David Atherton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

David Atherton OBE (born 3 January 1944) is an English conductor and founder of the London Sinfonietta.


Atherton was born in Blackpool, Lancashire[1] into a musical family. He was educated at Blackpool Grammar School. His father, Robert Atherton, was the Music Master at St Joseph's College, Blackpool and was also a conductor. His mother was a singer.[2]

Atherton studied music at Fitzwilliam College[3] at the University of Cambridge.


In 1967 Atherton was founder of the London Sinfonietta[4] and, as its Music Director, a position he held until 1973, gave the first performance of many important contemporary works. It is now widely regarded as one of the world's leading chamber orchestras. Also in 1967 he was invited to join the music staff of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, by Sir Georg Solti. In 1968 he became the youngest conductor ever to appear there, conducting Il trovatore. He spent twelve years as Resident Conductor, giving over 150 performances. Also in 1968 he was the youngest conductor in the history of the BBC Proms and subsequently appeared in thirty consecutive seasons.[5][6]

In 1976 he conducted for the first time at La Scala in Milan, Italy. In 1978 he conducted at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, California in the United States. Then in 1980 he was appointed Music Director of the San Diego Symphony, a post he held until 1987 and Principal Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. In 1989 he founded the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego and was appointed Music Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, a post he held until 2000.

In recognition of his services to the music of Hong Kong, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and the title of Conductor Laureate of the orchestra.[5][7][8]

He has also been the Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales[5] and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He has also devised and conducted festivals in London featuring the complete works of Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Anton Webern and Edgard Varèse with the London Sinfonietta, London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Opera House.[7]

He has also appeared with the English National Opera, Canadian Opera Company and Glyndebourne Festival Opera, as well as the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, to which he returns regularly. He also returns to California each summer to direct the Mainly Mozart Festival.[7]

He has opened the Prague Spring International Music Festival and the Berliner Festspiele with the Berlin Philharmonic, and travels widely, in particular to the United States where he regularly visits many of the leading North American orchestras.[7]

Recorded work and awards[edit]

He has made a number of recordings with the London Sinfonietta, which he co-founded. His work in the recording studio has gained a number of awards as well as a number of Grammy Award nominations. His first award came in 1971 when he won the Conductor of the Year Award from the Composers' Guild of Great Britain (now the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors). In 1973 he won the oldest and most prestigious Dutch Music Prize, the Edison Award. He won the premier French award for musical recordings, the Grand Prix du Disque in 1977 and the Koussevitzky Award in 1981. The following year he won the Prix Caecilia and his recording of Michael Tippett's opera King Priam won the International Record Critics' Award, generally regarded as the world's top recording prize. Tippett wrote in his autobiography, "Some artists will show insight into my vision: an example would be David Atherton's conducting... But then, Atherton is a conductor of genius."[7][8]


Atherton was the conductor in a performance of Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage in 1984 for Thames Television.[9]

In 1988 he was the conductor in a performance of Benjamin Britten's opera Billy Budd for the BBC[10] and in 1995 he was the conductor in the English National Opera performance of Britten's opera Peter Grimes for the BBC.[11]

Personal life and family[edit]

Atherton married Ann Gianetta Drake in 1970, with whom he had three children, two daughters and a son. The couple separated in 1983. In 2012, he married his companion of 27 years, violinist Eleanor Ann Roth.[8]

His sister Joan is a freelance violinist who has held the position of Principal Second Violin with the London Sinfonietta since 1970.[6]

His eldest daughter Elizabeth is an opera singer.


  1. ^ Pasles, Chris (8 January 1992), "O.C. MUSIC Conductor Atherton Brings His Balancing Act to Pacific", Los Angeles Times, retrieved 21 June 2011
  2. ^ Scher, Valerie (3 June 2007). "The family that plays together - Preucils are a big part of Mainly Mozart mix - it comes naturally to this musical clan". Musical families. The San Diego Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on 2 February 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
  3. ^ "Fitzwilliam College Music Homepage". Fitzwilliam College. 2010. Archived from the original on 5 December 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  4. ^ Service, Tom (2 December 2008). "Bold as brass - They've worked with everyone from Reich to Radiohead. As the London Sinfonietta celebrates its 40th, Tom Service toasts its daring and ambition". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
  5. ^ a b c "David Atherton". Universal Music Classical. Retrieved 15 September 2007.
  6. ^ a b "Musicians". Marton Operatic Society. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
  7. ^ a b c d e "David Atherton". Kaylor Management Inc. December 2008. Retrieved 15 September 2007.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ a b c Publications, Europa (19 June 2003). Steeman, Elizabeth (ed.). The International Who's Who 2004 (1 ed.). Routledge. p. 74. ISBN 1-85743-217-7. Retrieved 11 February 2009.
  9. ^ "Full cast and crew for The Midsummer Marriage (1984) (TV)". Internet Movie Database. 1995. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
  10. ^ "Full cast and crew for Billy Budd (1988) (TV)". Internet Movie Database. 1995. Retrieved 12 February 2009.
  11. ^ "Full cast and crew for Peter Grimes (1995) (TV)". Internet Movie Database. 1995. Retrieved 12 February 2009.

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by Music Director, San Diego Symphony
Succeeded by
Yoav Talmi