Carl Davis, C.B.E. (Hon.)
composer & conductor
Carl Davis believes that all music has an important place in the world. This is reflected in his diverse concert programming. Whether conducting or composing music for feature films, television, silent films, ballets and musicals – as well as an oratorio – his versatility is extraordinary.
In 1959, Davis and fellow student Stephen Vinaver wrote the revue Diversions which won Davis an Obie (off-Broadway). When Diversions was presented at the 1961 Edinburgh Festival, and subsequently transferred to London, Ned Sherrin commissioned Davis to compose for That Was The Week That Was. More radio and television commissions followed, such as the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, which was received with great acclaim all over the world.
Other scores by Davis include The Snow Goose, The World At War, Hollywood, Cold War, The Far Pavilions, The Naked Civil Servant and Goodnight, Mister Tom. His feature film scores include The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Champions, Scandal, Widow’s Peak, The Book of Eve, Mike Leigh’s Topsy Turvy and Ken Russell’s The Rainbow. In 2003, he was awarded Best Score for An Angel for May at the Ale Kino Film Festival in Poland.
He has composed a unique series of scores for restored prints of ‘The Silents,’ originally commissioned by the BBC’s Channel Four in 1980. The series featured Abel Gance’s epic film, Napoleon. In 1983, the French Minister of Culture named Davis a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres after a screening in Paris. A further restoration of this remarkable film (now lasting 5 ½ hours!) has been shown twice at London’s Royal Festival Hall since 2000 with Davis’ revised and extended score.
Cinema performances of other classic films, featuring one of the more than 50 ‘Silent’ Davis scores, continue to take place around the world. Davis has written and recorded the music to all 12 of Charlie Chaplin’s Mutuals, considered among Chaplin’s best work, and the collection is now available on two DVDs. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra premiered his score to Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman at its Silent Film Gala in 2002.
Davis’ association with the London Philharmonic Orchestra has led to regular presentations of classic silent films. Since 1997, silent movies such as Ben Hur, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Big Parade, Chaplin’s Behind the Screen and King Vidor’s Show People have been screened with live orchestral accompaniment at London’s Royal Festival Hall. A Chaplin festival with the London Philharmonic included presentations of The Cure, City Lights, The Circus, The Immigrant and The Kid.
For eight years, Davis served as the artistic director and conductor for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Summer Pops Season. As part of that orchestra’s 150th anniversary celebrations, Davis and Paul McCartney wrote a full length work entitled Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio. Davis conducted the premiere at the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool in June 1991, and subsequent performances around the world.
Davis has a particular love of composing music for dance and has worked with such renowned companies as the English National Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, Northern Ballet Theatre and the Scottish Ballet. His ballets include A Christmas Carol, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Aladdin and Cyrano de Bergerac. His Alice in Wonderland, with choreographer Derek Deane, was performed by Pittsburgh Ballet in April 2008. Davis is collaborating with Deane on another ballet, The Lady of the Camellias, which will premiere in Zagreb, Croatia this November.
In 2005, Davis was awarded the C.B.E. (Hon.) for his contribution to the world of music as both composer and conductor and in 2003, he received a BAFTA Special Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to film and television. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Music by Liverpool University and received an Honorary Doctor of Arts from his alma mater, New York’s Bard College.
Carl Davis lives in London with his wife, actress Jean Boht. They have two daughters, Hannah and Jessie.