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Smack the hacks: Dumbed-down newspapers report death of Sir Colin Davis

A panoply of panic-stricken hackery – error-strewn, parochial, celebrity-fixated…

Daily Telegraph (Melanie Hall):

Tributes poured in from the classical world for the Surrey-born composer on the LSO website, which set up a memorial page for people to leave messages about Sir Colin.

Borjan Canev of the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra wrote: “Rest in peace Sir Colin, and thank you for being my inspiration.”

The Guardian (Colin Urquhart):

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.

The New York Times (Michael Schwirtz):

For the next several years, first as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony, then as music director for the Royal Opera House, his career advanced slowly.

It was not until 1992, with his masterful interpretation of the Sibelius cycle with the London Symphony, that his authority became apparent and his fame began to spread. Three years later, he was made principal conductor of the London Symphony….

London Evening Standard (stolen from Daily Telegraph website)

Tributes were paid to the Surrey-born composer on the LSO website, which set up a memorial page for people to leave messages about Sir Colin. Borjan Canev of the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra wrote: “Rest in peace Sir Colin, and thank you for being my inspiration.”

For shame….

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  1. Seriously, every time a conductor dies, at least half the press report that a composer has died. Thing is, when a composer dies, they don’t report it at all!

    RIP Sir Colin, a fellow “Old Blue” (i.e. he shares my alma mater Christ’s Hospital*, although obviously he went there quite a few years before I did)

    *As indeed does that other famous composer, er, conductor Charles Hazlewood.

  2. Mark Stratford says:

    I remember Sir Colin once being interviewed on TV by some ghastly, slimey oik looking for a soundbite about something (I think classical awards). And he took it very well.

    After all, he’d had decades of being written about in the press and knew all about the shortcomings and lazy attitudes of your average hack.

  3. mathias clason says:

    Is it the same as here, where mezzosopranos are always dubbed SOPRANOS in headlines and such?
    Composer is perchance a tad finer, higher, stronger?

  4. It is absolutely bloody dreadful!!! Just who are these people??? Luckily, knowing Sir Colin’s sense of humour, he is probably looking down with a wry smile and thinking what a bunch of WA–ERS these so-called music critics/arts correspondents are. Thank God for people like NL, RP, HC, TS, et al!!

  5. This morning, the BBC seemed more concerned about Andrew Marr’s stroke – at least during the time I was watching.

    Very sorry about Andrew Marr, but media people seem to think that the world revolves around other media people.

    • … much like the music world thinks the world revolves around other music people, perhaps.
      I suggest that at this instance, more people are known to watch Andrew Marr’s contributions to life in the UK than were Sir Colin’s. I’m not suggesting his passing shouldn’t have been of more importance to Auntie, but I can see that Andrew Marr’s health is also of interest to much of the BBC’s audience.

  6. Interesting how all the British media refers to him with the honorary “Sir Colin” whereas for American outlets, it’s just Colin Davis. We in the US tend to be charmed by things like knighthoods but it hasn’t become standard journalism practice to use it in newspaper coverage.

    • He received the knighthood for services to music. In other words, it wasn’t inherited, he earned it.

      Would you be “charmed” by, say, a Congressional Gold Medal, and would the US press not refer to it?

      • No. These American accolades are never mentioned by the home media after they’ve been awarded.

      • Mostly because we don’t have honorifics that get attached to your name. The exception is elected or appointed high office. If a retired Supreme Court Justice dies, she is “Justice so-and-so.” Same with “Secretary so-and-so” or “Governor so-and-so.” That’s the only equivalent we really have to “Sir,” Duke,” and the like.

  7. Gordon Davies says:

    I remember a hilarious BBC TV interview at the Proms a few years back. Already near or in his 80s, he was about to conduct Sibelius 5. A gushing young woman interviewer said to him something like: “Sir Colin, every time you look in this score, I imagine you must find something new!”

    His expression didn’t change.

    “No”, he said.

    • ken scott says:

      I wept at the news. Colin Davis was a wonderful conductor. Not everyone was aware, however, and for obvious reasons, that he was also in possession one of the world’s best bullshit meters.

      • Miles Golding says:

        No doubt that is one reason why he didn’t mince his words about period instrument performance.

    • Miles Golding says:

      Haha! Love it – I can just imagine which of the Radio 3 gushy young wannabe celebrities that was.
      Thank you very very much for your contribution Gordon!!!

  8. Sebastian Petit says:

    Jaw dropping assertion that his career progressed slowly while “merely” Music Director of the ROH”!!

  9. The worst is the NYT. It’s seems that no one in New York City listen to classical music pior to it. Shame on you Yankees.

    • Bob Burns says:

      I’d tend to blame the obituary writer, not the newspaper, let alone the country. In fact, one of the country’s best music critics, Alex Ross, has a gig at the NYT.

      WIth any luck he will have a few words to say to his readership.

    • The NY Times notice was posted as part of its “Artbeats” page and may not be the last word by the obit department. One can justly criticize the Times for many things these days, but their real obits tend to be competent and reasonably comprehensive. Still it is as much an embarrassment as it is a disgrace that they have printed what they did. They don’t seem to have much in the way of knowledgeable editors these days.

      That said, over that past 40 years, the Times has reduced its serious music coverage to next to nothing following the path of other local papers that eliminated such coverage years ago after discovering that their readership didn’t want to read about serious music. There may be shame on us Yankees for having what amounts to an adolescent centered musical culture, but from what I’ve seen throughout Europe, this is not a purely American phenomenon. Unfortunately we were just slightly ahead of this particular curve.

  10. James Brinton says:

    In part, I think this is what comes of the “critics” being force (or spoon) fed their material by the PR and marketing agents of pop-oriented record companies. It’s fair to infer that none of these people really know much about classical music, nor do they care, and their editors are certainly willing to settle for less than half a loaf.
    When one remembers how well known to the public, indeed lionized, classical musicians were in the mid-twentieth century, you really have to weep for our cultural collapse.

  11. PK Miller says:

    Sir Colin must be having belly laughs in heaven over all this nonsense! I sang a Faure Requiem w/him & Mahler Symphony of a Thousand when later enjoyed 2 Proms under his leadership. He was a consummate musician & conductor, quite patient espec. when the chorus on the Mahler kept missing an entrance, and had a rapier wit. And forgive the media–they know not what they do. Everyone is so eager to rush into print, beat the “other guy,” they don’t always take the time to get it right even when they have boiler plate obituaries ready as the former Public Editor of the NYT said several times in his columns. A former Editor of the Albany NY Times Union once remarked wearily how he marveled how much the TU got RIGHT! And they GUSH…. I fear, given modern 24/7 media, said rushing into “print,” online & otherwise, + Facebook, Twitter etc., etc., etc., obituary writers would be falling all over themselves & each other to say nice things about Hitler–NOT a joke.

  12. One obit says he died after a long illness. My understanding is that he was still conducting. He is scheduled, even today, on the website of the Festival de Saint Denis in Paris. He was to conduct Berlioz’ “L’Enfance du Christ” on May 29 and 31 with the Orchestre National de France. This was the same work I heard him conduct the first time I heard him live with the Los Angeles Philharmonic a long time ago. Why wouldn’t the NYTimes have one of their critics write the obit? Wasn’t it already done? Jeez.

  13. James Forrest says:

    As appalling as is the NYT article, it is dismaying to see they are not alone in their inept commentary. I echo the query of “Frank” noted above.

    Contrast with the 2 excellent essays Norman posted re: the passing of Adolf “Bud” Herseth, retired first trumpet of the CSO.

    We can best honor Sir Colin Davis with our memories and by enjoying his superb recorded legacy of studio recordings and live performances.

  14. Re Katherine Jenkins Welsh MEZZO soprano showed HER condolences.

    How am I meant to teach grammar to my children when the media cannot use articles correctly… and they bleat about the dumbing down of educational standards: – hypocrites!

  15. Karl Miller says:

    Do we really think that most classical music writers are any less informed than most who sit in the audience? As I reflect on my experiences, I would say that the writers are finally catching up with the level of ignorance of most of those who attend concerts and read the critics.

  16. people, people BE HAPPY they sort of still mention him. Our world is vanishing at a very quick speed. The great majority on this planet is not interested anymore in classical music, the reasons for this are legio….Sad but true..Moreover the infantilisation of this planet is also noticeable in education…More tattoos, less brains…etcetcetc

    • PK Miller says:

      AMEN, Fred! Thank you. You are right on the money. We may be “old fuddy-duddies,” as my niece called us when she was a teenager, but Tim & I don’t understand this tattoo business. They’ll spend thousands of $$$ to get them derma braded a la Johnny Depp & Winona Ryder. The greats are being called home & there’s no one to replace them. Locally, the founding Director of the renown Albany Pro Musica is in a nursing home receiving intensive rehabilitation post stroke. They have some guest Directors lined up but already had to cancel the planned St. Matthew Passion because of David’s incapacitation. I hope David Alan Miller, Music Director of the Albany (NY) Symphony will continue having recently hit the Big Five Oh. He transformed a at times mediocre orchestra into a tremendous, versatile first rate ensemble. We can only hope there are up & comers of the caliber of Sir Colin, as well as Solti, Szell, Ormandy… And the Met’s production of The Ring made it clear what a paucity of Wagnerian singers we have. Debra Voight is a magnificent, intelligent artist, smart enough to conserve her resources till the “big bang,” if you will. I have 7 ½ months till 70. My voice is becoming more baritonal & losing some of its elasticity. I HAD my professional career. It’s time not just for the Next Generation but the generation after them.

      I CAN tell you there are superb musicians in our own Empire State Youth Orchestra. I only hope many of them go on to professional careers. (A shout out to pianist Adam Bloniarz, & percussionist Alex Antonio wherever you are out there!) It’s a first rate training ground for young symphony musicians. They ARE serious musicians and I only hope the resources are there for them. I didn’t mean to “preach” The Sermon on the Mount, but Fred hit the nail on the head. We have to get kids interested in classical music & never mind various & sundry rappers, and the insufferable Justin Bieber. We’re losing the greats & we need replacements, urgently!

  17. I realize you like to beat up on the NYTimes (which incidentally won 4 Pulitzers yesterday), but the offending obituary you cite was an early blog post. And you should know that early bog posts can be incomplete or incorrect. The full obituary was careful, complete, and generous. Not a hack job at all. Here it is. Colin Davis, a British Conductor Known for His Exuberant Approach, Dies at 85

  18. He was the face of the Proms in the 70s

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