Sir Andrew Davis, ex-chief conductor of BBC Symphony Orchestra, dies aged 80

<span>Sir Andrew Davies was a veteran conductor who was described as ‘a vital force in British music’.</span><span>Photograph: Dario Acosta</span>
Sir Andrew Davies was a veteran conductor who was described as ‘a vital force in British music’.Photograph: Dario Acosta

Sir Andrew Davis, a conductor who performed with many of the world’s finest orchestras, has died at the age of 80.

Throughout his long career Davis held many roles, including for more than a decade those of chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (BBCSO) and musical director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

Between 1988 and 2018 he led proceedings at the Last Night of the Proms on 12 occasions, twice delivering the customary conductor speech in the manner of the major-general in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance: “This is the very model of a modern music festival.”

Among those to pay tribute to Davis on Sunday was the mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly, who said she was saddened by the news.

“I can’t use the word ‘dead’ because in my memory he’s hearty and hale, self-deprecating and humble, smart, funny, super-sharp musically and I’m grateful the fates allowed us to work together.”

She added: “Sir Andrew’s wish was to make things easier for his musicians and that takes great kindness, a deep soul and no arrogance. When I see bad, mean behaviour from any conductor it looks pathetic, because getting the best outcome does not require bullying or put downs.”

The cellist and music campaigner Julian Lloyd Webber said Davis was “a great musician who was wonderful with his soloists. I treasure the memory of a lovely Delius concerto in 2012 [with the Philharmonia Orchestra].”

The pianist Stephen Hough said Davis was “a wonderful collaborator in concertos – the sharpest ear and clearest stick”.

Sakari Oramo, the chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, posted on X: “Remembering with greatest respect and admiration everything Sir Andrew Davis did for music, and particularly for dear BBCSO over many decades. Always with distinction and kindness.”

The orchestra described Davis as a “vital force in British music for many decades and a friend to us all. He will be greatly missed.”

The Royal Opera House said Davis made his debut there in 1983, conducting Der Rosenkavalier.

On X, the ROH said: “We are saddened to hear of the death of conductor Sir Andrew Davis. In a career spanning over five decades, he was the artistic leader of several of the world’s most distinguished opera and symphonic institutions including @BBCSO and @glyndebourne.”

Davis was born in 1944 and went to Watford grammar school for boys before studying at the Royal College of Music and King’s College, Cambridge, where he was an organ scholar.

His career took him across the world, with Davis also leading the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Davis died in Chicago on Saturday. According to the Slipped Disc classical music website, he had been diagnosed with leukaemia last year.