Coates, Albert, eminent English conductor; b. St. Petersburg, Russia (of an English father and a mother of Russian descent), April 23, 1882; d. Milnerton, near Cape Town, South Africa, Dec. 11, 1953. He went to England for his general education. He enrolled in science classes at the Univ. of Liverpool, and studied organ with an elder brother who was living there at the time. In 1902 he entered the Leipzig Cons., studying cello with Julius Klengel, piano with Teichmüller, and conducting with Nikisch; served his apprenticeship there and made his debut as conductor in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the Leipzig Opera in 1904. In 1905 he was appointed (on Nikisch’s recommendation) chief conductor of the opera house at Elberfeld. From 1907 to 1909 he was a joint conductor at the Dresden Court Opera (with Schuch), then at Mannheim (1909-10, with Bodanzky). In 1911 he received the appointment at the Imperial Opera of St. Petersburg, and conducted many Russian operas. From 1919 he conducted in England, specializing in Wagner and the Russian repertoire; was a proponent of Scriabin’s music. Having made his first appearance at London’s Covent Garden in 1914 with Tristan una Isolde, he conducted there regularly from 1919. From 1919 to 1921 he was principal conductor of the London Sym. Orch. In 1920 he made his American debut as guest conductor of the N.Y. Sym. Orch.; during 1923-25, he led conducting classes at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., conducted the Rochester Phil., and appeared as guest conductor with other American orchs. Subsequent engagements included a season at the Berlin State Opera (1931) and concerts with the Vienna Phil. (1935). In 1938 he conducted for the last time at Covent Garden. In 1946 he settled in South Africa, where he conducted the Johannesburg Sym. Orch. and taught at the Univ. of South Africa at Cape Town. Coates was a prolific composer, but his works had few performances. He was, however, 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.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire