British conductor, who was knighted in 1980.
He studied the clarinet with Frederick Thurston at the Royal College of Music and became a bandsman in the Household Cavalry. His lack of training as a keyboard player precluded an apprenticeship as a repetiteur in an opera house when he wanted to take up conducting. However, he took jobs wherever they occurred and quickly made a reputation for his Mozart performances in the early 1950s with the Chelsea Opera Group. He was appointed assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra in 1957 and was much acclaimed for his Sadler's Wells debut (1958) conducting Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio. In 1959 he took over Mozart's Don Giovanni from Klemperer and was appointed musical director of Sadler's Wells Opera in 1961. From 1971 until 1986 he was musical director of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1966, conducting Britten's Peter Grimes. His orchestral appointments have included conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1967–71), chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1983–92), and principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1995– ).
Notable opera performances have been The Trojans by Berlioz (Covent Garden, 1969) and the première of Tippett's The Knot Garden (Covent Garden, 1971). Davis has made many recordings, including all Berlioz's major works.