Peter G. Davis, who for over 30 years held sway as one among 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 demise was confirmed by his husband, Scott Parris.
First as a critic at The New York Instances 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 offered fodder for cocktail events and after-concert dinners, to not point out the notebooks of writers like Mr. Davis, who usually delivered 5 or extra evaluations per week.
He wrote these evaluations with a understanding, deadpan, at occasions world-weary tone. Throughout 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 should be extraordinarily insensitive to music, for tossing paint at a violinist taking part in Bach’s ‘Chaconne’ is just 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 regarded askance at those that tried to replace them simply to be fashionable.
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 imagine within the piece by treating it as a humiliation, a piece that wants a most of directorial gimmicks if the viewers is to stay .”
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 reliable, hard-working however not particularly outstanding soprano” who grew to become 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 Corridor in 2002, he wrote, “It was just about enterprise as normal: the identical simple-minded syncopations and jigging ostinatos, the identical inane little tunes on their method to nowhere, the identical clumsily managed orchestral climaxes.”
Which isn’t to 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,” mentioned Justin Davidson, a former classical music critic at Newsday who now writes about classical music and structure for New York journal. “He had a way that the issues he cared about mattered, that they weren’t area of interest, not simply leisure, however that they reduce to the guts of what American tradition was.”
Peter Graffam Davis was born on March 3, 1936, in Harmony, Mass., exterior Boston, and grew up in close by Lincoln. His father, E. Russell Davis, was a vice chairman on the Financial institution of Boston. His mom, Susan (Graffam) Davis, was a homemaker.
Mr. Parris, whom he married in 2009, is his solely speedy survivor.
Mr. Davis fell in love with opera as a young person, constructing a document assortment at dwelling and attending performances in Boston. Throughout 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 completely emerge from the destruction of World Warfare 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 College.
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. However he determined that his future lay not in writing music however in writing about it. He grew to become the classical music editor for each Excessive Constancy and Musical America magazines, in addition to the New York music correspondent for The Instances of London.
He started writing freelance articles for The New York Instances 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 an excellent reminiscence,” mentioned Alex Ross, the classical music critic for The New Yorker. “Something you threw at him, he was in a position to talk about exactly and intelligently.”
Mr. Davis moved to New York journal in 1981. There he may decide and select his evaluations in addition to often stand again to survey the classical music panorama.
More and more, 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 look and facile adaptability” over expertise and onerous 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 Instances and wrote repeatedly for Opera Information and Musical America.
For all his hundreds of evaluations, Mr. Davis appeared most pleased with his e-book “The American Opera Singer” (1997), an exhaustive, exhilarating and sometimes withering historical past during which he praised the flexibility of latest American performers whereas taking a lot of them to process for being superficial workhorses.
“I can’t consider a music critic who cares extra deeply in regards to the state of opera in America,” the critic Terry Teachout wrote in his review of the book for The Times. “Anybody who needs to know what’s mistaken with American singing will discover the solutions right here.”