Summing up Sir Colin Davis

Colin Davis Mstislav Rostropovich Proms 1964 Brahms Cello Concerto
Davis pictured with cellist Rostrapovich taken during rehearsals for a 1964 Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, published by BBC today.

Just over 24 hours ago, the LSO announced that conductor Sir Colin Davis has died at the age 85. A page on the LSO was swiftly distributed on Twitter and Facebook, where people were directed to leave their messages of condolence. In the space of an hour.

The Guardian’s Conol Urquhart acknowledges the speed at which the news of Davis’ death was reflected on Twitter:

Minutes after his death, Davis’s name began trending on Twitter. Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour party wrote: “Colin Davis made a historic contribution to music – in this country & worldwide. Condolences to his family”. Katherine Jenkins, the Welsh soprano, was one of hundreds of fans who expressed their sadness.

Unexpectedly, I was drawn to the radio an hour or so after I discovered of Davis’ death, first expecting that Radio 3 continuity would make reference to it in between the end of Drama on 3 and the beginning of World Routes. When Classic FM tweeted they’d be playing a special selection of Davis-related recordings from midnight, it was then I realised how much I wanted to pay homage. Radio 3 picked up the baton at Breakfast between 6 and 9 the following morning with Petroc Trelawny introducing a selection of notable Davis recordings too. Classic FM changed their scheduling for a ‘Full Works’ concert with an interesting programme of works conducted by Davis.

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Prom 62: Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra / Davis

I fear I’m beginning to flag just a bit when it comes to promming. I’m still as committed as I was to begin with (even if some other people I know may question this given my comparatively poor attendance – Prom 62 brings my personal best to 23, I think) but having stood for three hours at the concert in a packed arena my back is telling me what my thighs and feet have been feeling for ages. I’m getting tired.

This might be why I spent a great deal of time concentrating on other things during the Beethoven Violin Concerto. At first I was struck by how people weren’t coughing that much. I started trying to work out what the reason might be. Was it that the audience – a full house – were on the whole quite a healthy bunch? Had people watched the video? Had they taken notes ? Was the message getting through?

(Self-obsesion is a nasty trait. I must do more to stamp it out.)

I suspect the real reason was that Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is unusual in its’ dynamic range. Orchestra and soloist have to get to grips with what might at first seems like a fairly straightforward score. But factor in the pianissimos daubed all over the score and the idea of breathing let alone coughing during the performance is would guarantee embarrassment. There was no way anyone wanted to disturb the atmosphere in this one and risk drawing attention to any ills or stubborn medical conditions.

Personally, I want to listen to this back if only to give the entire concert a second go. Assessing why everyone was so unusually quiet had taken up quite a lot of my attention not to mention the sight of one man in front of me in the arena who’d missed a loop with his belt when he dressed himself in the morning. This and a definite case of broken wind emanating from the second row (I was on the fourth row, I hasten to add) towards the end of the first movement of Sibelius’ second symphony made this evening’s concert quite an arduous task.

Still, some others rather liked it and at least there’s iPlayer and a modest sound system at home to go some way to recreate the experience.