the BBC controller of music, Sir William Glock, to programme new music. In 1970, he was invited by two major musical institutions to become their head--the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He opted for Covent Garden and, after a rocky start when comparisons were drawn with his predecessor Sir Georg Solti, his 15 years with the company saw him garnering fine reviews for his Berlioz (he mounted Berlioz's Les Troyens and Benvenuto Cellini), Britten, the major Mozart operas and Verdi's Falstaff, as well as more unusual fare such as Zemlinsky.

From 1983 to 1994, Davis was chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, developing a broader symphonic repertoire that embraced the symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler. He also enjoyed a close relationship with the Staatskapelle Dresden, first as a guest conductor and then as its honorary conductor. (During this period he was offered, but declined, the principal conductorships of the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic--he served as principal guest conductor of the latter from 1998 to 2003.)

In 1995, Sir Colin was appointed principal conductor of the LSO, an ensemble he'd first worked with in 1959 and with whom he toured for the first time in 1964. …

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