School pay tribute to Sir Colin Davis

Sir Colin Davis conducting Christ's Hospital 450th anniversary concert at the Barbican in 2003.
Sir Colin Davis conducting Christ's Hospital 450th anniversary concert at the Barbican in 2003.

Christ’s Hospital School has been paying tribute to former pupil Sir Colin Davis who died on Sunday April 14 aged 85.

Colin Davis was the president and longest serving principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

He was born in 1927 and educated at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, from 1939 – 1945.

From a large family, he was one of six children and as a consequence of his father’s deteriorating health, they were a poor family.

It was Davis’s great-uncle who suggested Christ’s Hospital and following his education at the school in Horsham, he gained a full scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London.

Davis’s most recent involvement with Christ’s Hospital was ten years’ ago, when to celebrate the School’s 450th anniversary, he joined over 400 pupils, to conduct a musical extravaganza to mark this special occasion.

The concert showed the diversity and depth of musical emphasis at the School when the pupils, under the baton of Davis, performed Shostakovich Festive Overture, a world premiere Look and Bow down by Alan Charlton,

Requiem in Blue by Harvey Brough, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante and The Rio Grande by Constant Lambert (also an Old Blue).

Prior to the performance, Davis delighted in working both individually and in small groups with the pupils.

An extract of an interview published in 2006 by the Times Educational Supplement ‘My best teacher’ by Rachel Pugh – Davis said of his old school: “Neither of my parents were musicians, but there was lots of music at home as my two elder brothers and four sisters all loved it.

“It was at Christ’s Hospital, where I went as a boarder at 12 during the war, that the world of music opened up for me.

“Christ’s Hospital was a marvellous school,” he continued. “I remember the red brick buildings and the houses going up the avenue and the chapel. It was plonked in the middle of the countryside.

“I used to go walking and bird watching from there. That need to escape to the countryside remains important to me to this day.

“What seemed so wonderful to me, even at that early stage, was that every teacher, whatever they taught, seemed to play an instrument. Two teachers in particular had a big impact on me and gave me a great deal of encouragement.

“The English teacher, Edward Malins, was good enough at the piano to play Brahms sonatas well. He used to invite me round to his home to listen and to play music, but he also encouraged me to read widely.

“So did Arthur Humphries, who taught maths, but also played the cello, the recorder and the spinet. He used to lend me score and talk to me about music, but he said that life was not about taking a narrow career path but being well-informed about many subjects to enjoy the world to the full.

“At first I was going to be a clarinettist but then at 14 I decided that I wanted to be part of the whole musical experience, not just one aspect of it, and I would be a conductor.

“The school accepted this and I was given money to buy scores,” he added.

“The very interesting music master Dr Johnson tried to teach me the piano (without success), and encouraged me to turn pages for him in concerts, to develop the basics of score reading.

“I was rejected for the conducting course at the Royal College of Music, because I could not play the piano, so I went as a clarinettist”.

Andrew Cleary, Director of Music at Christ’s Hospital “Sir Colin Davis was a remarkable and much respected world-class musician. We are immensely proud that somebody who gave so much to music was a pupil here at Christ’s Hospital. Like so many Old Blues who have experienced a life-changing opportunity at the School and who have gone on to inspire so many, we were saddened by this news but he will be remembered with great warmth and someone to whom our pupils will always aspire”.

This year, Sir Colin Davis won Christ’s Hospital’s Old Blue Special Recognition Award which acknowledges Old Blues who have made an important contribution to the profile of the School.