Sir Colin Davis

(25 September 1927 - 14 April 2013)

The renowned English conductor Colin Davis was the London Symphony Orchestra's longest-serving principal conductor.

Davis was born in Weybridge, the fifth of seven children. He studied clarinet at the Royal College of Music in London, and played in the band of the Household Cavalry while serving in the army.

Colin Davis started off his conducting career with the Kalmar Chamber Orchestra and with the Chelsea Opera Group. He became Assistant Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 1957, and moved to Sadler’s Wells in London in 1959 as Principal Conductor and subsequently Musical Director (1961-1965). One notable early performance of his was in 1958 when he conducted a performance of Die Entführung aus dem Serail in London.

Colin Davis made his American debut with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in December 1960, as a guest conductor. He then took up engagements with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He served as principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1972 to 1983. In January 1967, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York conducting Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes.

Colin Davis was the chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London from 1967 to 1971. During this period, he conducted at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, succeeding Georg Solti as its Musical Director in 1971. One of his important milestones as a conductor was a production at Covent Garden of Wagner's Ring cycle between 1974 and 1976.

In 1977 Colin Davis became the first British conductor to conduct at the Bayreuth Festival, in a performance of Tannhäuser. He conducted the Royal Opera on tour in South Korea and Japan in 1979, and in the USA in 1984.

In 1983 Colin Davis was appointed chief conductor of the Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester (Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) in Munich, which he brought on tour to North America in 1986. The same year he stepped down as music director at Covent Garden to devote himself fully to his role in Munich and to take up guest conductor engagements with major orchestras and opera houses thoughout the world. He was Honorary Conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle since 1990.

In 1988 Colin Davis was appointed to an international chair at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1993 he stepped down from his Munich position. In 1995 he became Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and began this new appointment with concert performances of Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet and Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He conducted in the Bruckner Mozart Festival with the London Symphony Orchestra and toured with them in the Canary Islands and Switzerland. He then conducted Berlioz's The Trojans at La Scala, Milan in April, before returning to London for Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in May. In 2003 season, Sir Colin also worked with the Dresden Staatskapelle, New York Philharmonic and Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester. From 1998 he was also Principal Guest Conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

Colin Davis was an authoritative interpreter of such masters as Mozart, Berlioz, Sibelius and Igor Stravinsky. He also championed the cause of his British contemporaries, most notably Sir Michael Tippett.

Sir Colin Davis recorded widely, including Gustav Mahler's Symphony No 8 and Lohengrin with the Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester, Sibelius' Symphonies Nos. 2 and 6 with the London Symphony Orchestra, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream with the London Symphony Orchestra and the complete L.v. Beethoven Symphonies with the Dresden Staatskapelle in December 1995.

Sir Colin Davis was awarded international honours in Italy, France, Germany and Finland. He also received many awards in Britain, such as the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal in 1995. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1965, and was knighted in 1980. 

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