Obituary: Sir Colin Davis (1927–2013)

Alan Bell

We were fortunate to be able to attend many of his LSO rehearsals in that wonderful sunset period of his life when he finally got the LSO job he'd always wanted, and what a glorious decade plus that was for both the orchestra and Sir Colin. In the break of one rehearsal, instead of leaving the Barbican stage, he chatted with as many of the players he could corral--and that was a lot of them! What struck us about what we were watching was his enjoyment in their company. He wasn't playing "maestro", there didn't appear to be the usual hierarchical or social distance between the boss and the workers, because it was obvious that he thought of himself as another one of the players. Most of us just get older with the passage of time, but he seemed to have grown in patience, wisdom and warmth over the years, and every performance showed it. Not many his age were doing better work in their 80s than in their 40s! A great man, a great life. Thank you, Sir Colin.


Dianne Vastenavond

The LSO concerts conducted by Sir Colin Davis at the Barbican will always be remembered gratefully. J.S. Bachs Matthew Passion with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Maestro Davis on March 8 2008 at the Concertgebouw here in Amsterdam is still unforgettable!! Thank you for these finest concerts.

Met oprechte deelneming, with warmest sympathy to the family of Sir Colin Davis and all LSO musicians.


Derek Bacon

Sir Colin was my musical hero. An exemplary man. So many wonderful memories of his utterly committed performances. A life well lived.



GRAZIE Sir COLIN, mi hai insegnato tanto!

La tua musica vivrà in eterno e continuerà ad arricchire il mondo.


Margaret Jackson

I sang in the Chelsea Opera group chorus during the 1960s and 70s and never experienced such an inspirational conductor as Colin. He was wonderful with amateurs, a great communicator who always got us to sing better than we thought we could. I learnt so much about music from him, and together with other choirs took part in unforgettable performances of The Trojans and the Berlioz Requiem. I followed his subsequent career avidly and still think his Don Giovanni and first Ring Cycle at Covent Garden were the best ever. His energy and dynamism were phenomenal. I'll never forget him. I hope his friends and family will be consoled by the knowledge that he gave so much to so many.


Oliver Balaburski

Big loss for the world of the music. His legacy will stay forever. RIP Maestro Davis.


Jenny Beattie

Just to add my condolences to the LSO and everyone connected to Sir Colin; a sad loss to the world of classical music.


Jorg Hans Isler

Herzliches Beileid. Das LSO verliert in Sir Colin das Gewissen fur Mozarts Orchestermusik. Es wird schwer zu ersetzen sein.


Viola Moore, Germany

We all have to go one day, but the day always comes too soon!


What a great conductor - how many wonderful hours he gave us, listening to his interpretations of music, especially Sibelius (Swan of Tuonela) or Berlioz (Symphonie Fantastique)! So may I say thank you, Sir Colin Davis, for the wonderful presents you gave to us - may you rest in piece. Certainly with us, you will never be forgotten. With deep sympathy for his family and friends


Halit Basar

I had the great privilege of attending many concerts given by Sir Colin with the LSO, during my studies in London. One which I can never forget was his conducting of Bruckner's 7th symphony, during which tears constantly kept falling from my eyes. As I learned the sad news of his death a few moments ago again I could not hold my tears . May he rest in peace.


David Gladwell

The death of someone you haven’t met can cause a ripple, but the death of Colin Davis is more like the death of a dear friend. He was due to conduct The Turn of the Screw on Thursday: it will be a painful occasion. I can’t remember exactly when I first heard him, but I shall never forget the Marriage of Figaro he conducted at Covent Garden in 1971, a sublime, moving experience which resonates within me four decades later. He has been an integral part of my (musical) life ever since. Recently, Bruckner with the Guildhall School Orchestra, his exploration of the Nielsen symphonies with the LSO. An integral part of the memory is of his joy on the podium, energetic, dancing with the music, relishing it with his whole being. How fortunate we were to have been there.


Gabriele Poli

Grazie "Maestro" Riposa in pace!


Ian Morgan

The majority of tributes which I have seen rightly praise Sir Colin for his association with the music of Mozart (I still have the wonderful recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto that he made with the late Jack Brymer), Berlioz, and Sibelius. However, he was a marvellous interpreter of, and enthusiast for, the great works of Elgar, and I am sure many of my fellow Elgar Society members will remember him with great fondness. How I wish that I had been able to see him conduct in person.


Roger Dodd

I send my deepest condolences to Sir Colin Davis and his family and the London Symphony Orchestra. I have only just heard the very sad news by the loss of a great musical giant Sir Colin Davis.


Markus Laska

Condolences!! Great conductor, great musician. I'm born in Munich, where he was always present... And proud to be M.Pertusi's agent, who won the grammy thanks to Sir Colin!


Alan Baber

I was very saddened to hear yesterday evening of Sir Colin's death. Like him, I went to Christ's Hospital (I was there from 1972-79), and I know that the school was very proud of his outstanding accomplishments.


In 2002, as part of Christ's Hospital's 450th Anniversary celebrations, Sir Colin participated in a concert at the Barbican Centre, performed by the pupils.


He was, without any doubt, one of the world's greatest conductors, and will be continued to be regarded as such. He was a simply brilliant communicator, both to audiences and fellow musicians, and his passion and enthusiasm were there for all to see.


My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this very sad time.


May he Rest In Peace.


Terumasa Tomio

It was always a great experience to attend your concert with LSO at Barbican. I was very happy to be in London in 1990s when you were at the peak of your career and to visit London quite often again in the recent years until my very last opportunity to attend the incandescent concert of 11 December 2011 with Mitsuko-san. Thank you very much, Sir Colin. I will continue to listen your great recording archives.


Robin Hall

I joined the London Symphony Chorus in 1966 - in time for Sir Colin's first Berlioz cycle. In the intervening 47 years we may have spoken only three or four times including when he came occasionally to sing bass at rehearsals for the Berlioz works. But I feel huge gratitude to him because the continued excitement of singing in his performances has made a real impact on my life and the performances of The Trojans in particular are among my most treasured musical experiences. Condolences to his family for the loss of a very great man.


Isabelle Bacon

Deeply saddened to hear last evening about Sir Colin Davis’ death, though I am not sure this is the way to say a short word add to the many messages sent to the LSO and to the Barbican.


Having moved to London 18 years ago, I tried as often as possible to share his passion and watch him, last June Berlioz Requiem at St Paul was a moving tribute to Sir Colin, and so many of us were moved to tears… including myself.


My sister in Seoul was overwhelmed when she saw him earlier this year, but I was sad when I read that he was not feeling well and could not conduct the concert scheduled last 24th March, and now I understand that he will be no more with us. A well lived life, for sure, but we selfishly want him forever conducting and transmitting his dynamism and passion. We were so fortunate to see him and watch him so often, but never enough.


Chris Brasnett

In my young life, I have only had the privilege of seeing Sir Colin in concert once, but what a concert it was - the Berlioz Requiem in St. Paul's last year, soon after I had finished my A-levels. Late booking meant that our seats were at the other end of the Cathedral, but I shan't forget the sight of him slowly rising out of his chair at the greatest moments of the work - was it excitement, necessity, or an artistic adding of more drama? It may have been all three, but it doesn't matter when it made the moments all the more thrilling. We can but hope to match his Berlioz. RIP.


Lauri Tarasti, President of the Sibelius Society of Finland

We in the Sibelius Society of Finland send our deepest condolence in order to honour the great memory of Sir Colin Davis, the long-time conductor of the LSO. He will remain in the Finnish and international music history as one of the best conductors and interpreters of the music of Jean Sibelius.



I like master of Haydn and Berlioz, master all the way walk good


Rafael Company De Renzi

Sir CoLin Davis will be remembered by his ground breaking performances of Berlioz. Thanks to him, this composer, who had fallen into neglect, was resurrected again. His Haydn was also glorious.

I send to his family my deepest sympathies on his death.


Brian Haynes

Colin and I were very good friends. I was at Christ's Hospital 1936 - 1943.

Many very happy memories..thank you Colin

So long old chap.....


Alan Haine

It seems impossible that Sir Colin has gone from us. One of the first LPs I bought in 1962 was of his recording with the LS0 of Mozart's 39th & 40th Symphonies--still one of my favourites. My first visit to the Proms in July 1964 was to hear Sir Colin conduct the LSO and soloists and chorus in Haydn's "Seasons": an evening I shall nevr forget. In recent years my visits to the Barbican to hear Sir Colin conduct have been highlights iny my musical life. I shall never forget so many great occasions that he has conducted and am very thankful to have had the privilege of being present at so many of his concerts and still to be able to enjoy so many of his wonderful recodings.


Peter Sadler

Thank you Sir Colin for giving me my introduction to Berlioz back in early 1980s with a truly electrifying Damnation of Faust in London. Now living in Houston I flew my wife and two chidren to New York a few years ago just to hear Sir Colin do it again. I had to bribe the children with tickets to the Lion King, well, they were still a little young to appreciate: I was not disappointed. No one can do it like Sir Colin did it.


Himadri Chatterjee

Like many others, I imagine, it was through Sir Colin's recordings that I became acquainted with, amongst other things, Mozart's operas. How different my life would have been without them! I have been privileged also to have seen him performing live on a number of occasions - most recently in a blistering performance of Verdi's "Otello". It seemed barely credible that so gentle a presence could unleash such raw passion. Rest in Peace, Sir Colin, and thank you.



Mes plus sincères condoléance à sa famille dans le chagrin. Sir Colin Davis m'a donné la joie de pouvoir écouter des références discographiques qui ont marqué ma vie de mélomane.

La musique est la plus fidèle compagne de ma vie.

Je n'oublierai jamais ce grand Chef Anglais qui a si bien dirigé la musique de notre cher Berlioz


Karen Aw

It was a great honor to perform with Sir Colin Davis during the Royal Choral Society combined concert with LSC and LSO. Thank you for your warm and generous gesture during my short sting in London 2003. Your musical repertoire will forever lives.


Erica Miner

I am terribly saddened by this news. Sir Colin Davis was a musical giant, whose performances and recordings were of major importance in my musical upbringing. His work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra was unforgettable. It seemed he would go on forever. I mourn his passing along with musicians and music lovers the world over. His legacy will live on.


Rafael Suarez

Gracias por lo que hiciste, Maestro


William Rainey

My deepest condolences on Sir Colin's passing. As a young man in love with classical music, his recordings of Berlioz in the 1960's made me a life time lover of Berlioz's life and works.


Annick LEMEILLET - Toulon Var

C'est avec beaucoup de peine que j'ai appris la disparition de votre chef qui a su, pour nous francais, reveiller avec tant de chaleur la musique de BERLIOZ.

Nous ne l'oublierons pas.


David Lawrence

My musical, and life hero is gone.


I was fortunate to have met Sir Colin several times. In person, to a complete novice like me he was gentle, patient and kind in the extreme. He seemed to have a mystical reverence for music.


I live in Massachusetts in the USA. All these years I have regretted knowing that he could have been ours once upon a time, had the Boston Symphony realized the opportunity and seized it when they had the chance. Of all the mistakes the BSO have made, that was probably the biggest of all.


Sir Colin always seemed to have time to talk to people. He made you feel like a friend, one who would be just as much at home over a pint or 2 in a pub as he was on the podium at the ROH or the Barbican,


One time, I met him in a green room. As we chatted, he remarked that the French don't like Sibelius. I had to agree. Then he says, "They don't like Berlioz either!" To which I blurted out "You know, I never understood that. If I were them, his statue would be up on top of the Arc de Triomphe!". He looked at me and burst out laughing, doubled over, tears in his eyes, then put his arm around my shoulder. He was that kind of guy.


Another time, I heard some one ask him if he wanted to be referred to as "Maestro" or "Sir Colin". With his gentle smile he said, "Just Colin, please."


To me as an American, Sir Colin personified the very best of all that is good about Britain. No one will ever be able to touch his Mozart, his Sibelius or, most of all, his Berlioz.


I once asked him why he made the changes he made between the Sibelius cycle he did with the Boston Symphony in the 1970's, and the one with the LSO 25-odd years later. He smiled and said "Time . . . It all sounds different to me now.".


I was living in London in 2001 at the time of the LSO Berlioz Opera cycle. When it came time for "Les Troyens", I did one of the smartest things I ever did in my life. I scraped together all my frequent flier miles and spare cash, and flew my Dad (a lifelong Berlioz and Sir Colin fan) to London. We saw 2 of the 3 "Les Troyens" performances.


It was the only time I ever saw my Dad cry - at age 70, no less. It was the "Royal Hunt and Storm" that did it. Those who were there doubtless remember the sound, the power and the ecstasy that swept through the Barbican in those evenings. My Dad grabbed me. We were transported to a different place. For the first time that I could remember since being a child, my Dad and I held onto each other for the ride of his life and of mine.


So, thank you Sir Colin. Thank you for Sibelius, thank you for Berlioz, and thank you from me and my Dad for finally bringing us together.


When you get where you are going, please stop in and say hi to my Mom and Dad. You'll see them in the music hall. They are on stage playing 2nd and 3rd horn in the Mahler 5th. Leonard Bernstein is conducting. They will be as honored to see you as I have been.


(Of note: My parents actually did play 2nd and 3rd horn in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. That's how I got here)


David Borrill

Bring us, 0 Lord God, at our last awakening

into the house and gate of Heaven,

to enter into that gate

and dwell in that house, where there shall be

no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;

no noise nor silence, but one equal music;

(Donne) RIP Sir Colin.


Rae Woodland

I am so sad to hear you have left us. Rest in peace.


Adam Stern

Music Director, Seattle Philharmonic

Music Director, Port Angeles Symphony

Maestro Davis has been an inspiration to me for nearly fifty years; the beauty and sincerity of his performances -- especially, but hardly limited to, his Mozart and Sibelius -- have been models which represented just what music-making could and should be. I extend my condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.


Pilou Brown

We had the great honor to see Sir C. Davies during the Festival in Aix en Provence. Will never forget it. Merci Maestro.


David Johnson

A shining light in his era of great music making. He will be sorely missed.


David Jeremy Trembath

Am very sad to hear the news today that Sir Colin Davis passed on yesterday.


He gave many people much pleasure by his superb conducting.


Peter Bree

It is with immense sadness that I heard of the death of Sir Colin Davis. My sincere condolences to his family and to the LSO. I remember with gratitude and affection many a memorable concert he conducted, with the BBC SO at the Proms, with the LSO at the Barbican, and with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw -- unforgettable Berlioz and Haydn. Now we only have the recorded legacy of this true gentleman, who will be greatly missed.


Philip Bartle

I attended countless concerts conducted by Sir Colin and it was an enormous pleasure to learn so much about the works from his conducting. The Berlioz and Sibelius cycles stand out for me as some of the greatest musicianship I have ever enjoyed. Also all the many semi-staged operas. His death is a great loss and it's unbearably sad that we will never see the LSO being conducted by him again.


Alexandros Charkiolakis

One of the best conductors in the 20th and 21st century...may he rest in peace...


Kathryn Barram

Praying through Handel's Messiah this morning, April 15, on behalf of a friend in pain, and not having access to my CD's which are stored away, I found the complete Messiah on youtube conducted by Sir Colin Davis.


Unaware he had passed into eternity just hours ago until now, I am very moved at the timing of this mighty work led by a mighty musician and celebrate that Hallelujahs are for all of us who believe. Praying this is so for both Sir Davis and his family.