Obituary: Sir Colin Davis (1927–2013)

It is with deep sadness that the LSO announces the death of its esteemed President, Sir Colin Davis.

Sir Colin first conducted the LSO in 1959 and became Principal Conductor in 1995. He was the longest serving Principal Conductor in the LSO’s history and has been at the head of the LSO family for many years. His musicianship and his humanity have been cherished by musicians and audiences alike.

Sir Colin’s role in British musical life was immense. Alongside his commitment to the LSO, he forged special relationships with the Royal Opera House, the BBCSO, and the English Chamber Orchestra, as well as mentoring many young performers and conductors at the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School.

He was internationally renowned for his interpretations of Mozart, Sibelius and Berlioz, and music lovers across the world have been inspired by his performances and recordings.

Sir Colin passed away after illness on Sunday evening, 14 April 2013, at the age of 85. He will be remembered with huge affection and admiration by the LSO and our thoughts are with his family at this time.


Sir Colin Davis was President of the London Symphony Orchestra and Honorary Conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle.

Sir Colin made his debut with the LSO in 1959 at the Royal Festival Hall. In the 1960s and 70s he conducted many of the LSO's annual series at the Royal Festival Hall, including the Jubilee Season. In 1964 Sir Colin embarked with the LSO on its first world tour, taking in New York, West Coast USA, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong. He conducted the LSO's Tippett / Berlioz Festival in 1982: their first major concert series in the newly opened Barbican. In 1993 Sir Colin and the LSO gave three complete performances of Les Troyens. In 1997 Sir Colin travelled with the LSO to New York to conduct their first Residency at the Lincoln Center, and the LSO's 'Berlioz Odyssey' throughout 1999-2000 saw Sir Colin conduct the orchestra in all of Berlioz's major works. In 2007-2008 he performed Berlioz and Sibelius with the LSO, and throughout 2009-2011 he conducted the LSO in a landmark series of Nielsen Symphonies, conducting these works for the first time.

Sir Colin Davis recorded widely with Philips, BMG and Eratoas well as on LSO Live. Recordings for which LSO Live and Sir Colin have received awards include two Grammy awards, a Classical Brit Award and the Gramophone Award for Best Opera 2002 for Les Troyens, and the Best Opera Grammy Award in 2006 for Verdi's Falstaff. In 1995 Sir Colin won the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal, followed by the Classic Brit Male Artist of the Year Award, and the Critics' Award, in 2002 and the Classic Brit Male Artist of the Year Award again in 2008.

Sir Colin was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1965, and received a Knighthood in 1980. He was awarded international honours by Italy, France, Germany and Finland. Sir Colin was named a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2001. Sir Colin received The Queen’s Medal for Music in December 2009 and was awarded the Commander of the Order of Dannebrog by the Queen of Denmark in 2012. 

During his career Sir Colin conducted the BBC Scottish Orchestra, moving to Sadler's Wells Opera House in 1959. He spent 1967 – 71 as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, became Music Director of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1971 and also Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1972 and the London Symphony Orchestra in 1975. Sir Colin spent 1983 - 1992 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, was Principal Guest Conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1998 - 2003 and was Honorary Conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle from 1990. He was Principal Conductor of the LSO from 1995 – 2006 and became the orchestra’s seventh President in 2007.

Sir Colin Davis was born in Weybridge, Surrey in 1927.