The conductor Sir Jeffrey Tate has died

Guest Sat 3rd June 2017

Born April 28, 1943; died June 2, 2017

Jeffrey Tate was Chief Conductor of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra at the time of his death [Photo: Symphoniker Hamburg / J Konrad Schmidt

The pianist and conductor Jeffrey Tate has died; he was 74. He was rehearsing the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, Italy, when he suffered a heart attack. He overcame the physical disabilities of spina bifida and kyphosis to rise to the top of his profession, maintaining a challenging schedule for 40 years.

A doctor by training (at Cambridge and then at St Thomas’s Hospital in London), Tate abandoned medicine to train at the London Opera Centre, joining the staff of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as a répétiteur where he worked with Sir Georg Solti (he’d later assist and play the continuo on Solti’s recordings, most notably the classic Decca set of Le nozze di Figaro). He also worked with Pierre Boulez (assisting on his Bayreuth Ring as well as the premiere of Friedrich Cerha’s completion of Alban Berg’s Lulu). He’d later work with James Levine at the Met, stepping in at three hours’ notice in 1979 to conduct Lulu (he’d return to the New York house for six seasons to conduct primarily Mozart and Richard Strauss). He also worked privately with Maria Callas at the end of her career.

In 1985 he was appointed the first Principal Conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra and began a major recording programme for EMI which included the complete Mozart symphonies as well as a number of Haydn's. He conducted the world premiere recording of Mahler orchestration of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet. Of one of his Mozart symphony discs, Edward Greenfield wrote: ‘Many years ago Daniel Barenboim made a fine Mozart symphony series with the ECO, but with less extreme speeds and more refined playing Tate is now outshining even that achievement in performances ideal for those who resist period instruments, yet want freshness and clear textures on the one hand, warmth and sparkle on the other’. Tate and the ECO would also partner Mitsuko Uchida on a complete cycle of the Mozart piano concertos for Philips. His operatic recordings would include Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel (EMI), Berg’s Lulu (EMI), Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann (Philips), Strauss’s Arabella (Decca) and Elektra (Claves) and Rolf Liebermann’s La forêt (Musiques Suisses), 

He was a sympathetic partner on the podium and would support numerous singers on disc including Kiri Te Kanawa (he conducted for her much-loved collection of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne), Renée Fleming and Agnes Baltsa and instrumentalists like Nigel Kennedy (Bruch/Mendelssohn), Frank Peter Zimmermann (Mozart) and Pieter Wispelwey (Walton). He also played the piano for Ian Bostridge’s Noël Coward recording and displayed a delightful feel for the idiom.

Other orchestral and operatic posts he held included Prinicpal Conductor of the Royal Opera (1986-93), Principal Conductor of the Rotterdam PO (1991-95), Music Director of Naples’s San Carlo Theatre (2005-10), and, at his death, was Chief Conductor of the Hamburg SO (a post he took up in 2009). 

He was made a Knight Bachelor at the 2017 New Year's Honours for services to British music abroad. He is survived by his partner of 40 years, Klaus Kuhlemann.

[Photo: Symphoniker Hamburg / J Konrad Schmidt

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