Renowned British Conductor Andrew Davis Dies at 80 after Leukemia Battle

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A wave of melancholia has swept across the music world as Andrew Davis, a globally renowned British conductor, died at age 80. Known for his brilliance in molding orchestras across three continents and for his tenure as the music director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Davis passed away quietly on Saturday in Rusk Institute, Chicago, succumbing to leukemia.

The news of his demise was confirmed by his manager, Jonathan Brill of Opus 3 Artists, who disclosed that for the past couple of years, Davis had been bravely battling the disease. His condition took a turn for the worst shortly following his 80th birthday on February 2nd. The preceding December, he had demonstrated his incomparable skills from the conductor’s podium, leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the U.S. performance of his own orchestration of Handel’s “Messiah.”

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Tributes and tears flowed in from across the globe, weaving a poignant tale of a majestic maestro. Renée Fleming, the much-admired soprano, penned a heartfelt email portraying Davis as a “consummate musician” and a “phenomenal colleague.” She recounted his unique ability that lay in his quiet command, which could cast a spell over an entire ensemble of musicians making them respond to his tiniest gesture. Fleming reflected on his inherent happiness which found its rhythm and cadence in each bar of music he crafted.

Entering the eighth decade of his life, instead of being daunted by age, Davis was energized by the prospect of shaping fresh talent within orchestras, reveling in the passion, enthusiasm, and vigor of young musicians. He spoke candidly in an interview about his joy in guiding them to forming a unified vision and then bringing it to realization.

Davis’ global musical footprint was extensive. He was the music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1975 to 1988, and chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1989 to 2000. Later, he handled the baton for Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, finally leading the Lyric Opera from 2000 to 2021.

His opera debut with the Lyric Opera was back in 1987, which set the stage for about 700 performances over a span of 62 operas by 22 composers. Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud remembered Davis as an “artistic partner,” lauding his artistry, wisdom, humor, zest for life, and dedication to the arts and humanities.

Cementing his legacy, Davis conducted several Last Night of the Proms concerts, a cherished celebration of Britain at London’s Royal Albert Hall, where his style was distinct, and often included the patter of lyrics from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Sir Andrew Davis, as he was known after he was knighted in 1999, had a humble beginning, playing the organ for his parish choir. His musical journey led him to the Watford Grammar School for Boys, Royal Academy of Music, and later, King’s College Cambridge. He made his conducting debut with the BBC Symphony in 1970.

However, Davis’ life wasn’t just about music. During the recent pandemic, he translated Virgil’s “Aeneid” from Latin into English verse, indulging in a passion for classics that he had carried from his younger days.

Sir Andrew Davis leaves behind an ocean of fond musical memories and will always be remembered as, in the words of Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, “one of the finest conductors of his generation.”

Davis is survived by his son Edward Frazier Davis, a noted composer, and his siblings Jill Atkins, Martin Davis, and Tim Davis. His wife, soprano Gianna Rolandi, predeceased him in 2021. In keeping with the wishes of the family, the funeral services will be held privately.