One of the leading English conductors from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Andrew Davis has conducted symphonic and operatic repertory with equal distinction and received praise for his performances of the music of British composers, particularly the works of Vaughan Williams, Elgar, and especially Michael Tippett.
Davis took to the keyboard early on, and his first serious studies came with his enrollment at the Royal College of Music in London, followed by further instruction at King's College, Cambridge, where he excelled in organ performance and scholarship. The young Davis was gradually drawn toward conducting, studying with Franco Ferrara at Rome's Academy of St. Cecilia. His first major position came in 1970, when he was appointed associate conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, a post he held for two years.
Davis' ascent toward international recognition came quickly in the years that followed: he became the principal guest conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 1974, and the following year was appointed music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. During his 13-year tenure in Toronto, Davis led many successful tours abroad and made a series of celebrated recordings, including those of Handel's Messiah with soloists Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, and Samuel Ramey, and of Janácek's Taras Bulba and The Cunning Little Vixen Suite. When he left the TSO in 1988, it is generally agreed that he had noticeably improved the ensemble and greatly enhanced its international reputation. Davis did not sever ties with the TSO when he stepped down, since he became its conductor laureate — a very active one — and then served as the artistic advisor for the orchestra's 2002-2003 season. In 1988, Davis accepted the directorship of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and the following year was appointed chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. With the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he led a number of successful tours abroad, including to Hong Kong (1990), the United States (1995), Austria (1997 Salzburg Festival), and three excursions to Japan (1990, 1993, 1997). Davis' recordings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra have included a variety of works from various periods, but among contemporary composers he has tended to favor the British, as attested by CD issues of compositions by Harrison Birtwistle (The Mask of Orpheus), David Sawer (Byrnan Wood), and others. In the 1990s, Davis also gave concerts and made recordings with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, and several others. He also conducted operatic performances at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, and the Bavarian State Opera, where his rendition of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes was critically acclaimed. In 1999, he was knighted and the following year he departed his BBC Symphony Orchestra and Glyndebourne posts. He then accepted the appointment of music director and principal conductor of the Chicago Lyric Opera, succeeding Bruno Bartoletti. For the 2002-2003 season in Chicago, Davis chose to lead performances of Wagner's Die Walküre, Massenet's Thaïs (with Renée Fleming), and Verdi's La traviata. He continued to remain active as a guest conductor in the concert halls and on the operatic stages in his native England and throughout the world. In 2005, he was named music advisor to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, a position he held until 2007. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra hired him as chief conductor in 2013, with a contract that was renewed through 2019.
Davis' recordings included The Last Night of the Proms (2008), 100 Best Tenor Arias (2009), The Very Best of Thomas Hampson (2011), as well as a three-volume series of the orchestral works of Charles Ives. In 2016, Davis released his arrangement for large modern orchestra of Handel's Messiah on Chandos, and continued making recordings of Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Bliss, Finzi, and Holst for that label.