Since this ‘By the By’ series began, we have brought you several tales that fall into the ‘truth really can be much stranger than fiction’ category.
Here is another to add to that list. Sir Andrew Davis, one of Britain’s most distinguished conductors, made his professional debut playing “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside” in Watford Palace Theatre.
The theatre’s regular pianist had jaundice so young Davis, then a pupil at Watford Boys’ Grammar School, was asked to stand in for him for six weeks.
Ten years later, aged 26, the by-then-graduate of King’s College, Cambridge, was invited to act as a stand-in again. But this time his challenge was rather more taxing - to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra, at the Festival Hall, in Janáček’s famously difficult Glagolitic Mass.
He rose to the challenge brilliantly and a stellar career was under way.
The first Briton to conduct all top five American orchestras, Sir Andrew became associate conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 1970. Later he was appointed music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Then in 1989 he took over as conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
During his 11 years with the BSO he conducted many Last Nights of the Proms and became famous for his witty speeches, two of which parodied the Major-General’s patter song in The Pirates of Penzance.
However, there was nothing pre-ordained about his rise to fame. Sir Andrew was born in a Nissen hut (it was 1944) in the grounds of Ashridge House near Berkhamsted. His father was a printer’s compositor and his mother was a ‘parlour pianist’. His first years were spent in Chesham before the family moved to a house backing on to Cassiobury Park.
Although he has worked abroad for many years -- he is currently principal conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago and chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – Sir Andrew has maintained some connection with the local area. Improbably, he found time to open the Croxley Green Parish Council craft fair in 1998.
The following year he was knighted and four years later he was invited to conduct a Proms concert marking the 50th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation.
Sir Andrew appears to have a healthy taste for self-deprecation, however, and admits that his closest encounter with the Queen was at a lunch for 12 people in Buckingham Palace. “I sat with Prince Edward in order to plan the programme for the anniversary concert,” he later recalled. “We knew lunch was over when the corgis arrived.”
Sir Andrew Davis will be conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
in a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Bliss’s cantata, The Beatitudes, at the Barbican on May 12.
for further details...
Contribution by - David Budge