Peter G. Davis, who for over 30 years held sway as certainly one of America’s main classical music critics with crisp, witty prose and an encyclopedic reminiscence of numerous performances and performers, died on Feb. 13. He was 84.
His loss of life was confirmed by his husband, Scott Parris.
First as a critic at The New York Times and later at New York journal, Mr. Davis wrote exact, sharply opinionated evaluations of all types of classical music, although his nice love was opera and the voice, an attachment he developed in his early teenagers.
He presided over the sphere throughout boon years in New York within the 1960s and ’70s, when performances had been plentiful and tickets comparatively low cost, and when the ups and downs of a performer’s profession supplied fodder for cocktail events and after-concert dinners, to not point out the notebooks of writers like Mr. Davis, who typically delivered 5 or extra evaluations every week.
He wrote these evaluations with a figuring out, deadpan, at instances world-weary tone. During a 1976 live performance by the Russian violinist Vladimir Spivakov, an activist protesting the therapy of Jews within the Soviet Union threw a paint bomb on the stage, splattering Mr. Spivakov and his accompanist. Mr. Davis wrote, “Terrorists must be extremely insensitive to music, for tossing paint at a violinist playing Bach’s ‘Chaconne’ is simply poor timing.”
He maintained religion within the traditions of classical music not for the sake of perpetuating the previous however for his or her intrinsic energy, and he appeared askance at those that tried to replace them simply to be stylish.
In a 1977 review of the Bronx Opera’s staging of “Fra Diavolo,” by the 19th-century French composer Daniel Francois Auber, he decried what he noticed as a “refusal to believe in the piece by treating it as an embarrassment, a work that needs a maximum of directorial gimmicks if the audience is to remain interested.”
He could possibly be equally dismissive of latest music and composers who he thought had been overhyped. The minimalist composer Philip Glass and Beverly Sills (early on “a dependable, hard-working but not especially remarkable soprano” who turned a star, he felt, solely after her skills had peaked) had been common targets.
In a review of a performance of Mr. Glass’s work at Carnegie Hall in 2002, he wrote, “It was pretty much business as usual: the same simple-minded syncopations and jigging ostinatos, the same inane little tunes on their way to nowhere, the same clumsily managed orchestral climaxes.”
Which is to not say that Mr. Davis was a reactionary — he championed younger composers and upstart regional opera firms. His nice power as a critic was his pragmatism, his dedication to evaluate the efficiency in entrance of him by itself phrases whereas casting a skeptical eye at gimmickry.
“He was a connoisseur of vocal music of unimpeachable authority,” stated Justin Davidson, a former classical music critic at Newsday who now writes about classical music and structure for New York journal. “He had a sense that the things he cared about mattered, that they were not niche, not just entertainment, but that they cut to the heart of what American culture was.”
Peter Graffam Davis was born on March 3, 1936, in Concord, Mass., exterior Boston, and grew up in close by Lincoln. His father, E. Russell Davis, was a vp on the Bank of Boston. His mom, Susan (Graffam) Davis, was a homemaker.
Mr. Parris, whom he married in 2009, is his solely rapid survivor.
Mr. Davis fell in love with opera as a young person, constructing a document assortment at dwelling and attending performances in Boston. During the months earlier than his junior 12 months at Harvard, he took a tour of Europe’s summer music festivals — Strauss in Munich, Mozart in Salzburg, Wagner in Bayreuth.
He encountered European opera at a hinge level. It was nonetheless outlined by longstanding traditions and had but to totally emerge from the destruction of World War II, however poking out of the wreckage was a brand new technology of performers: the French soprano Régine Crespin, the Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek, the Italian tenors Franco Corelli and Giuseppe di Stefano. Mr. Davis obtained to see them up shut.
He graduated from Harvard in 1958 with a bachelor’s diploma in music. After spending a 12 months at a conservatory in Stuttgart, Germany, he moved to New York to finish a grasp’s diploma in composition at Columbia University.
Mr. Davis wrote various musical works of his personal within the early 1960s, together with an opera, “Zoe,” and a pair of Gilbert and Sullivan-esque operettas. But he determined that his future lay not in writing music however in writing about it. He turned the classical music editor for each High Fidelity and Musical America magazines, in addition to the New York music correspondent for The Times of London.
He started writing freelance articles for The New York Times in 1967, and in 1974 was employed because the Sunday music editor, a job that allowed him to complement his near-daily output of evaluations — whether or not of recordings, concert events or innumerable debut recitals — with articles he commissioned from different writers. “He had a superb memory,” stated Alex Ross, the classical music critic for The New Yorker. “Anything you threw at him, he was able to speak about precisely and intelligently.”
Mr. Davis moved to New York journal in 1981. There he might decide and select his evaluations in addition to sometimes stand again to survey the classical music panorama.
Increasingly, he didn’t like what he noticed.
As early as 1980, Mr. Davis was lamenting the future of opera singing, blaming an emphasis on “pleasing appearance and facile adaptability” over expertise and arduous work and a star system that pushed promising however immature vocalists previous their bodily limits.
The diminished place of classical music in American tradition that he documented didn’t spare critics, and in 2007 New York journal let him go. He went again to freelancing for The Times and wrote often for Opera News and Musical America.
For all his 1000’s of evaluations, Mr. Davis appeared most happy with his e book “The American Opera Singer” (1997), an exhaustive, exhilarating and sometimes withering historical past by which he praised the flexibility of latest American performers whereas taking a lot of them to process for being superficial workhorses.
“I can’t think of a music critic who cares more deeply about the state of opera in America,” the critic Terry Teachout wrote in his review of the book for The Times. “Anyone who wants to know what is wrong with American singing will find the answers here.”