Edward Downes

Edward Thomas “Ted” Downes (born in Birmingham on, died In Switzerland ) is an English conductor, specializing in opera .

He was associated with the Royal Opera House in 1952 and with the Australian Opera since 1970. He was also well known for his long collaboration with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and for working with the Netherlands Radio Symphony . In the field of opera, he was particularly known as a conductor of Verdi .

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in terminal phase, he and his wife, Lady (Joan) Downes, have resorted to assisted suicide at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland on 10 July 2009, an act which received extensive media coverage 1 .

Youth and Education

Downes was born in Birmingham, England, on June 17, 1924, son of a bank teller. He left school at the age of 14, sent by his father to earn a living in a local gas store.

Having learned the five-year-old piano and violin, he won a scholarship at the age of 16 at the University of Birmingham where he studied English literature and music, and where he started Playing English horn. Her further training was supported by a two-year Carnegie Fellowship at the University of Aberdeen , which allowed her to study with Hermann Scherchen after postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music .

In 1955, he married Joan Weston, a dancer of the Royal Ballet. She then became a choreographer and television producer. They had two children: a son, Caractacus (born December 1967), a musician and sound engineer, and a daughter, Boudicca (born in 1970), a video producer.

Conductor Career

His long and fruitful association as a conductor with the Royal Opera House , Covent Garden , began in 1952 with his appointment as assistant to Rafael Kubelik . His first job began with Maria Callas 1 . He remained a member of the company for 17 years before returning thereafter as a guest conductor each year before assuming the position of Associate Music Director in 1991. Downes has conducted at least 950 performances of 49 operas in Covent Garden.

He also became music director of the Australian Opera in 1970, leading to the first performance at Sydney Opera House in 1973 1 (the first Australian premiere of War and Peace by Sergei Prokofiev ). He was chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Symphony  (in) until 1983. Although Downes has worked with many orchestras in the world, he had a special relationship with the BBC Philharmonic (formerly the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra ), As guest conductor, then as chief conductor 2 and finally as chief emeritus.


Edward Downes was known for his defense of British music, that of Sergei Prokofiev and Giuseppe Verdi . He defended the symphonies of George Lloyd and created works by Peter Maxwell Davies and Malcolm Arnold . His passion for Prokofiev manifested itself in interpretations of works known and less well known to the Russian composer throughout the world. He directed the British premiere of War and Peace in a concert at Leeds City Hall in 1967. In 1979 he completed the orchestration of a one-act opera by Prokofiev, Maddalena , and performed First recording in 1979 and its staging in world premiere in 1981.

Downes’ first experience with Verdi’s music dates back to 1953 when Rafael Kubelik stopped running Otello at the Covent Garden. Downes directed the opera without repetition. He felt on familiar ground, then became champion of the revival of Verdi in England. He directed 25 of Verdi’s 28 operas, and conceived the idea to interpret them integrally for the centenary in 2001 of the composer’s death.

Downes once expressed regret that he had never led Alzira , Un giorno di regno and especially , Les Vespers Siciliennes .

Notes and references

  1. a , b and c Jill Lawless Conductor Downes, wife die in Swiss suicide clinic  [ archive ] Associated Press 14 July 2009).
  2. ↑ Keith Potter, “opera and concert Reports” (Proms). The Musical Times , 130 (1760), pp. 621-35 (October 1989).