A few excerpts below:
Colin Davis doesn't want to be a guru. But that's what the 83-year-old conductor has become to the musicians who play for him, the audiences who hear his concerts and anyone who meets him. Sitting in his north London home, surrounded by the accoutrements of a life at the heart of classical music – busts of Berlioz and Beethoven, a letter by Sibelius, a slew of scores on his table – Davis tells me he has spent a lifetime fighting a battle. Not against orchestras, managers, or musicians, but against his ego. "One's ego becomes less and less interesting as you get older, to oneself and to everyone else. I have been around it too long.
"The less ego you have, the more influence you have as a conductor. And the result is that you can concentrate on the only things that really matter: the music and the people who are playing it. You are of no account whatever. But if you can help people to feel free to play as well as they can, that's as good as it gets."
And Davis's music-making is as mesmerising as it has ever been. The last time I saw him with the London Symphony Orchestra, where he was chief conductor for 11 years, he achieved a miraculous communication between the fluid gestures of his baton (no other conductor has the ability to make it seem like a fully expressive limb), his musicians, and the music. It's a symbiosis only a handful of conductors ever manage. Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony was a quicksilver dance of rhythmic energy; Elgar's Violin Concerto was even better, a single melancholic song that lasted nearly an hour but passed as a fleeting, dreamy vision. Not that Davis takes any credit. "We had a wonderful soloist, Nikolaj Znaider. He plays so well, he doesn't have to think about any of the technical difficulties, so he can just focus on the shapes, the expression. In any case, everybody loves that piece. And the Scottish Symphony …" He laughs, as if the popularity of the pieces on the programme explains why the concert was such a success . . .
I ask Davis about the music he's currently preparing, from Weber's opera Die Freischütz to the strange symphonies of Danish composer Carl Nielsen, and Beethoven's setting of the mass, the Missa Solemnis, which he conducts at the Proms on 4 September and takes on tour to New York with the LSO in the autumn. "My ego should be flattered by all that – but instead it's apprehensive. Whether I'm going to survive it all is the big question. Especially the Missa Solemnis. That piece is a hell of a task: it's so difficult for the orchestra to play and the chorus to sing that performing it is like failing to reach the top of Mount Everest. I think it's one of the great statements of any time. And nobody likes it very much. Except me."
The Missa Solemnis is an enigma: a sparkling expression of faith that is at the same time riven with doubt, ambiguity and darkness. "At the end of the piece, in the final movement, the Agnus Dei, Christ has gone back to heaven, and Beethoven gives us this image of humanity left behind, crawling about in this mud, loaded with sin. The music is saying that humans cry for peace – and make war. That's what Beethoven means. It's absolutely clear. The music reaches an intensity of protest which is almost unbearable. And yet, there's the power with which he sets the words: 'Credo in unum deum!' [I believe in one God!] You'd better believe him when he says it. And I do. I believe every word of the Missa because Beethoven makes it possible. But when I'm left alone, I can't believe anything. So it's even more poignant for me. But for that brief hour and a half when I'm conducting the piece, I do."