Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Sir Jeffrey Tate

Last week was a bad week for great conductors. Jiří Bělohlávek died, followed a day or so later by the British conductor Sir Jeffrey Tate, who died of a heart attack in Bergamo, Italy, at age 74.

That meant that Tate outlived his initial life expectancy by about 24 years. He was born with spina bifida and kyphosis (severe curvature of the spine), and his parents were told he'd probably live to be about 50. He trained initially as an eye doctor, all the while having an eye on music, but his parents wanted him to be in a profession that would give him a solid livelihood. In his 20s, he had the chance to enroll in a program for conductor/repetiteurs, and then he was invited to join the music staff at the Royal Opera.

He didn't look back from there, and had a superb career with both opera and orchestral music. I never heard him conduct in person, but his Hansel und Gretel is gloriously conducted, and he made many other fine recordings. He conducted 20 Ring cycles, and they must have been fabulous, given his success with Hansel. He was knighted recently, having been on the New Year's Honours List.

He said that he felt like a double outsider, as a disabled man and a gay man, mentioning that gay men tended to be very focused on bodily perfection. He's survived by his partner, more recently husband, of 40 yearsKlaus Kuhlemann, a German scientist he met while conducting in Cologne. Condolences to Mr. Kuhlemann and all who knew and loved Sir Jeffrey.

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