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Obituary for Dr. Jennifer Lucy Bate

Dr. Jennifer Lucy Bate, O.B.E., Hon. D.Mus., B.A. Music, F.R.C.O.

11th November 1944 - 25th March 2020

The concert organist, Dr Jennifer Bate, died in March 2020 after a long battle with cancer. While she was the leading exponent of the organ music of the composer, Olivier Messiaen, with whom she worked closely, she had a broad repertoire. Her many recordings included the complete organ works of both Franck and Mendelssohn and a wide range of English organ music, including works by S.S. Wesley and the complete works of Peter Dickinson. For many, her recordings of Mendelssohn were definitive. She travelled widely during her international career, giving recitals, master classes and lectures, and was particularly well-regarded in Japan and Italy and of course France. She appeared at four Promenade Concerts at the Albert Hall during her career as well as at international festivals all over the world.

Born in London, the only child of Horace A. Bate, the organist and choirmaster of St. James’s, Muswell Hill from 1924-1978, she came to the University of Bristol to study music and was a resident of Manor Hall (then an all-female residence) for two years of her undergraduate degree. She often recounted her pleasant conversations over a glass of madeira with the then Warden, Dr Marjorie Tait. Following her graduation in 1966, she qualified as a librarian and worked for the L.S.E. before assuming a career in music full-time. She retained her connection with the University and the City, giving master classes and recitals from time to time, and was awarded an honorary D.Mus. by the University in 2007. As a Patron of the Manor Hall Association from 2007, she took an interest in a number of musicians in Manor and attended the hall play which marked the 75th anniversary of the drama society. In 2009 she gave the University’s Convocation Centenary Lecture entitled The Organ: Box of Whistles or King of Instruments?, illustrated on the University’s organ in the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building.

Dr Bate received many international awards for her artistry and outstanding contribution to music and was appointed an O.B.E. in 2008 and a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur in 2011. She was in the top rank of international organists and her phenomenal technique and expressive playing resulted in many composers writing especially for her. Her last visits to Bristol were to inaugurate the internationally significant and newly restored Georgian William Allen chamber organ at St. Peter, Pilning (2016), to give the annual guest recital at Christ Church with St. Ewen, Broad Street, Bristol (again in 2016), which was attended by Manor’s then Warden, Dr M.J. Crossley Evans, and a number of Manor Hall students, and to Dr Crossley Evans’s retirement party, in 2018.

She found it difficult to find somewhere to practice when she first came to Bristol, as women were widely felt to be unsuited to the organ. In later years she founded the Jennifer Bate Organ Academy to assist young women develop as organists, something of which she was very proud. A number of the Academy’s students have gone on to be appointed Oxford and Cambridge University Organ Scholars.


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