Sir Colin Davis - farewell to a champion of new music
Fulsome tributes are appearing around the world to Sir Colin Davis who has died aged 85. In his later years Sir Colin was revered for his towering interpretations of established masterpieces, but his commitment to new music also needs to be remembered. He was given little credit for his work as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1967 to 1971 laying the foundations that his successor Pierre Boulez built on so successfully. Indeed, as the following list shows, he was championing new music well into Boulez’s tenure with the orchestra: among the first performances – either world (wfp), European (efp), or UK (ukfp) – that Sir Colin conducted with the BBCSO were Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 2 (efp1966), Walton Capriccio burlesca (ukfp 1969), Thea Musgrave Clarinet Concerto (wfp 1969), Hugh Wood Cello Concerto (wfp 1969), Shostakovich Symphony No 2 (efp 1969), Gordon Crosse Violin Concerto No 2 (wfp 1970), Kurt Weill The Lindbergh Flight (ukfp 1970), Malcolm Arnold Fantasy for Audience and Orchestra (wfp 1970), Malcolm Williamson The Stone Wall: opera for Audience and Orchestra (wfp 1971), Gordon Crosse Celebrations (ukfp 1972), and Peter Racine Fricker Symphony No 5 for Organ and Orchestra (wfp 1976).
Sir Colin’s advocacy of the music of Sir Michael Tippett is also particularly noteworthy: he conducted the premiere of The Knot Garden in 1970 shortly before becoming music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and his recordings of the composer’s first three symphonies for Decca with the London Symphony Orchestra from the same period remain the definitive accounts of these overlooked masterpieces. Another less celebrated aspect of Sir Colin’s work was his devotion to young musicians: just two examples that received coverage here were his searing account with a student orchestra in 2006 at Snape Maltings of Elgar’s First Symphony – close your eyes and you would have thought the conductor was the same age as the players – and his workshop performance of the same work with the Chamber Orchestra Anglia in 2008 – “Oh you see, I don't worry about status'” – where I took the header photo. The critics were divided about Sir Colin’s conducting of the Götz Friedrich directed Ring at Covent Garden, but his 1976 Götterdämmerung provided my wife and me with a memorable wedding present. Thank you Sir Colin, and it is fitting that you have now joined the gods in Valhalla.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2013.