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Renowned conductor Sir Andrew Davis CBE (KC 1963) dies

Sir Andrew Davis, Organ Scholar at King’s under the tutelage of Sir David Willcocks, passed away on 20th April 2024, aged 80.
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The College records with sadness the death on 20 April of Sir Andrew Davis (KC 1963), whose career as a leading musician and conductor spanned more than half a century of work with many of the world’s greatest orchestras and opera companies. Before that, as Organ Scholar under David Willcocks, he not only played for great services such as A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols but also participated with the Choir in numerous recordings, among them the Chandos Anthems of Handel, the Vivaldi Gloria and the music of Thomas Tallis.

An early appointment with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was followed by a directorship of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and then a long period back in the UK when he combined the Chief Conductorship of the BBC Symphony Orchestra with his role as Music Director at Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Since the millennium he had been Music Director of Chicago Lyric Opera while also for some years making the rather longer commute to Australia, where he served as Music Director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

His repertoire was vast and fearless, though he had a deserved reputation as a particularly sympathetic interpreter and champion of British music. A reverence for tradition – he was a much-loved and unashamed conductor at the last night of the Proms – never detracted from his willingness to promote new work. At Glyndebourne in 1990 he conducted the UK première of Michael Tippett’s New Year; and in 1999 he conducted the BBCSO at the Royal Festival Hall in the première of Richard Causton’s Millennium Scenes. Richard (Fellow of King’s and Professor of Composition) recalls this as a ‘watershed moment’ in his own career, while The Guardian recorded that the composition was ‘virtuoso stuff and was given the superlative performance it deserved’.

His true métier was located undoubtedly on the conductor’s podium rather than on the organ stool; yet in a tribute following the death of Sir David Willcocks in 2015, he claimed that the most challenging work of his life had been as a student, in the daily ascent of the stairs to the organ loft in the Chapel.

In 1992, Maestro Davis was awarded a Commander of the British Empire for services to British music, and in 1999 he was designated a Knight Bachelor in the New Year Honours List.

A full obituary will appear in the College Annual Report early next year, but you can read more here

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