Ivan Davis, 1932-2018
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.