Colin Davis, renowned conductor, dead at 85

Colin Davis in 1960.
Colin Davis in 1960.
(Erich Auerbach / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Colin Davis, the renowned British conductor who worked with the London Symphony Orchestra for many years, has died at 85. A statement from the orchestra said he died on Sunday evening after a brief illness.

Davis was the longest-serving principal conductor in the London Symphony’s history, having first conducted the group in 1959. He became principal conductor in 1995 and served until 2006. He also served as president of the organization starting in 2007.

In addition, Davis had longstanding conducting relationships with Britain’s Royal Opera House, the English Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

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Known for his interpretations of music by Sibelius and Berlioz, Davis was a widely respected conductor who appeared with orchestras around the world. His wide repertoire and authoritative presence placed him in the top echelon of classical conductors in the 20th century.

Davis was the top conductor at the BBC Symphony from 1967 to 1971, and later served in a similar capacity at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. He spent most of his career in Europe, but crossed the Atlantic frequently to appear with the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic as principal guest conductor.

Born in Surrey, Britain, in 1927, Davis studied the clarinet but eventually turned his attention toward the podium. His first major conducting appointment was as assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony in 1957.

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In addition to orchestral repertoire, Davis devoted a large portion of his career to opera. Among his most notable operatic performances was Wagner’s “Tannhauser” at the Bayreuth Festival in 1978. The production was filmed and is available on DVD. His opera recordings of Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Berliioz’s “Les Troyens” won Grammy Awards.

Davis received a knighthood in 1980, one of many honors in his long career.

“He will be remembered with huge affection and admiration by the LSO [London Symphony Orchestra] and our thoughts are with his family at this time,” the orchestra said in a statement on its website.

A full obituary will appear at


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