April 21, 2013

NEC Joins the Music World in Mourning the Death of Sir Colin Davis

British conductor Had Close Relationship with Boston Symphony Orchestra Beginning in 1970s

Renowned for Performances of Mozart, Berlioz, Sibelius, Haydn, Tippett

New England Conservatory joins the music world, and particularly Boston, in mourning the death of Sir Colin Davis, the internationally admired British conductor who, during his career, led the BBC Symphony, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and London Symphony Orchestra. With a career on both sides of the Atlantic, he served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1972—1983 and with the New York Philharmonic from 1998—2003. The conductor died April 14 at the age of 85.

Davis was renowned for his penetrating readings of Mozart, Berlioz, Sibelius, Haydn, Elgar and Tippett. Bostonians with long memories will particularly recall his riveting and completely rethought interpretations of the Sibelius symphonies, which he recorded with the Boston Symphony in the 1970s. Those angular, granitic, uncompromising performances stripped away all the romantic excrescences accumulated over the years and revealed the authentic bedrock of the music.

NEC President Tony Woodcock heard many Davis performances both in Britain and the United States and remembered the conductor with great admiration and affection:

“The first time I ever saw Colin Davis conduct was with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1967. A very curious but poignant thing happened that night. As the young Davis was hitting his stride, who should appear on the podium between works but the great man himself, Sir Malcolm Sargent. Doyen of the Promenaders, he had been Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony for many years prior to Davis. It was known that Sargent was extremely ill and he made his impromptu appearance basically to say goodbye to his musical world and the audience that loved him so much.

“Davis stood aside, his aureole of frizzy hair reminding me of Berlioz, a composer he adored, or perhaps an early rendering of Gustavo Dudamel!! His courtesy and graciousness to his highly esteemed predecessor spoke eloquently of a man who never seized the spotlight as an egotistical showman or musical maverick. Rather, he was always the consummate and selfless artist, a well-rounded and grounded personality, intellectually curious, and always committed to penetrating deeper into the music he performed.

“I saw him conduct many times and remember so well his Peter Grimes at Covent Garden where the Sea Interludes became the structural foundation of the whole opera. Or Berg’s Lulu, Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet and, of course, Mozart. It was Mozart for whom he seemed to have an intuitive connection. He grasped the phrasing and style and structure in a way that so few conductors comprehend. (And I include the historically informed, period instrument folks).

“The last time I heard him was with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, again with Mozart on the programme. My wife had insisted it must be a priority in an otherwise overly crowded week. She was right. The concert was deeply felt and deeply satisfying on so many levels. And still, there was that full head of bouncy hair and that self-effacing stance before the music and the musicians. He was a gentleman of the podium and one of the jewels of the orchestral world.”


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world. Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide. Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions. On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors. Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall. These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes. Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Senior Communications Specialist
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115