Conductor Andrew Davis, who led the Lyric Opera of Chicago and orchestras on three continents, dies

By RONALD BLUM – Associated Press

Andrew Davis, an acclaimed British conductor who was music director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and orchestras on three continents, has died. He was 80.

Davis died Saturday at the Rusk Institute in Chicago of leukemia, his manager, Jonathan Brill of Opus 3 Artists, said Sunday.

Davis had been controlling the disease for a year and a half to two years, but the disease became acute shortly after his 80th birthday on February 2. Last December, he conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the American premiere of his own orchestration of Handel’s “Messiah.”

As his 80th birthday approached, Davis was heartened by the challenge of forming an orchestra, especially young players.

“Taking all that energy and that enthusiasm and that passion, and galvanizing it into a total, totally unified concept and not just a concept, but – what’s the word? – realization,” he said last July during an interview with The Associated Press, after rehearsing the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America in workshops and then at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “I dislike them more than I would, but I hope they always have a twinkle in my eye.”

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Davis was music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1975-88 and Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival from 1988-2000; principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1989 to 2000 and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 2013 to 2019; then music director of the Lyric Opera from 2000-21.

Davis made his Lyric Opera debut in 1986 and conducted approximately 700 performances of 62 operas by 22 composers.

“He was a true artistic partner to me and a shining light to so many of us,” Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera, said in a statement. “We will miss his incredible artistry, his extraordinary wisdom, his irrepressible humor, his unfettered zest for life and his dedication to the arts and humanities.”

Davis conducted a dozen Last Night of the Proms concerts, an annual celebration of Great Britain at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He twice delivered the usual speech patterned after the Major General’s song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.

Born in Ashridge, Hertfordshire, England, Andrew Frank Davis played the organ in his parish choir and joined the choir of Watford Grammar School for Boys. He studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London, became an organ student at King’s College Cambridge and played piano, harpsichord and organ at the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields from 1966 to 1970.

He made his conducting debut with the BBC Symphony in 1970, became assistant conductor with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra, and made his North American debut with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 1971.

Davis made his debut as an opera conductor in Strauss’s Capriccio at Glyndebourne in 1973 and the following year he met his future wife, soprano Gianna Rolandi, when she sang Zerbinetta in performances of Strauss’s ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’ that he conducted in New York. York Metropolitan Opera. They married in 1989 and had a son, composer Edward Frazier Davis.

Davis became Commander of the British Empire in 1992 and Knight Bachelor in 1999. The family moved to Chicago when he was hired by the Lyric Opera.

During the pandemic, Davis translated Virgil’s “Aeneid” from Latin into English verse.

“I took a classical entrance exam at New College, Oxford,” he told NPR, “but a few weeks later I took the organ scholarship tests at King’s College, Cambridge, which to my surprise I won, so that was the end of the classics for me.”

His wife died in 2021. In addition to his son, he is survived by a sister, Jill Atkins, and brothers Martin Davis and Tim Davis. Funeral services will be private.

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