Tate moved with his family to Farnham, Surrey, and attended school there. Despite his disabilities, he achieved a 4-decade career conducting operatic and symphonic music, following a medical degree from Cambridge and medical residency at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. He began in London Opera Centre with a scholarship and was a coach at Royal Opera House répétiteur in 1971.
The maestro’s international conducting début was with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1979. In 1985, he was appointed the first principal conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra, and in September 1986 became principal conductor of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the first person in the House’s history to have that title. He was principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from 1991 to 1995, and in 2005 was appointed music director of the San Carlo Theatre of Naples, remaining in the post until 2010.
In October 2007, the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Tate as its next chief conductor. He formally took up the post in 2009. In February 2014, the orchestra announced the extension of his contract as chief conductor until 2019.
He was appointed Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra for the 2016/17 seasons, in part as a result of his association with the orchestra from a 1998 production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Tate’s recordings include a series of Mozart piano concertos with Dame Mitsuko Uchida.
Tate was president of UK Spina Bifida charity ASBAH (now SHINE [Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus, Information, Networking, Equality]) from 1989. A portrait of his is in David Blum’s book Quintet, Five Journeys toward Musical Fulfillment (Cornell University Press, 1999). It originally appeared as an article in the 30 April 1990 issue of The New Yorker.
In private life, Tate was partners with Klaus Kuhlemann, a German geomorphologist, whom he met when conducting at Cologne from 1977. The conductor described this situation as being an outsider on two scores:
The gay world is immensely hung up with physical perfection for some curious reason … Therefore, being disabled in that world is harder.
Tate and Kuhlemann eventually married.
Tate was made a Knight Bachelor in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to British music overseas. He was also appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1990 Birthday Honours.
Tate conducted his last concerts on 30 and 31 May 2017, in Bolzano and Trento, with the Haydn Orchestra.
He was knighted 6 weeks before his death, for his services to music, as part of the 2017 New Year Honours. He was in Lombardy, Italy, when he died, reportedly in rehearsal due to a heart attack, at the age of 74.
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