English conductor Edward Downes was born in Birmingham on 17 June 1924. He studied piano and violin from the age of five, and was a boy chorister. He studied English literature and music at Birmingham University. A Carnegie scholarship from the University of Aberdeen enabled him to study conducting with Hermann Scherchen.
In 1952 he became an assistant to Rafael Kubelik at the Royal Opera House in London, working with the company for seventeen years, then returned regularly as a guest conductor until becoming associate music director in 1991.
Downes was chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Orchestra and had a long relationship with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic) as chief guest conductor, principal conductor and conductor emeritus.
He held the post of music director at Australian Opera from 1970, and in 1973 conducted the first performance in the Sydney Opera House - the Australian premiere of Prokofiev's War and Peace. He had previously given the British premiere at Leeds Town Hall in 1967. Downes was a strong advocate of Prokofiev, Verdi and British music - in particular the symphonies of George Lloyd and music by Peter Maxwell Davies and Malcolm Arnold.
Awards include a CBE in 1986 and a British knighthood in 1991.
Following the diagnosis of his wife's terminal cancer, Downes and his wife Joan (formerly a ballet dancer, choreographer and TV producer) chose to end their own lives on 10 July 2009 at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich. Edward was 85 and Joan was 74.
A selection of M&V articles about Edward Downes
Ensemble. An Overwhelming Theatrical Experience - Opera North brings Janácek's 'Jenufa' to Nottingham, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Beauty and Power - Australian soprano Nance Grant, heard by Howard Smith. '... an exceptional voice seldom heard beyond local shores.'