Rhinegold Photo credit: Malcolm Crowthers
Playing the organ of La Trinité, Paris (1987), with Olivier Messiaen registering

Maggie Hamilton

Organist Jennifer Bate has died

9:47, 27th March 2020

British concert organist Jennifer Bate died of cancer on 25 March.

Bate was taught the organ by her father, H.A. Bate, who also educated her in the skills – harmony, counterpoint, transposition, improvisation, and aural training – and attitudes required in the music profession: ‘Never say no, be flexible, be reliable, be thoroughly prepared’, as she said in a recent interview with Choir & Organ (see April 2020 issue). She forsook a good, stable job at London University to spend her life at the console, becoming one of the first people to devote themselves solely to being a concert organist. Bate felt that her gender was immaterial – what was important was how good you were.

An invitation from a BBC producer brought to Muswell Hill, where the Bates lived, the French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen. Bate’s first encounter with him led to a close friendship and collaboration that lasted for the last 17 years of the composer’s life, becoming his organist of choice and giving the world premiere of his Livre du Saint Sacrement in 1986; a subsequent premiere recording of the work, until the composer’s supervision, won the Grand Prix du Disque.

Messiaen was not the only contemporary composer with whom Bate collaborated; she told C&O, ‘I learned about 20-30 concertos by living composers and played parts to them. And it was through my friendship with Andrzei Panufnik, Peter Dickinson and others that I got my first chances to record or play [in my early days]. They were so impressed that I was learning their music in the hope of playing it.’

Bate’s career flourished over the decades, with her spending up to 10 months of the year abroad giving concerts; she appeared at the Proms four times. Sixteen years ago she also decided to give girls the opportunity to develop their organ skills by setting up the Jennifer Bate Organ Academy, which has run annually in Bramley, Surrey, ever since.

Bate’s distinguished career earned her an OBE (2008) and investiture as Officier des Arts et des Lettres and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (2012).

SOMM Recordings have offered the following playlist in memory of Jennifer Bate:

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