Jeffrey Tate was educated at Farnham Grammar School, where he already showed precocious musical aptitude, and then at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he read medicine. He qualified as a doctor after further study at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, but abandoned a clinical career for music, entering the London Opera Centre as a student répétiteur in 1969. The following year he joined the music staff of the Royal Opera Company, Covent Garden, as a répétiteur. During his time at Covent Garden he worked with numerous distinguished conductors including Colin Davis, Rudolf Kempe, Carlos Kleiber and Georg Solti. He was invited by Pierre Boulez to assist him on the centenary production of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festival in 1976 and on the first performances of the three-act version of Berg’s Lulu in Paris in 1979. In addition he assisted Herbert von Karajan at Salzburg and John Pritchard at Cologne. He made his conducting debut at Gothenburg with Carmen in 1978, and during the following year substituted for James Levine at short notice to conduct Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera, to great critical and public acclaim: thus his international career as a conductor was effectively launched.
Tate returned to the Metropolitan Opera to conduct Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Puccini’s La Bohème, and Kurt Weill’s Aufsteig und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny amongst others. He made his Covent Garden debut with Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito in 1982, returning frequently to conduct a wide repertoire, including Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Mozart’s Così fan tutte. He first appeared at the Salzburg Festival in 1985, conducting Hans Werner Henze’s version of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and at the Vienna State Opera, with La Clemenza di Tito, during the same year. He commenced his first permanent appointment, as chief conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra, in 1985, a post he held until 2000. Between 1986 and 1991 he served as principal conductor with the Royal Opera Company, Covent Garden, followed by a further two seasons as principal guest conductor. Subsequently he was chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from 1990 to 1993, principal guest conductor of the Orchestre National de Radio France, France’s major radio orchestra, from 1991 to 1998, and chief conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest between 1996 and 2000. Throughout the 1990s Tate led many distinguished opera productions, including the first complete cycle of the Ring in Paris since the end of World War II (in 1994), followed by further highly acclaimed cycles in Adelaide (1998) and Cologne (2000); Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes at the Paris Opera (1996), Die Walküre at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires (1997), and Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza at Cologne (2000). He also became a welcome guest with many of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, including the Bavarian Radio Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Toronto Symphony.
In 1998 Tate took up the post of principal guest conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, the principal Italian radio orchestra, and commenced an especially fruitful period of activity in Italy. With the RAI orchestra he conducted landmark performances of Haydn’s Die Schöpfung (2000); Schumann’s Szenen aus Goethes Faust (2001) and Das Paradies und die Peri (2004); Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (2002), and Bach’s B minor Mass (2003). At the same time he became active in the opera houses of Italy, conducting Richard Strauss’s Capriccio in Turin, his Der Rosenkavalier and Britten’s Peter Grimes at La Scala, Milan, and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Wagner’s Die Walküre and Humperdinck’s Königskinder at the San Carlo, Naples, for which he won the Franco Abbiati Prize—the Italian music critics’ most prestigious award—in 2002. Following the death of Gary Bertini, Tate was appointed chief conductor of the San Carlo in 2005, an outstanding achievement for a conductor of English birth. He opened the theatre’s 2006 season with a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff. Amongst numerous honours, Tate holds those of Commander of the British Empire and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France.
Jeffrey Tate was born with the condition of spina bifida, which makes his extraordinarily successful career even more astounding. As he himself has commented in interview, ‘If people had told me that I would have the stamina to conduct Ring cycles, I would have been amazed… I still am.’ (Melbourne Age, 2005). As a conductor, he is very much the musician’s musician. Gifted with a natural sense of expressive gesture and an inexhaustible love of music, his performances are characterised by an ideal balance between respect for the composer’s wishes and a deeply felt personal response. His discography is large, and includes many outstanding recordings. Notable highlights include the complete Mozart symphonies, and his complete piano concertos (with Mitsuko Uchida), Canteloube’s Chants d’ Auvergne (with Kiri Te Kanawa), Elgar’s Symphonies Nos 1 and 2, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, a clutch of late Haydn symphonies, Richard Strauss’s incidental music to Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and his Metamorphosen, orchestral excerpts from operas by Richard Strauss and Wagner, and violin concertos by Beethoven (with Frank Peter Zimmermann), Bruch and Mendelssohn (with Nigel Kennedy), and Elgar (with Alessandro Milani). Complete opera recordings include Berg’s Lulu, Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, the Monteverdi–Henze Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, and Richard Strauss’s Arabella and Elektra.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).
Role: Classical Artist