Ivan Davis, 1932-2018

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Matthew.reisz@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

A world-class con­cert pi­anist who was cen­tral to mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami for more than four decades has died.

Ivan Davis was born in Elec­tra, Texas in Fe­bru­ary 1932, but grew up across the bor­der in New Mex­ico. He learned the pi­ano from his aunt at the age of 12 and proved im­mensely gifted, se­cur­ing a schol­ar­ship to North Texas State Univer­sity (now the Univer­sity of North Texas) and then a Ful­bright Award to study with Carlo Zec­chi at the Ac­cademia Nazionale di Santa Ce­cilia in Rome.

While still in his twen­ties, Pro­fes­sor Davis won a string of top prizes in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions: the Casella in Naples, the Bu­soni in Bolzano and the Vianna da Motta in Lis­bon. He made his New York de­but in a 1959 con­cert which, ac­cord­ing to New York Times critic Harold Schon­berg, “left no doubt that an im­por­tant new Amer­i­can pi­anist has ar­rived on the scene”. The fol­low­ing year, he reached even greater heights when he won the Franz Liszt com­pe­ti­tion in New York and was taken on as a pupil by the leg­endary Vladimir Horowitz.

Highly ac­claimed as a record­ing artist, Pro­fes­sor Davis per­formed with many lead­ing Amer­i­can or­ches­tras, in­clud­ing the New York Phil­har­monic un­der Leonard Bern­stein. A tri­umphant 1966 Lon­don de­but at the Queen El­iz­a­beth Hall won him equal fame on the other side of the At­lantic. It was in the same year, how­ever, that he put down roots in Florida and took on the roles of artist-teacher and pi­anistin-res­i­dence at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami’s Frost School of Mu­sic. Along with his own sell-out con­certs, he in­sti­tuted a vast se­ries of recitals – the high­light of the school’s mu­si­cal cal­en­dar – where he ap­peared with his stu­dents, per­form­ing the com­plete pi­ano works of Chopin, Brahms and Schu­mann and the 32 Beethoven sonatas. He also served as a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at In­di­ana Univer­sity.

In 1984, Pro­fes­sor Davis per­formed in a New York con­cert mark­ing the 60th an­niver­sary of the premiere of Ge­orge Gersh­win’s Rhap­sody in Blue, which proved so suc­cess­ful it was re­peated in Wash­ing­ton, Los Angeles and Rome, as well as in New York. He cel­e­brated his 65th birth­day and 30 years at Mi­ami with a con­cert there, which led to his be­ing de­scribed in the lo­cal press as “the most imag­i­na­tive, in­ter­est­ing and in­sight­ful pi­anist around”. He even­tu­ally re­tired from both per­form­ing and univer­sity life with another Mi­ami con­cert in 2008.

Pro­fes­sor Davis died fol­low­ing a stroke on 12 March and is sur­vived by his wife Betty Lou Sax­ton, a daugh­ter and three grand­sons.

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