The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The great British conductor Sir Colin Davis is dead at 85. Here is a round-up of stories and remembrances, appreciations and obituaries. | April 21, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

In case you haven’t already heard, the great British conductor and longtime music director of the London Symphony Orchestra  Sir Colin Davis (below) died last Sunday at 85 after a brief illness.

Sir Colin Davis conducting

The news came unexpected to The Ear as Davis seemed actively involved in conducting almost up to the end. He seemed to have the stamina that would take him well into his 90s – especially since the aerobic act of conducting seems conducive to conductors have long careers and lives.

But then again, the obituaries make it clear that he suffered deeply from the death of his wife.

I never heard him live. But I loved his recorded performances –- and he recorded prolifically with some 250 albums to his credit. In the works of Sibelius and Berlioz he was a stalwart champion and acclaimed master. He also championed British composers such as Edward Elgar, William Walton and Benjamin Britten.

But I also liked his complete command of the Classical era-style in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven – symphonies, concertos, operas, oratories and other choral works. (Below is the cover of his recording on the London Symphony Orchestra‘s own in-house label LSO Live of the Berlioz Requiem.)

Sir Colin Davis LSO Berlioz

Sir Colin earned fame and a fine living early on (below) in the 1950s and 1960s. But I especially liked that his career seemed to peak late in his life –- a good riposte to the cultural tendency today to worship prodigies and young achievers. He was never better than when his hair turned white.

Sir Colin Davis

There is also something endearing and Britty eccentric about Davis who liked to sit in a chair and think about musical interpretations while he was puffing on his pipe and knitting.

Yes, knitting.

And in his stage performances and touring, and it sounds to The Ear as if Sir Colin led a very good and very full life. Which may help explain why Sir Colin’s music-making sounded so healthy and robust and natural rather than neurotic or forced. (Below is a photo of Sir Colin at his home.)

Sir Colin Davis at home

Anyway, here are links to some of the best stories, remembrances and obituaries I found along with a fitting YouTube video of Sir Colin conducting Mozart’s Requiem at the bottom):

Here is a comprehensive and compassionate overview of Sir Colin’s life and career from NPR’s always outstanding blog “Delayed Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/04/14/177257680/remembering-colin-davis-a-conductor-beloved-late-in-life

And here is a story from Sir Colin’s native UK:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130415/classical-music-world-mourns-legendary-conductor-sir-colin

Here is a column, with some details of Sir Colin’s personal life and turmoil, by Anne Midgette of The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/colin-davis-celebrated-british-conductor-dies-at-85/2013/04/15/7fd2d87a-a5df-11e2-b029-8fb7e977ef71_story.html

Here is a link to BBC report:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22148334

Here is a link to report from The New York Times:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sir-colin-davis-british-conductor-dies-at-85/

And here is a story from another UK source, The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/apr/14/sir-colin-davis-obituary

Here is a report from the UK wire service Reuters:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/04/15/uk-davis-idUKBRE93E0BJ20130415

And here are two more from the Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-colin-davis-dies-conductor-20130415,0,5286281.story

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/colin-davis-dead-london-symphony-conductor-dies-at-85_n_3083817.html

Did you hear Sir Colin live? What did you think?

Do you have a favorite recording?

A word of tribute about Sir Colin to leave in the COMMENTS section?

The Ear wants to hear.


1 Comment »

  1. Jacob, I heard Sir Colin live with Hilary Hahn when they did the Elgar concerto in 2004. Great performance–I was there to see her for the first time, so it was hard to focus on his efforts. 🙂 He and Hilary also did a masterfully serene version of The Lark Ascending by Vaughan-Williams on the CD of that piece. I did my own blog post on this! https://chrismcgovernmusic.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/sir-colin-davis-1927-2013-the-lark-ascending-with-hilary-hahn/

    Comment by Chris McGovern — April 21, 2013 @ 7:54 am


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