Farewell to conductor Colin Davis April 16 2013
Colin Davis, one of England’s premier musical talents, passed
away in the spring of 2013. He left behind countless recordings of compositions that covered a breadth of composers in a career that spanned decades and continents.
Sir Colin Rex Davis was not supposed to be a conductor. When he was born, the fifth in a family of seven children, the only possible exposure to music he had was through the family gramophone. Luckily, a wealthy relative and scholarships sponsored his education at Christ’s Hospital and the Royal College of Music. He started as a clarinetist before becoming a freelance musician and then became a conductor in the early 1950s.
Davis’ big break came when he became the assistant conductor for the BBC Scottish Orchestra, where he was able to show his skill on more avant-garde works and composers. However, he came up against the staid British establishment when he was a conductor at Sadler’s Wells and the Proms, a popular summer concert series. His modern sensibilities never meshed with the staid traditionalism of the Proms.
After a period of dissatisfaction, his career turned around again in 1967 when he became the chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He approached this work with a new maturity and less of his trademark temper. This appointment led to several opportunities as a guest conductor at prestigious orchestras worldwide, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, and many others. He was also the conductor of the Royal Opera for 15 years.
His career culminated with his position as principal conductor of the London Symphonic Orchestra. He worked there from 1995 until a year before his death and brought to life a broad repertoire from composers including Sibelius, Elgar, and Nielsen.
Throughout his career, Sir Colin Davis conducted worthy renditions of composers from Berlioz to Tippett. His hundreds of recordings included symphonies, operas, and live performances, for several different record labels. Everything from Berlioz’s Les Troyens to Nielsen’s Symphonies has been memorialized on vinyl.
One of his first great musical loves was Mozart. He performed the opera Don Giovanni frequently and later credited Mozart’s music with helping him work after his beloved wife’s death. He was also a champion of Berlioz and performed his massive work Les Troyens frequently. Another composer whose works he performed frequently was Michael Tippett, with whom he also developed a close working relationship based on their shared artistic sensibilities.
Sir Colin Davis was married twice. His first marriage to April Cantelo lasted for 15 years before the couple divorced. In 1964, he married his Persian sweetheart, Ashraf Naini. “Shamsi,” as she was called, was the love of his life, and he was heartbroken when she died of cancer in 2010. Davis had seven children between his two marriages, including Joseph Wolfe, a celebrated conductor in his own right.
Davis’ contributions to classical music were recognized by the Queen and by the British State. He received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1965 and was later knighted in 1980.
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