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British Conductor Sir Andrew Davis has Died, Aged 80

One of the longest-serving chief conductors of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Davis was undergoing treatment for leukemia before his passing in Chicago


Born in Hertfordshire, England, in 1944, Sir Andrew Davis studied piano and composition at London’s Royal College of Music, and took up conducting during his time at King’s College, Cambridge, where he served as organ scholar. 

With a diverse repertoire ranging from Baroque to contemporary, and spanning symphonic, operatic, and choral music, Davis was mentored by the Italian conductor Franco Ferrara in the late 1960s.

Davis’ first major conducting role began in 1970, when he was appointed associate conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He also served as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) from 1975 to 1988, and at the Glyndebourne opera house until 2000.

During his tenure as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (BBC SO) beginning in 1989, Davis restored the tradition established by Malcolm Sargent for the BBC SO’s chief conductor to lead the Last Night of The Proms; he also championed new works and those by twentieth-century composers including those by Janáček, Messiaen, Boulez, Elgar, Tippett, and Britten.

In 2012, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) appointed Davis as its chief conductor — a role that the MSO extended into 2019. His other engagements included conducting the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

In 1987, Davis appeared with the Lyric Opera of Chicago for the first time, and became their music director and principal conductor in 2000. Over the next 20 years, he led around 700 performances of over 60 operas by dozens of composers.

Well-recognized for his acclaimed interpretations of Wagner, Verdi, and Mozart, his extensive discography includes his 2022 album of Berg’s Violin Concerto/Three Pieces for Orchestra with the BBC SO, and the works of Berlioz, Bliss, Elgar, which won the 2018 Diapason d’Or de l’Année. Three of his recordings were nominated at the GRAMMY Awards, while another won the 2021 JUNO Award for Best Classical Album.

In 1992, Sir Davis was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and was made a Knight Bachelor in the 1999 New Year Honors. His other accolades included an honorary doctorate by Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

“All of us at Lyric Opera of Chicago join the entire classical music world in mourning Sir Andrew’s passing,” wrote the company’s general director Anthony Freud in a statement. “He was a true artistic partner to me and a shining light for so many of us. We will miss his incredible artistry, his extraordinary wisdom, his irrepressible humor, his unfettered zest for life, and his devotion to the arts and the humanities. We have all been incredibly fortunate to have had Sir Andrew as a constant inspiration for so many years.”

“The news of his passing has come as a shock and is terribly sad,” expressed Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artistic planning vice president, Cristina Rocca in a tribute. “Sir Andrew was a wonderful, warm, charming person and a brilliant conductor who served music with such love, passion, knowledge and commitment! His legacy is huge, and he will be remembered with great fondness and deep respect everywhere … He gave so much to music, and we will miss him greatly.”

Sir Davis is survived by a son, a sister, and two brothers; his wife, the American soprano Gianna Rolandi, died in 2021. Our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. 


Vaughan Williams | Symphony No. 5 | Frankfurt Radio Symphony | Sir Andrew Davis | 2016

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