Sir Colin Davis

British Conductor (1927, Surrey – 2013, London)

Sir Colin Davis was one of the most important figures on the international music scene, acclaimed for both his operatic and symphonic work. His interpretations of a wide repertoire, from Mozart to Stravinsky and Berlioz, were considered definitive. He was an authority on Tippett.

Sir Colin Davis went to Christ’s Hospital School and then went to the Royal College of Music in London. He spent two years in military service as a cavalry musician. At 22 he made his debut as a conductor with the Kalmar Orchestra. The following year he conducted the Chelsea Opera Group in Don Giovanni by Mozart. 

In 1957 Colin Davis was appointed Assistant Conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra, his first professional appearance took place at the head of this orchestra. From 1959 to 1965 he took on the role of Musical Director of Sadler’s Wells Opera and, in 1960, made his debut at Covent Garden with the Royal Ballet. His growing professional reputation led to him touring Europe and Japan with the London Symphony Orchestra, “England’s Leading Orchestra”, in 1962 and 1963. In 1964 he embarked on a global tour with the same orchestra, he conducted 55 concerts in 11 weeks. 

During his time as Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells and the English Chamber Orchestra, he was also invited to conduct a number of concerts in the United States. In 1967 he premiered Peter Grimes, a new work by Benjamin Britten, at the New Metropolitan Opera House. 

He often went between England and the United States. He worked as Principal Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1967 to 1971 and was named as successor of Georg Solti, as Principal Conductor of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, whilst also acting as Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1972 to 1984. He directed many new productions of Mozart, Britten, Berlioz, Tippett and Wagner. Colin Davis was also the first conductor to perform at Bayreuth; he opened the festival in 1977 with Tannhäuser

Owing to his immense role in British musical life and his large, globally renowned discography (His Complete Works of Berlioz earned him 22 awards), news of his death was met with deep sadness by the world of music. 

Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Sir Colin Davis 

1957 – Made Assistant Conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra

1973 – Received the Gramophone Award for “Best Recording” for his recording of Michael Tippett’s Triple Concerto

1977 – Opened the Bayreuth Festival, first British Conductor in the entire history of the festival 

1980 – Ennobled by the Queen of England

1993 – Received the French Legion of Honour 

2006 – Received a Grammy Award for “Best Opera Recording” for his interpretation of Falstaff by Verdi