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Maxwell Davies, Sir Peter (1934-2016)

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

born: 8 September 1934
died: 14 March 2016
country: United Kingdom

Universally acknowledged as one of the foremost composers of his time, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies made a significant contribution to musical history through his wide-ranging and prolific output. He lived in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland, where he wrote most of his music. In a work-list that spans more than five decades, he wrote across a broad range of styles, yet his music always communicates directly and powerfully, whether in profoundly argued symphonic works, music-theatre works or witty light orchestral music. His major dramatic works include full-length ballets Salome and Caroline Mathilde, music-theatre works Eight songs for a mad king and Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot, and operas Resurrection, The lighthouse, The Doctor of Myddfai and Taverner. His opera Kommilitonen! (Young Blood!) received critical acclaim for its world premiere run of performances at London’s Royal Academy of Music, with The Daily Telegraph labelling the composer ‘a master symphonist’.

Maxwell Davies’ huge output of orchestral work comprises ten symphonies—hailed by The Times as ‘the most important symphonic cycle since Shostakovich’—as well as numerous concertos including most recently the violin concerto Fiddler on the shore. His light orchestral works include An Orkney wedding, with sunrise and Mavis in Las Vegas, and five large-scale works for chorus including the oratorio Job. The landmark cycle of ten string quartets, the ‘Naxos’ Quartets, was described in the Financial Times as ‘one of the most impressive musical statements of our time’. Highlights include his Ninth Symphony, co-commissioned by the Liverpool Philharmonic and Helsinki Philharmonic, which received its world premiere in summer 2012 to great critical acclaim.

Maxwell Davies’ Tenth Symphony was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. Other late works include Ebb of winter (premiered by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, November 2013) and a piece for organ, brass and children’s choir, commissioned by the Southbank Centre in celebration of the newly restored Royal Festival Hall organ, premiered in March 2014.

Maxwell Davies held the position of Composer/Conductor with both the Royal Philharmonic and BBC Philharmonic Orchestras, and guest-conducted many orchestras around the world. He was closely linked with the St Magnus Festival, Orkney’s annual arts festival which he founded in 1977, was Composer Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and was Visiting Professor at Canterbury Christchurch University and the Royal Academy of Music. Much of his compositional output has been recorded over the years—most recently Naxos launched a major 17-disc re-release, which included the symphonies, The lighthouse, An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise, and the ‘Strathclyde’ concertos.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was knighted in 1987 and appointed Master of The Queen’s Music in 2004, a role in which he sought to raise the profile of music in Great Britain, as well as writing many works for Her Majesty The Queen and for royal occasions. He was made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the New Year 2014 Honours List.

from notes by LSO Live © 2015


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