The much-honoured English conductor Colin Davis was born in Weybridge on 25 September 1927 into a musical family. He studied at Christ's Hospital and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, studying clarinet with Frederick Thurston, and then, for his military service, playing clarinet in the band of the Household Cavalry, stationed at Windsor.
Davis then worked as a freelance conductor from 1949 until 1957 with the Kalmar Orchestra, Chelsea Opera Group and the Original Ballet Russe. In 1957 he became assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra, and in 1959 depped for an ailing Otto Klemperer, conducting Don Giovanni at the Royal Festival Hall.
The following year, when Thomas Beecham was taken ill, Davis took over a performance of The Magic Flute at Glyndebourne (on which he had already been collaborating with Beecham). Davis made his debut at the Henry Wood Proms the same year, conducting Britten, Schumann, Mozart and Berlioz, and also became chief conductor at Sadler's Wells Opera.
From Sadler's Wells he moved to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, struggling for acceptance at the Proms following Malcolm Sargent.
In 1970 Davis succeeded Georg Solti as principal conductor at Covent Garden, turning down the musical directorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and remaining with the Royal Opera for fifteen years. Whilst at Covent Garden he guest conducted with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bavarian State Opera, New York Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera and at Bayreuth.
For ten years from 1983 he was chief conductor at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, turning down similar positions at the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
From 1995 until 2006, Davis was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, after which he became the orchestra's president (following Arthur Bliss, William Walton, Karl Böhm and Leonard Bernstein).
Davis taught in Dresden and was for twenty-five years International Professor of Orchestral Studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Colin Davis died on 14 April 2013, aged eighty-five.
A selection of M&V articles about Colin Davis
Ensemble. The Quality of Mercy - Giuseppe Pennisi visits the 2011 Aix-en-Provence Festival and reports on four of the six operas
Ensemble. Searing Eloquence - A centenary performance of Elgar's Violin Concerto, heard by Robert Anderson
Ensemble. Performance to Cherish - Lawrence Budmen submits a further report from the Tanglewood Festival 2010
DVD Spotlight. Attractive and Skilful - Royal Opera's 'Hansel and Gretel', recommended by Patric Standford. '... a first class cast ...'
Ensemble. Glorious Melody - British Youth Opera's 'La Rondine', reviewed by Robert Hugill
DVD Spotlight. Spitfire Coloratura - Die Zauberflöte from Covent Garden, reviewed by Robert Anderson. '... this admirable DVD is a double first ...'
Ensemble. Truly Moving - Handel's 'Messiah', reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. Particular virtues - Richard Strauss's 'Ariadne auf Naxos' at Covent Garden, reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. Miracle for Bohemia! - 'La clemenza di Tito' at Covent Garden, with Robert Anderson