Jennifer Bate – November 11, 1944 – March 25, 2020
In loving memory of a consummate artist and a true friend.
—Siva Oke, SOMM Recordings
British concert organist Jennifer Bate died of cancer on 25 March. Having been a friend and colleague for nearly 40 years, I was deeply saddened to hear the news.
I keenly remember the time when we first met. In 1981 I became general manager of the pioneering independent record label Unicorn-Kanchana. The label was in its prime, with an exciting and eclectic mix of artists, including Jennifer Bate.
The first time I came across Jenny as a performer was on vinyl. Listening to her recording of Messiaen’s Les corps glorieux – especially ‘Combats de la mort et de la vie’, aggressive and dissonant, Christ’s struggle between death and life – had a powerful effect on me. I remember my surprise on first meeting her in person: a tall, slim and graceful young woman brimming with warmth and confidence. She laughed when I told her that her performance of Les corps glorieux conjured up an image in my mind of someone of ferocious power with a physique to match. We quickly became friends and often went to concerts together, Jenny making sure she brought a score we could read from during the performance.
My chance to work with Jenny for my own label, SOMM, came in 2004. Ever the eager, restless scholar, she was never happier than when she uncovered new treasures. She was fascinated by the Wesleys and their influence on the evolution of English organ music, and her research from manuscripts and first editions resulted in our first two landmark recordings: Organ Music by Samuel Wesley and its companion CD, The Wesleys and their Contemporaries, followed swiftly by world premiere recordings of the complete works of Mendelssohn. These were the culmination of Jenny’s research into the composer. We recorded on six different organs all 68 pieces, from Mendelssohn’s first composition at the age of 11 to his last works. Beyond the warm reviews, what I relish most is Jenny’s joy that we were able to accomplish this monumental task. Her radiant warmth, her capacity for friendship as well as her utter professionalism have enriched my life beyond measure. I feel truly blessed.
(Text excerpted from Siva’s tribute in the May/June issue of Choir & Organ Magazine)