Brown Bread: Sir Edward “Red Ted” Downes


I’ve just heard the sad news that Ted Downes has died, with his wife, both of them drinking a fatal draft of poison at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

The son of the conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Lady Joan described today how his parents died together at the Swiss assisted-dying clinic.

He was a great man. I hope BBC Radio 3 will recognise this in its forthcoming programming. It would be nice to hear again some of his magnificent performances of Russian music, much of it neglected at the time he revived it. I think his Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 is still the best I have heard.

Everyone will have their own memories of Ted Downes, but for me it was his Verdi performances that set the benchmark for others to follow. It was remarkable how someone born outside Italy had such a mastery and affinity with the Verdi style.

Not only an outstanding conductor, but also someone who built the Royal Opera House orchestra into an astonishing ensemble in the second half of the twentieth century. The orchestra has grown from strength to strength, and recent Music Directors have benefited from the wonderful work Ted Downes has done. I know that he was very much admired by orchestral musicians.

His wonderful cycle of the Prokofiev symphonies at the Royal Festival Hall was a revelation, particularly the lesser-known Third and Fourth. A fine man who achieved much. I was sorry to hear of his death, but glad that he had the option of ending his life before it became unbearable.

R.I.P. Sir Edward Downes 1924-2009

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