Andrew Davis, 80, Dies; Renowned Conductor Who Championed Britain’s Music

Andrew Davis, an ebullient British conductor who brought energy to his countrymen’s compositions and passion to hundreds of opera performances, died on April 20 in Chicago. He was 80.

His manager, Jonathan Brill, said the cause of Mr. Davis’s death, in a hospital, was leukemia.

More than many conductors, Mr. Davis was remembered by those who worked with him as deriving a sense of physical enjoyment from the music — “almost a palpable pleasure,” the pianist Emanuel Ax said in an interview. And that translated into a pleasure for his collaborators. “People loved playing for him,” Mr. Ax said.

Mr. Davis spent 21 years, from 2000 to 2021, as music director and principal conductor of one of America’s great opera companies, Lyric Opera of Chicago, in a vast repertoire ranging from Mozart through Wagner to Berg. He also led orchestras in Canada — the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, from 1975 to 1988 — and Australia — the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, from 2013 to 2019. He also conducted at the Glyndebourne Festival in England from 1988 to 2000.

But it was as an interpreter of 20th-century British music, and particularly the works of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius, Holst, Britten and others, that Mr. Davis made his mark and earned his way into the affections of his fellow Britons. With its fervid, billowing patriotism and ruminative pastoral interludes, this music sometimes struggles to cross national boundaries.

Mr. Davis conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1995. He was the orchestra’s principal conductor for a decade.Credit…Robbie Jack/Corbis, via Getty Images

Mr. Davis, as principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1989 to 2000 and at summer London Proms concerts in front of enthusiastic audiences of thousands in the Royal Albert Hall, made the most of the British compositions that were his specialty. This deep homegrown commitment led The New York Times’s Bernard Holland, reviewing a 1987 Avery Fisher Hall appearance by Mr. Davis that included little-known works by Arnold Bax and Michael Tippett, to write that “the music of 20th-century Britain has hugely profited from the fervent ministrations of British musicians and the British musical press.”

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