Born: April 23, 1882; St. Petersburg, Russia
Died: December 11, 1953; Milnterton, South Africa
Albert Coates was one of the leading British conductors of the first part of the twentieth century and was important in presenting new Russian music to British audiences. His father was a businessman pursuing interests in Russia and his mother was a British woman of Russian descent. He was sent home to England to stay with relatives and receive his schooling, where he took science classes at Liverpool University and studied organ with his olderRead more brother. He was sent back to Russia to join the family business. It was clear that he wanted to study music and the family allowed him to go to Leipzig, where he studied cello with Klengel and piano with Robert Teichmüller. Conducting attracted him and he took classes from Arthur Nikisch; he eventually became an apprentice to Nikisch. He took a position as conductor in Elberfelt (1906 - 1908), then as an assistant conductor in Dresden, and thence to Mannheim (1909 - 1910), where he was assistant to Bodanzky.
In 1911, he conducted Wagner's Siegfried in St. Petersburg. This resulted in his being hired as principal conductor of the Maryinsky Theater and he met some of the leading Russian composers. During this period, he quickly returned to England and conducted the London Symphony Orchestra as his debut in that city in 1910. His first appearance at Covent Garden was in 1914, leading Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. During the same year, he conducted some performances of the Ring, sharing the production with Nikisch. He left Russia in 1919 after the revolution there, and upon hearing the London Symphony Orchestra was having financial difficulties, he volunteered to conduct it for free. He premiered the revised version of Ralph Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony and Arnold Bax's Symphony No. 1, and gave the first complete public performance of Holst's The Planets. Many of his Russian acquaintances, having fled the regime there, sought him out both because they trusted his sympathies and understanding for Russian music and because of the introductions he could make for them. He led the orchestras when Sergey Prokofiev and Sergey Rachmaninov presented their Third and Fourth piano concertos (respectively) in their British premieres. He first appeared in America conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra and began his valuable series of phonograph records. He joined the faculty of the Eastman School of Music and was music director of the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra from 1923 to 1925. He favored large-scale, dramatic works and led the British premiere of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 during World War II. After the war, he moved to South Africa, becoming the conductor of the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra and teaching at the University of Cape Town. Read less