Skip to main content

At risk of potentially tacky understatement, this has not been the best week in the history of humanity.  But even before the horrors of Monday, for one small niche of people, this week had a bad start on Sunday, with some sad news from across the Atlantic.  Last Sunday, the British conductor Sir Colin Davis died, age 85.  Best known among classical music aficionados for his conducting of the music of Hector Berlioz, Davis had notable careers with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO).  In fact, he had been booked to conduct concert performances with the LSO of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw this week, on Tues. 4/16 and Thurs. 4/18.  However, it was not to be.  As a bit of a side note, with respect to this week, there is even a connection between Davis and Boston.  More below the flip.....

Tributes to Davis have been flowing thick and fast the whole week.  The LSO's own tribute is at this page.  Obviously the focus has been on his greatest moments of music making, his successes in conducting Berlioz, his "Indian summer" period with the LSO, and the best of his opera years.

As with any artist, though, not all is sweetness and light.  In this tribute in The Guardian, the British music writer David Nice notes that in the early part of his career, Davis was often, though not always, a "plays well with others" type, in the context of him being considered for principal posts in the 1960's with either the Royal Opera House of the LSO:

'.......doubts were voiced about his stability, and many musicians found him, as he admits he then still was, "a bit hard and tactless".'
Adam Sweeting, in the obit from the UK arts blog The Arts Desk, notes similarly:
"In 1961 he was appointed music director at Sadler's Wells Opera, where he delivered notable performances of works by Stravinsky and Beethoven's Fidelio, but during this period he became notorious for his abrasive manner towards his workmates."
Robert Ponsonby, a former controller of The Proms, commented more generally in his tribute in The Independent, expanding the scope of Davis' attitude more broadly:
"He was wryly aware of his anarchic streak. No respecter of persons, he detested hypocrisy and pomposity. He was unconventional to the point of childishness, once putting out his tongue when booed at Covent Garden."
In this article from the Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen tempers the tributes just a bit, which even has a bit of a nod towards politics in the general sense:
"For all the passionate humanity in his conducting style, however, he could be tetchy, surly and cantankerous with colleagues, and those at the receiving end of his witheringly sardonic tongue often found it hard to forgive him. The absence of emollient diplomacy in his personality (he was a conviction musician, not a compromiser) meant that his stint at Covent Garden would prove a roller-coaster ride."
In this 2011 NYT article, Michael White quoted Davis in this retrospective self-assessment:
"In his own words, he was 'a furious young man with personal problems and an unbridled temper' that made for stormy encounters with the succession of English musical organizations he ran from the 1960s through '80s. Several of his appointments didn't start well. Most ended badly, with recriminations."
The 'personal problems' included falling big time for the Iranian au pair girl in the mid 1960's who looked after the 2 children from his first marriage.  Davis' first marriage broke up as a result.  He found the Iranian girl, Ashraf Naini (nicknamed Shamsi), married her (in ceremonies in both the UK and Iran), and enjoyed a long and happy marriage that produced 5 children and only ended with Lady Davis' death in 2010, which hit Davis hard, as White noted (with a flare of Davis' acid tongue noted earlier):
".....to visit him is to enter a house where he seems to pad around, broken and lonely. He admits to it. And when I made the no-doubt fatuous observation that life was different now without his wife, he replied with barely disguised bitterness, 'That is your greatest understatement of the morning.'

'Left alone, it's difficult to see the point of doing things you used to do together,' he added. 'Which is very undermining.'"

In this compilation of mini-tributes in The Guardian, the general director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Sir John Tooley, remembers, shoving any ill feelings under the rug, but with just barely enough for you to read between the lines:
"The 15 years that Colin and I shared at Covent Garden were a wonderful time. True, it was difficult at the beginning, but that's been the same with other music directors. And that difficulty wasn't because of Colin being awkward; it was because he couldn't really come to terms with authority. All that he was interested in was making music – his humility put him at a huge disadvantage when it came to things like the board."
This statement about difficulty with coming to terms with authority, perhaps both internal and external, potentially explains a lot about maybe why there were so many issues.  Obviously something must have changed over the decades, because in a further self-assessment in discussion with the NYT's White, when it came time to offer Davis the principal conductorship of the LSO in the 1990's:
"'So when they offered me the job, I agreed, on one condition: that I had no power, because it lands you into situations you can do without.'

Renouncing power, after so many years of exercising it unhappily, was part of his self-reinvention. The deal with the London Symphony was that he would conduct but not hire, fire or take on the usual all-around responsibilities of a music director.

'I vowed I'd never be responsible for an orchestra again...and my only regret is that I didn't come to that conclusion earlier in my life. But there you are. You learn.'"

Davis expanded on this in a more meta sense, in this 2011 interview by Tom Service from The Guardian:
"One's ego becomes less and less interesting as you get older, to oneself and to everyone else. I have been around it too long.

The less ego you have, the more influence you have as a conductor. And the result is that you can concentrate on the only things that really matter: the music and the people who are playing it. You are of no account whatever. But if you can help people to feel free to play as well as they can, that's as good as it gets."

What we now remember and celebrate from Sir Colin Davis is, of course, memories of his performances, and audio and video mementos of his music making.  From YT, you can get a sampling such as these items:

(a) Berlioz, Requiem, 2000 Proms, Royal Albert Hall:

(b) Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, 2011 Proms, RAH (his last Prom):

(c) Haydn, The Creation, Barbican Centre, London:

(d) Handel, Messiah, Barbican, London:

If one had to pick just one area where Davis will be rememebered for particular set of contributions to classical music, it will undoubtedly be for his advocacy of the music of Hector Berlioz, in concert and on record.  The former TV producer and now author Humphrey Burton, who also became Davis' brother-in-law by dint of his first marriage, commented here, also from The Arts Desk:

"You have to be of a certain age to remember the excitement of those Berlioz years: it was a genuine voyage of discovery for everybody who participated and remains, I would submit, Colin Davis's most significant contribution to the way we think about the music of the 19th century."
Davis pretty recorded the complete orchestral music and operas of Berlioz, for the-then Philips label.  In particular, his recording of Berlioz's single largest work, Les Troyens, in its complete form, was the first commercial recording of the work, issued around the time of the Berlioz (death) centenary year of 1969.  Davis had been immersed in the music of Berlioz for a number of years before that, and also had preparation from conducting the work live at Covent Garden.  The Berlioz discography has expanded considerably since Davis, of course, but his recordings remain benchmarks in recorded Berlioz advocacy.  He got to revisit many of the major Berlioz works during his LSO period for their self-produced LSO Live label.  As you would expect, the LSO dedicated the Tuesday concert to Davis, and I expect the Thursday one as well.

I mentioned pre-flip that there was a connection between Davis and Boston.  That connection is that he was principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1972 to 1984.  You can read the BSO's tribute page to him at this link.  Some of the articles cited here mentioned that back in the early 1970's, Davis was actually a leading candidate to be music director of the BSO.  However, based on the accounts of his relatively young-ish personality, and probably by his own estimation, Davis didn't really have the temperament to be the music director of an American orchestra, with its requirements for schmoozing and glad-handing donors.

Davis was also a strong advocate of the music of Michael Tippett, selected operas of Benjamin Britten (notably Peter Grimes), and the symphonies of Sibelius.  In fact, in this summer's schedule for The Proms in London, you can find the program for Prom 51, which features music of Tippett, Britten, and Sibelius.  The orchestra is the LSO.  But if you click through to the link, you'll see that no conductor is listed.  No prizes for guessing who was probably originally booked as conductor.

I was lucky enough to hear Davis conduct live twice, both times with the LSO, but in NYC (go figure).  No Berlioz, but Czech music and British music on the respective concerts.  Both were of very high quality, as you might expect, which is some indication of his assessment of his time with the LSO as "the best time of my professional life".

BTW, there's an interesting coincidence between composer (Berlioz) and Davis (conductor and leading advocate).  Berlioz's instrument was the guitar.  Davis' was the clarinet.  Neither of them learned to play the piano.  Not that these coincidences really mean anything, but.....

So we remember here Sir Colin Davis, and say thanks for the great musical moments that he gave the world.  If you were fortunate enough to see him conduct live, feel free to share any memories.  Or if you know his recordings and have some favorites, likewise, discussion is welcome.

Or given that this is another 3CM diary series mash-up, if you want to observe the usual SNLC protocol, you're welcome to do so.....

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  need cover next week (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ExStr8, oculus, Dumbo, cfk, shari, Youffraita

    Anyone want to do it?  I won't be around to reply to comments, so even if I write an SNLC to autopost, someone else would have to blog-sit.  Any takers, please post here.

    So, from here; at a volunteer event, met someone who looked pretty cute and seemed very nice.  However, at the end of the evening, when it was pouring rain, I didn't have an umbrella to walk her to her car.  Someone else got there ahead of me.

    "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

    by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 07:37:43 PM PDT

  •  his don giovanni (7+ / 0-)

    may be the best recorded.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 07:42:41 PM PDT

    •  haven't heard CD's recording of 'DG', but..... (6+ / 0-)

      ......have heard very good things about it.  I remember from reading various old Penguin Guides that Philips was pretty good and generous about capturing Davis on opera recordings from the Covent Garden years.  How times have changed for the recording industry.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 08:08:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I should be able to blogsit next week.... (6+ / 0-)

    for awhile, anyway, if you've got an autopost in the wings.

    Life's been busy recently, but not so busy as to not assist with SNLC if necessary.  I always look forward to the Saturday night installments, even if I don't comment.

    "Mitt who? That's an odd name. Like an oven mitt, you mean? Oh, yeah, I've got one of those. Used it at the Atlas Society BBQ last summer when I was flipping ribs."

    by Richard Cranium on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 08:00:07 PM PDT

  •  I was privileged to hear this concert (5+ / 0-)

    at the Barbican. My expectations were not particularly high, as I really wanted to hear Gergiev conduct the LSO again and I had never heard Friere perform. Wonderful concert. Sir Colin was lauded by the musicians and the audience.

    Davis' 50th anniversary of first performance w/LSO

    Did I need to know about the au pair?  Probably not.

    Non sequitur:  NY classical station will broadcast The Proms

    Music this week:  Jeremy Denk recital @ Soka University. Andras Schiff recital @ Walt Disney Hall. Both terrific.

    •  sounds like quite the occasion (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, cfk, oculus, shari, Youffraita

      I've heard that the Barbican Centre acoustic is pretty lame, though.  How did it seem to you?

      Maybe you didn't "need" to know about the au pair, but it's reality and it happened, so there we are.

      Soka University = USC?

      Which NYC station?  Of course, with teh internets, it's kind of moot, i.e. one can get to BBC Radio 3 easily, but good on the NYC station.  Hopefully there's enough people appreciative of The Proms in NYC to listen.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 08:15:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Soka University of America in (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shari, Youffraita, chingchongchinaman, cfk

        Orange County. Beautiful campus and a fine new performing arts venue:   Link

        •  hmm, hadn't heard of the place (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Youffraita, cfk

          I took a look at their website, and saw that Soka University is quite new.

          "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

          by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 10:54:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The concert hall opened last season I think. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Youffraita, cfk, chingchongchinaman
            •  speaking of CA university concert halls.... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              oculus

              .....the SLSO went back to the concert hall at UC Davis for a second residency in the past few years, this past March.  What I didn't realize then, but read this time around, is that the executive director of the UC Davis arts center is Don Roth, who was executive director of the SLSO in the late 1990's.  Roth cleaned out the accounting books of the SLSO then, which desperately needed them, as he found out just how bad the finances were and how mismanaged they were in years prior to him.  I was told that to balance the books at the time, draconian cuts would have been needed, and Roth resigned rather than take steps to implement the cuts.

              "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

              by chingchongchinaman on Sun Apr 21, 2013 at 09:03:42 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  WQXR: (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shari, Youffraita, chingchongchinaman, cfk

        NYT

        It depends re acoustics at the Barbican. I heard the LSO perform the Mozart Requiem, conducted Franz Weiser-Moest; the performance lacked depth. But the later concert I linked to above was wonderfully robust. My biggest quarrel re the venue is remembering where the auditorium is w/I that immensely confusing complex.

        •  hmm, it's actually..... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Youffraita, cfk, oculus

          ......not that big a deal, because NPR's Performance Today already selects a number of Proms during a given summer for stateside broadcast.

          I walked through the Barbican once just to see the neighborhood, after visiting a museum nearby.  The Barbican is a confusing complex indeed.

          "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

          by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 10:56:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Whoa, I bought some SMOKY Scotch. (5+ / 0-)

    This stuff called Finlaggan.  Unusually cheap, $18.00, but it has had reviews that range from excellent to awful.  I think now I'm sorry I was so intent on getting a smokier Scotch.  Next time I'll stick to Speyside types and avoid the Islay types.  

    The best way i could describe the smell and taste is: smoked salmon.  That's about as neutral and honest a description as I could give it.  

    That Macallan's 10YO was so good, I miss it now.  It really grew on me.  It was so smooth it seemed tame, but after drinking it, the lingering smell on my breath for hours afterward was fantastic.  "Floral," I guess I would say.  Very, very, very different.  And the whiskey itself was kind of fruity, like a weak 80 proof white wine.

    Eowyn9 volunteered to do Thursday Classical next week, and Lone1c is going to take over sometime soon next month.  I'm mostly out of that business.  I'm planning some other diaires on different matters.

    I have one queued up about an unusual subject: symmetry and asymmetry.  I think it's entertaining, but I don't know how you would categorize it.  Science and metaphysics, perhaps.  I was going to post it last Monday and then all the Boston Marathon crap hit the fan and I decided it would be better to wait for the air to clear.  

    I wish there was a way to check the daily traffic statistics on DailyKos so we can see when the good days and times are to post diaries.  They probably have something like that, too, just perhaps not available to everybody.

  •  hi (5+ / 0-)

    I have been partying all week.  Lots of fun.  I saw all 8 grandbabies during the week and had four stay overnight.

    They trundled off at noon and I took a nap.  :)

    Chocolate cake with candles on Thursday and lemon pies, yesterday.  I was spoiled rotten.  

    Best wishes to all here!!

    I think spring is really trying to come, but it snowed last night anyway.

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 08:40:29 PM PDT

    •  sounds like fun there (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cfk, oculus, shari, Youffraita

      The lack of spring aside, that is.  The weather's kind of like that here recently, with the swings between rather high temps (upper 70s) and much lower (30s at night).   No wonder we've had tornado warnings a few times this month.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 08:59:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  No snow here, cfk, but (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chingchongchinaman, cfk, oculus

      yesterday the high was in the 70s. After the rain came through, the temperature dropped, and it was chilly & windy this morning. And chilly again tonight. But I'm glad we didn't get snow, or the kind of temperature drop that Denver did (Frankenoid wrote about her dead flowers this a.m., when they got 22 degree temps but not enough snow to insulate the blossoms.)

      P.S., congrats on getting to party with the grandbabies!

      Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

      by Youffraita on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 10:54:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I suppose the one good thing about all the..... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Youffraita, cfk

        ......rain so far this year here is that Big River is more or less restored to past levels, which is certainly good for barge traffic, not to mention the water table.  I just hope that it doesn't rain too often like that this year.  But then all that water from the melting polar ice caps has to go somewhere.

        "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

        by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 10:58:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I know I heard Sir Colin conduct at least once (5+ / 0-)

    Covent Garden, 1981; if I'm not mistaken it was Sampson et Delilah. Needless to say the performance was stellar, as was the cast. I supect I probably heard him conduct at Lincoln Center as well, probably in the 1970's but whatever the occasion I've long since forgotten. One my earliest acquisitions (on vinyl; while I was in college) was Davis conducting a compilation of Mozart overtures.

    •  CD was principal guest conductor of the NY.... (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sfbob, oculus, shari, Youffraita, cfk

      .....Phil for a few years, in the later part of his career.  Of course, I'm sure he did plenty of other appearances in NYC before then, probably some with the Boston Symphony, and besides tours with the Covent Garden company.

      "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

      by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 09:06:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's been raining off and on all week. (4+ / 0-)

    Several storm fronts have come through.

    I have arthritis and weather-triggered migraines.

    It's been a really fun week, yeah. Not even adding in the damn finger.

    When you come to find how essential the comfort of a well-kept home is to the bodily strength and good conditions, to a sound mind and spirit, and useful days, you will reverence the good housekeeper as I do above artist or poet, beauty or genius.

    by Alexandra Lynch on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 11:36:30 PM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site