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My First Concert: Carl Davis CBE

My First Concert is a series of blogs that takes leading music-makers back to their childhoods to recall the formative experiences that led them to a life in music. As he looks forward to conducting the Orchestra of Opera North performing his own score to the classic silent film Wings, composer and conductor Carl Davis CBE recalls his early years in New York.

A young Carl Davis

“My parents, well aware of my passion for music, decided an appropriate seventh birthday present would be an excursion into Manhattan to see the recently released Disney animated film Fantasia. This was a very prophetic move on their part as I have been involved in putting music to pictures ever since.

“Fantasia is, in fact, a concert on film. Some of the world’s most popular classical works and one of the most notorious (I’m thinking of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring) performed by the superb Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the flamboyant Leopold Stokowski, make up the soundtrack, brilliantly animated by Walt Disney. I was transfixed. I had a repertoire for life.”

Born in New York in 1936, Carl Davis gained conducting experience in his teens with the New York City Opera and the Robert Shaw Chorale, but he soon decided to focus on composing. In 1959 the revue Diversions, which he co-wrote, won an Off-Broadway Emmy, and its tour to the 1961 Edinburgh Festival brought him to the UK, where he made his home. Soon after he was commissioned to create themes for British TV and radio programmes including That Was The Week That Was, and most famously, the landmark documentary series The World at War.

He is now best known for creating music to accompany silent films, and he will conduct the Orchestra of Opera North’s performance of his own score for the barnstorming 1927 classic Wings, at Huddersfield Town Hall on Thursday 18 October.


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