Laurence Davis, professional pianist and accompanist, Northwestern University educator, and former Associate Conductor and Principal Coach-Accompanist for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, passed away after a short illness on 23rd April 2015 in Evanston, Illinois. He was aged 86. Born in Sydney, Australia he was the son of Lewis and Sadie Zines Davis.
He received his musical training at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where one of his fellow-students was Joan Sutherland, who was to become one of the world’s finest coloratura sopranos. In Sydney, Laurence won many musical prizes and at the age of seventeen he won the Sydney Daily Telegraph piano competition. Two years later he won First Prize at Australia’s most prestigious music contest, the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Concerto and Vocal Competition. But further study was on the horizon and in 1949, together with Joan Sutherland, Laurence travelled by sea to London. He then journeyed to Vienna where between 1950 and 1954, he studied at the Akademie für Musik. During this time he was a student with some of the most distinguished piano teachers of the day who included Ignaz Friedman, Bruno Seidlhofer and Franz Reizenstein. He also continued to win international prizes for his piano performances at prestigious competitions in Paris, Geneva, Brussels and Munich.
Laurence Davis 1929-2015
Laurence developed an interest in chamber music and accompanying. For six years he lived in Cuba, where he accompanied distinguished visiting European musicians including the legendary French cellist Pierre Fournier. He treasured his time in Cuba and often talked about his entertaining musical experiences there. Laurence then moved to the USA and to the most influential period in his career. In 1962 he was appointed as Assistant Conductor to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, a post that he held for eighteen years. Since 1965, Laurence was Professor of Piano at Northwestern University’s School of Music. During his many years there, he taught not only piano but also gave classes in accompanying and interpretation of the vocal repertoire, drawing on his extensive command of French, Spanish, German and Italian. At the same time, Laurence gave many concerts himself and accompanied such illustrious singers as Christa Ludwig in many of her vocal recitals in the USA and Canada. He accompanied her at the Great Performers series at New York’s Lincoln Center and at her appearance at the Tanglewood Festival in 1991.
In the summer of 1990 Laurence worked with talented young opera singers at the Bel Canto Seminar in Siena. For a number of years he was Teacher-in-Residence at the Showa College of Music in Tokyo where he also performed recitals. During the 1990s Laurence was much in demand as a soloist and accompanist, and he took part in many recitals and concerto performances in Chicago. He made frequent appearances at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and on WFMT Radio, a radio station dedicated to the fine arts. He gave concerts, lectures and master classes all over the world including the University of New South Wales, the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and at leading universities in Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand.
Following his retirement from Northwestern University School of Music, Laurence was the manager and designer of the university’s Study Abroad program for eight years. Based in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, it gave students the opportunity to visit Thailand to study Buddhism and Thai culture, as well as sociological and anthropological perspectives on Thailand. Laurence spent several months of each year living in Pattaya and performed with many visiting musicians, notably at the series of classical concerts at Ben’s Theater in Jomtien. Many still recall his fine concert with soprano Pamela Hinchman at the Pattaya Marriott Resort. Laurence also performed at Mahidol University School of Music and participated regularly in Chulalongkorn University’s Summer School Writing Seminar initially held on Koh Si Chang.
Laurence Davis was a brilliant and dedicated teacher and mentor. Many who have performed with him consider him to have been one of the most talented and musically inspiring people in their careers. He is survived by one brother, Winston Davis of Melbourne; by his Thai companion and friend Anan Pomthong, and by his many devoted students, colleagues and friends around the world.
This article by Colin Kaye was compiled from texts and information kindly provided by Rhonda Cundy, Dr. Paul Urbanick and Len Unterberger.