David Atherton


David Atherton studied music at Cambridge University where his operatic conducting aroused much interest from the national press.  In 1967 Sir Georg Solti invited him to join the music staff of the Royal Opera House, London, and the following year, at the age of 24, he became the youngest conductor ever to appear there.  In his twelve years as Resident Conductor he gave nearly 200 performances with Covent Garden, including a highly successful visit to La Scala, Milan.  As a guest conductor he has returned there frequently, his most recent engagements having been new productions of operas by Ravel, Stravinsky and Meyerbeer. Other operas he has conducted include Tosca, Wozzeck and Salome for Canadian Opera, The Makropulos Case (in New York) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Glyndebourne Festival Opera, and many new productions for English National Opera including Turandot, The Love for Three Oranges, Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, Peter Grimes and Billy Budd, a work he has championed with the San Francisco and Metropolitan Operas. He returns to the Met on a regular basis having also conducted The Barber of Seville, Peter Grimes and new productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Death in Venice.
David Atherton was co-founder of the London Sinfonietta in 1967 and, as its Music Director, gave the first performance of many important contemporary works.  The London Sinfonietta, widely regarded as one of the world's leading chamber orchestras, has made countless recordings with him, including highly praised collections of works by Schoenberg, Janacek and Weill.  His work in the recording studio has gained an Edison Award, many Grammy Award nominations and the sought-after Grand Prix du Disque. He has also been honoured with the Serge Koussevitsky Critics' Award and the Prix Caecilia. Of his recording of Tippett's opera King Priam, for which he was given the coveted International Record Critics' Award, generally regarded as the world's top recording prize, the composer 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."
He became the youngest conductor in the history of the BBC’s Henry Wood Promenade Concerts and subsequently appeared in thirty contiguous seasons. He travels widely, in particular to the USA where he has visited leading North American orchestras, notably those in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, New York, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.  Other engagements have taken him to Australia, New Zealand and Japan, as well as to the Czech Republic (to open the Prague Spring Festival), Sweden, Finland, Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and Germany (to open the Berlin Festival with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra).
David Atherton was Music Director of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra (1980 – 1987) and of the Mainly Mozart Festival, which he founded, (1989 to 2013). He has also held titled positions with the BBC Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, as well as devising and conducting festivals in London featuring the complete works of Ravel, Stravinsky, Webern and Varèse with the London Sinfonietta, London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Opera House.  
From 1989 David Atherton was the Music Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. On his retirement from this position in 2000 and in recognition of his services to the music of Hong Kong, he was awarded the OBE and made the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate.
July 2016: This biography must not be edited without the permission of Askonas Holt Ltd

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Concert 10 January 2014

Hong Kong Philharmonic

"The criticisms of Tchaikovsky's symphonic writing levelled during his day (such as surface vulgarity and repetitious padding) are still aired today, but Atherton and the orchestra showed how to turn those weaknesses into a superb performance." South China Morning Post 13 January 2014

BBC Proms 12 August 2013

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

"The evening began with another slice of Holst in his orientalist vein, the symphonic poem Indra. It’s a charming piece, played here with full-blooded affection by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under David Atherton."
The Telegraph 13 August 2013
[For Khan, Sitar Concerto No.1]
"Atherton set an ideal pace throughout this 47-minute performance from which BBCNOW did not flag, and so maintained a buoyant character which was moulded into something more romantic and sensuous in the second movement, and instilled with mounting urgency at the end of the third."
The Classical Source 13 August 2013
"David Atherton led a beautifully turned performance of the piece [Vaughan-Williams, Symphony No.2], full of precisely shaded colour and with a quite extraordinary control of the work's complex emotional trajectory, which takes in both the city's noisy charm as well as the composer's rising horror at the hidden "wilderness of slums"..." Guardian 13 August 2013
[Vaughan-Williams, Symphony No.2]
"Atherton and his orchestra found a wonderful hushed intensity at the opening, exploding into glaring life in the main Allegro. This movement, with its twists and turns of the picturesque, the glamorous and the tragic, was capped brilliantly by a bubbling coda." Bachtrack 14 August 2013

Mainly Mozart Festival

Balboa Theatre

"Atherton made it all sound absolutely coherent and yet never predictable; he approached it with complete seriousness but also acknowledged Weber’s refusal to take himself as seriously as Beethoven." U-T San Diego 13 June 2013

BRITTEN Spring Symphony

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

"conductor David Atherton created a sense of the grand Mahlerian span while bringing out details that were distinctively Britten."
The Guardian, 28 January 2013


Concert: May 2012

London Sinfonietta

"Atherton brought out the spiky, visceral quality of those gestures in the performance of In Broken Images, achieving the kind of raw beauty that is present in so much of Birtwistle’s music but which ultimately defies analysis." This is London, 25 May 2012


Concert: June 2011

Mainly Mozart Festival, San Diego

"David Atherton treated it (Mozart Symphony No 16) with particular incisiveness and verve. In the Schubert he took charge, shaping an interpretation that confounded the classical preconceptions generally attached to this work". Union Tribune San Diego, 14 June 2011

Concert: September 2010

Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra

"...five minutes to take your breath away with an amazing reading full of passion yet delicate, of the extraordinary overture by Mozart." O Estado de São Paulo, 27 September 2010


Concert: August 2010

BBC Proms/London Sinfonietta

"There was a superb account of Threni, Stravinsky's first wholly 12-note work. David Atherton's no-nonsense conducting was typically pungent, the soloists were outstanding, and the BBC Singers and London Sinfonietta were their usual exemplary selves." The Guardion, 5 August 2010


Concert: June 2010

Mainly Mozart Fesitval, San Diego

"Under Atherton’s assured direction and the festival orchestra’s immaculate playing, Mozart’s “G Minor Symphony, No. 40,” worked its wonted magic."

SanDiego.com, 8 June 2010


The Planets

BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Cardiff

"Atherton ripped into The Planets with suitably martial force. In a carefully paced performance, what was striking was the contrast between the gutsy clamour of Holst's orchestration at full throttle – the brass section in its element – and the celestial mystique of its hushed moments." The Guardian, 18 January 2010