Sounds of the Century

In rehearsal, Colin Davis, the 76- year-old principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, resembles nothing so much as a benevolent headmaster. Dressed in suit trousers, shirt and tie, he cajoles his 88 musicians as they gallop through Verdi's Falstaff in the wide traverse of London's Barbican Hall. In response to his coaxing, the strings gently underline, then swoop over the singers in a frenzy of quavers. The brass coos, then blares. The players work together almost as a living organism, with Davis their energetic nucleus. It's only after the music stops and Davis, blank-eyed and suddenly looking his age, staggers...

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