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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Obituary: Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013)

Acclaimed British conductor known for recordings and versatility.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013.) Photo by Chris Lee.
Sir Colin Davis, the English conductor and longtime president of the London Symphony Orchestra died today after an illness. He was 85.

An acclaimed conductor and recording artist with a vast repertory, Sir Colin enjoyed a 50 year association with the LSO, serving as principal conductor for ten years before becoming its president. His career paralleled the rise and fall of the classical music recording industry, and its subsequent reinvention with the launch of LSO Live, the British orchestra's small-scale private record label.


A native of Surrey, Sir Colin studied clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music before deciding on a career as a conductor. He freelanced until 1957 when he secured a position as Assistant Conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra. In 1959, he substituted for an ailing Otto Klemperer in a performance of Don Giovanni at the Royal Festival Hall, beginning a lifelong association with the music of Mozart.

In 1970, Colin Davis succeeded Georg Solti as principal conductor as the Principal Conductor of the Royal Opera House of Covent Garden. He held that position for fifteen years. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1965 and knighted for his service to music in 1980. Starting in 1983, he was chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, returning to London in 1995 as Principal Conductor.

Starting in the 1960s, Sir Colin became a leading advocate for the music of Hector Berlioz, bringing the composer's little-performed masterwork Les Troyens into the standard repertory. He recorded the opera twice (along with all the other Berlioz stage works) in complete cycles for Philips and later, LSO Live.

He was also an expert in the music of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, making three complete cycles of the Sibelius symphonies for the Philips label (with the Boston Symphony Orchestra) and two with the LSO. He was a frequent guest conductor in Boston and at the New York Philharmonic, which he last led in December of 2011.

In the course of a 50-year career on the podium and in the recording studio, Sir Colin made many complete recordings of operas by Beethoven, Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Weber. His style was firmly rooted in the 19th century romantic repertory and it was his Mozart that was chosen for the prestigious Complete Mozart Edition released for the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death in 1991.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.