Born: April 23, 1882 - St. Petersburg, Russia
Died: December 11, 1953 - Milnerton, near on Cape Town, South Africa
The English conductor and composer, Albert Coates, was born in Russia to an English father and a mother of Russian descent. He went to England for his general education; enrolled in science classes at the University of Liverpool, and studied organ with an elder brother who was living there at the time. In 1902 he entered the Leipzig Conservatory, studying cello with Julius Klengel, and piano with Teichmüller. Eventually, he became most influenced by Nikisch's conducting classes, served his apprenticeship there, engaged as répétiteur at the Leipzig Opera, and made his debut as conductor in Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Leipzig Opera in 1904.
In 1905 (or 1906) Albert Coates was appointed (on Nikisch's recommendation) chief conductor of the opera house at Elberfeld, serving in this post until 1907 (or 1908). From 1907 to 1909 he was a joint conductor at the Dresden Court Opera (as assistant to Schuch); then at Mannheim (1909-1910, with Bodanzky). An invitation to conduct Siegfried at St. Petersburg led to Coates' appointment as principal conductor at the Mariinsky Theater (Imperial Opera) there for five years. He conducted many Russian operas, and the post also brought him into close contact with leading Russian musicians, particularly Scriabin, whose music he championed. From 1919 he conducted in England, specialising in Wagner and the Russian repertoire. Having made his first appearance at London's Covent Garden in 1914 with Tristan und Isolde, he conducted there regularly from 1919. He shared performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen with Nikisch, and returned there frequently during Sir Thomas Beecham's opera seasons. From 1919 to 1921 he was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1920 he made his American debut as guest conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra. During 1923-1925, he led conducting classes at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, conducted the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and appeared as guest conductor with other American orchestras. Subsequent engagements included a season at the Berlin State Opera (1931) and concerts with the Wiener Philharmoniker (1935). In 1938 he conducted for the last time at Covent Garden. In 1946 he settled in South Africa, where he conducted the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra and taught at the University of South Africa at Cape Town.
Albert Coates was one of the most outstanding, if unheralded, conductors of his generation; he excelled in the Romantic operatic and symphonic repertoire, conducting particularly memorable performances of Russian music and Wagner's music dramas.
Albert Coates was a prolific composer, but his works had few performances. He wrote two operas: Samuel Pepys, produced at Munich in 1929, and Pickwick, staged at Covent Garden in 1936 as the main novelty of a season by the short-lived British Music Drama Opera Company, for which he was chiefly responsible in association with Vladimir Rosing. Although unsuccessful in the theater, Pickwick had the distinction of being the first opera to be shown on television. Several scenes from it were included in the BBC's newly opened service in November 1936, in advance of its stage première.