(June 2014 – 1263 words)
Victor Davies has crossed many musical boundaries, from children’s songs for television to symphonic music recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Born in Winnipeg Canada, he studied at the University of Manitoba, and Indiana University graduating with a Bachelor of Music in Composition, and has studied conducting with Pierre Boulez in Switzerland.
Davies began his career in Winnipeg as a freelance composer, pianist, and conductor, working with Winnipeg’s major artistic organizations. His children’s musicals, The Magic Trumpet and Reginald The Robotwere premiered at the Manitoba Theatre Centre; Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers commissioned The Colour Of The Times and Anerca; the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra commissioned Celebrations, A Short Symphony and From Harmony. He composed and performed live and on television with his own 3rd stream” jazz ensemble.
Commissioned to write the first major score for planetarium, The Beginning and End of the World, was recorded by conductor Skitch Henderson. On commission from the Fast Foundation, Davies composed The Mennonite Piano Concerto. Recorded with pianist Irmgard Baerg and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Boris Brott, Barry Edwards (Music Magazine) wrote that the work exhibits “exuberant high spirits…popularity through its easy accessibility, and its wide range of musical styles”; Chester Duncan (Arts Manitoba) wrote: “..there are many moving and delightful things throughout”. This work (coupled with Good Times: Suite for Orchestra, also with the London Symphony Orchestra, both available on CD), has become Davies’ best known composition, and has been performed live in the US, Canada, Europe and China, broadcast many times on National and American Public Radio, the CBC, Australian Broadcasting Network, the BBC and was #8 in sales on Classic FM the largest classical music broadcaster in Britain in 1995. Following the success of this CD The Music Of Victor Davies was released in Britain, Europe, North America and Japan on the Campion label. Other recordings feature Festival Players Canada performing his Silhouettes (Piano Trio No. 1), Yukon Scenes (for Flute and Piano) and Fun For Four (String Quartet No.1)
In addition to his children’s musicals, he has written music and lyrics for over 600 songs for the CTV network’s children’s series Let’s Go! and The Rockets. For the CBC, The National Film Board and independent producers, he has written dramatic and documentary scores in a variety of styles, for radio, film and television.
Other major theatre works and film scores include: a rock opera Beowulf recorded and staged in New York;Seize the Fire, based on William Blake’s writing; Especially Babe, a musical for Toronto’s Young Peoples Theatre in the Toronto Theatre Festival; The Musical Circus, a commission by Sound Stage Canada which toured Eastern Europe including the Zagreb Biennial; The Big Top commissioned by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, with over 50 performances, also a CBC TV special shown around the world; the theme song Colours In The Dark for the Famous People Player’s Broadway show and American tour; scores for the internationally award winning film, The Last Winter (Fox video); The Nutcracker Prince (Warner Bros.) recorded by the London Symphony, and For The Moment (20th Century Fox) recorded in Prague with musicians of the Czech Philharmonic.
In addition to composing, Victor Davies has conducted his and others music and has been the conductor of his own film and television scores. He spent two years as a musical director of CBC-TV’s Ninety Minutes Liveworking with and writing for a variety of pop, rock, opera, jazz, folk and country artists.
Davies’ music, aimed at a wide audience is melodic and brilliantly orchestrated and though he looks to popular idioms as a source of inspiration, his style is eclectic. The use of these popular idioms in his Pulsations (Concerto for Electric Violin), the string quartet Fun For Four (both on the Campion label with Erich Kunzel conducting the London Symphony Orchestra), Let’s Talk! (commissioned for the Grammy award winning Boss Brass and the CJRT Orchestra) is often contrasted with more avant guard styles as in his ballet Anerca, the last movement of Celebrations and his film score for The Pit.
Other commissions include: Continents for Chamber Music Victoria for the Commonwealth Games; Art Deco Fantasy for cello and piano premiered by Ofra Harnoy; Dream Variations for the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra (see CD’s); a musical for children, Pirates! for the Charlottetown Festival, and Concerto For Car Horns and Orchestra for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary celebrations. In 1999 he was musical director, composer, and producer of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies Music for the XIII Pan American Games. The premiere of his Jazz Concerto For Organ And Orchestra by Wayne Marshall (1998 BBC Musician of the Year) for The Calgary International Organ Festival in May 2000 was heard on CBC and American Public Radio. (Michael Barone’s Pipe Dreams).
Revelation, a full length oratorio based on the Book of Revelation, premiered on February 1996 to great critical acclaim. Featuring the 300 voice Mennonite Oratorio Choir, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and international soloists, James Manishen (Winnipeg Free Press) said..”a masterful oratorio… Davies has always had a gift for the good tune.. genuinely heartfelt …. gospel touches…aptly placed and effective…Revelation is a celebration of life, faith and music”. The second performance climaxing the 1997 Ottawa Choral Festival was equally acclaimed, as was the third performance May 2000 with the Hamilton Philharmonic. Hugh Fraser (Hamilton Spectator) said ” I have little doubt Davies’ Revelation is a masterpiece. It is gloriously tuneful and has all the aleatory chaos, harsh brassy dissonances and driving percussive rhythms, used in stunningly effective emotional context…”. The premiere was filmed as a CBC TV special Adrienne Clarkson Presents and shown extensively on Bravo. His choral commission Lifting The Sky, based on a traditional Salish legend with original poetry by American poet Carolyn Maddux, for the North American Welsh Choir premiered in the USA May 2001, and in Britain July 2002, and a Jazz Piano Concerto for conductor /pianist Bramwell Tovey for his Winnipeg Farewell Gala, May 2001 was subsequently performed by pianist Wayne Marshall, with Michael Reason conducting the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. In February 2005 Silhouettes was performed by the Vandermark Ensemble at Carnegie Hall and in August 2005, his comic opera based on The Importance Of Being Earnest was given an inaugural concert performance at Stratford Summer Music.
Other premieres in recent years include: Transit of Venus, a full length opera commissioned by Manitoba Opera, premiered in November 2007 and was broadcast on CBC’s Saturday Afternoon At The Opera; Earnest, The Importance Of Being (an adaptation of the chamber opera The Importance Of Being Earnest) premiered February 2008 by the Toronto Operetta Theatre. Also in 2008 Concerto for Tubameister and Orchestracommissioned for tubameister Jc Sherman of Cleveland had its first performance in September in Vancouver with the orchestral premiere January 2009 with tubist Chris Lee and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and, October 5th 2014, will see it US premier. (see NEWS page) In 2012 a concert by the Winnipeg Symphony celebrated the 37th anniversary of The Mennonite Piano Concerto premiere and welcomed the premier of hisViolin Concerto #2 (The Journey). 2013 -14 have seen commissions for band versions of Butterfly Dance, (for the Bromley (UK) Concert Band), and his music from the Pan Am and Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies commissioned by the Central Band of The Canadian Armed Forces in Ottawa. Other current works in progress include three operas: (see NEWS page) one based on the George Ryga play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, a Christmas opera – Mary and the Child, and a third for American opera star Denyce Graves based on a New Orleans story.