Repertoire Search

Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Mavis in Las Vegas (1996)
commissioned by the BBC
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
15 Minutes

Buy this work
Worldwide Sales   North American Sales
Study Score Study Score

Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Mavis in Las Vegas (1996)
In spite of his early studies at Princeton and his frequent invocation of jazz, nothing in Davies's music so far has evoked the enormous - and enormously affectionate - relish he shows here for the great American experience at its most absurd. 'Mavis' is none other than the composer in the form he found himself computer-listed at a Las Vegas hotel while on tour there with the BBC Philharmonic. Here she has an identity all her own, her theme first heard in sentimentally dreamy fashion on solo violin: a connection ritornello, as it turns out, between adventures in a variation form which keeps mere pastiche at bay. The (over) bright lights of the desert Babylon tempt the composer to his most glittering colours, involving a large percussion section and some incandescent orchestral effects, but it is the sounds of big-band and big-country America which he is most intent on evoking, featuring snapshots of a garish gambling hall, a chapel on the 'Strip', the Liberace museum, city lights seen from the desert and - in an exuberant finale - Las Vegas's synthetic volcano in full eruption, much to Mavis's delight.

Read about this work at

Composer's Note
In 1995 the BBC Philharmonic toured the United States, performing under the batons of Yan Pascal Tortelier and myself for four weeks, from California across the whole country to Boston, New York and Washington. One of the most unforgettable stops was at Las Vegas, that most unreal synthetic city in the middle of a desert, devoted to gambling, quick weddings and the cult of kitsch so tacky as to be a source of wonder and inspiration.

While I was in Las Vegas, the following article appeared in the London Independent newspaper. '

My attempts to contact Sir Peter Maxwell Davies last week during his 15-date, coast-to-coast US tour with the BBC Philharmonic proved unexpectedly problematic. I rang the Flamingo Hilton, Las Vegas, at 9am US time, by arrangement, and asked to be connected to the composer's room. "I'm sorry," replied the receptionist, "I just lurve your British accent, but could you just repeat the name more slowly, please." I repeated it. "Davis? How do you spell that, please? Oh, Day-vees." Short pause. "I'm sorry, we have no Mr. Day-vees registered."

I suggested we try Maxwell. Then Peter. Then Sir. "I'm sorry, What's 'sir'". "It means he's a knight of the realm. He's a famous British composer, he's giving a concert in Las Vegas tonight and he's meant to be staying at the Flamingo Hilton."

"I'm sorry, but if he's a famous British composer, what's he doing staying at the Flamingo? No one stays at the Flamingo if they can afford to stay at the Las Vegas Hilton. Shall I transfer you there?" She does. I repeat the routine. Same result.

Forty minutes of to-ing and fro-ing between the composer's British and American press agents solved the mystery. Maxwell Davies had been in the Flamingo all along registered as Mavis. Guess they had some problem with his accent.'

It is easy to understand how my name 'Maxwell Davies' could, in the USA, be contracted to 'Mavis' for ease of computerized registration: I immediately imagined Mavis having wonderful adventures in the glitzy environment of Las Vegas.

Although in effect this work could be regarded as a concert overture, it is strictly a theme with variations. At the outset, we hear Mavis's theme on solo violin, and are immediately transported to the gambling hall of a large hotel - always lit by harsh electric light, windowless, disorientating, with the C major (and inexplicably, the odd D flat) of the sputtering gambling-machine filling the air. Mavis makes her entrance - I imagine her all outrageous flounces and hip-jerks, her generous ball-gown streaming, descending a magnificent (pink!) curved staircase into the gambling area.

We move out into the street - the 'Strip' - to hear music issuing from a club, a wedding chapel, and an Elvis shrine. There is a visit to Caesar's Palace, where a huge central fountain, bathed in violet-sweet light, boasts not only magnificent water displays but moving Classical statues which intone platitudes with Shakespearean accents. We visit the Liberace Museum, with its displays of impossibly glamorous costumes, cars and grand pianos, and look at the city skyline glowering and twinkling, seen from the desert at night - an oddly disorientating experience. Finally, we watch the 'volcano' erupt - all synthetic geysers and controlled explosions of gas, with an expensive light show, and loudspeakers relaying suitable rumblings and bangs - with the 'Mavis' theme finally triumphant through it all.

The work is dedicated to Mary Jo Connealy, of Columbia Artists Management Inc, New York, who did so much to make our American tour possible. She accompanied us throughout, with extreme grace, really practical help and encouragement.

  • Ensemble
    BBC Philharmonic
    Peter Maxwell Davies
  • 01 JAN 2014
    Florence, Italy
    Orchestra Giovanile Italiana
  • 06 MAR 2011
    Oporto, Portugal
    Orquestra Sinfonica do Porto Casa da Musica
    Joseph Young, conductor
  • 20 JUN 2010
    St Johns' Waterloo, London
    Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra
  • 20 JUN 2010
    St John's Waterloo, London
    Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra
  • 05 NOV 2009
    RSAMD Concert Hall, Glasgow, Scotland
    RSAMD Symphony Orchestra
    Nicholas Cleobury, conductor
  • 15 DEC 2006
    Lille, France
    Orchestre National de Lille

    Other Dates:
    18 December - Bleriot, France
    19 December - Henin Beaumont, France
    21 December - Maubeuge, France
    22 December - Boulogne, France
  • 05 DEC 2006
    Derby Cathedral, Derby
    Derby Concert Orchestra
  • 15 OCT 2006
    Cervantino Festival
    Cervantino Festival, Mexico
    Philharmonia Orchestra
    Peter Maxwell Davies, conductor
  • 13 SEP 2006
    Settembre Musica Festival
    Lingotto, Torino, Italy
    Orchestra Sinfonica RAI
    Vittorio Ceccanti, cello; Peter Maxwell Davies, conductor
  • 10 JUN 2006
    Usher Hall, Edinburgh
    Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    James Lowe, conductor

    Other Dates:
    1 July - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
  • 07 MAY 2005
    Las Vegas
    Las Vegas Philharmonic
  • 30 APR 2005
    Peter Maxwell Davies, a musician of our time
    Royal Festival Hall
    Philharmonia Orchestra
    Peter Maxwell Davies, conductor
  • 02 DEC 2004
    Lancaster, UK
    BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
    Peter Maxwell Davies, conductor
  • 24 JUL 2004
    College of San Mateo Theatre, San Mateo, California
    Redwood Symphony Orchestra
    Eric Kujawsky, conductor
  • 16 APR 2004
    Tivoli Koncwertsaal, Copenhagen, Denmark
    Sjaellands Symfoniorkester
    Giordano Bellincampi, conductor

    Other Dates:
    17 April - Tivoli Koncwertsaal, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 24 JUN 2003
    St Magnus Festival, Orkney
    Piquaquoy Centre, Kirkwall, Orkney
    BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
    Rumon Gamba, conductor
  • 15 APR 2002
    Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France
    Orchestre National de Lille
    John Axelrod, conductor

    Other Dates:
    17 April - Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France
  • 31 JAN 2002
    Oslo Concert Hall, Oslo, Norway
    Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
    Tadaaki Otaka, conductor
  • 19 JAN 2002
    Arlene Schinitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oregon, USA
    Oregon Symphony Orchestra
    Norman Leyden, conductor

    Other Dates:
    20,21 January - Arlene Schinitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oregon, USA
  • 25 OCT 2001
    Perth, Australia
    Western Australia Symphony Orchestra
    James MacMillan, conductor
  • 07 JUL 2001
    Eton School Hall, Eton
    Windsor and Maidenhead Symphony Orchestra
    Robert Roscoe, conductor

Tickled by the idea of an all-too-impressionable alter ego, sightseeing in the gambling capital (“I imagine all her outrageous flounces and hip-jerks, her generous ball-gown streaming, descending a magnificent [pink] curved staircase”), Davies created Mavis as a solo violin theme conducted through a sequence of lurid, parodic variations representing nightclub, wedding chapel, Elvis shrine, Liberace museum and other classic sites of kitsch. From the surrounding desert, she admires the weird, glitzy cityscape, and resists engulfment by the volcano that ends the piece in a blaze-up of bad taste. It is a deft little extravaganza in cock-snooking mode that, whether applied to high-toned pieces or unashamed light music, has always been close to the composer’s heart… The overture ought to be an eminently usable item for pops concerts.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,01/03/1997
Close X

Newsletter Signup

Please fill in this form to receive regular news

Click here to receive regular news
© Copyright 2014 Music Sales Classical. Part of the Music Sales Group.