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Virtuoso organist with technical skill and emotional depth

John Scott: June 18th, 1956 - August 12th, 2015

John Scott, who has died suddenly in New York aged 59, was a distinguished organist and conductor with great technical skill and an ability to get to the heart of the music he was playing.

His death occurred just after he had returned to his home in his adopted city following a 14-concert tour of Europe which included three recitals in Ireland.

John Gavin Scott was born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where his musical talents were first nurtured as a boy chorister in the city’s cathedral choir. From there he moved to St John’s College, Cambridge, where he served under the legendary George Guest. His prodigious talent first came to public notice when, in 1977, he played at the London Proms, the youngest organist ever to have performed solo in the city’s premier annual music festival.

A year later he won the Manchester International Organ Competition and then in 1984 was the first British organist to win the Leipzig Bach International Organ Competition.

On graduating from Cambridge Scott moved to St Paul’s Cathedral in London, thus beginning an association which lasted 26 years. He was to become organist and director of music in 1990, a position he held until we was offered the prestigious and lucrative post of organist and director of music of New York’s St Thomas Church in 2004.

In both London and New York Scott became known as an organist of uncommon ability, noted for playing that was not only technically impeccable but also highly colourful and emotionally communicative. He performed the complete organ works of JS Bach in recital series in both London and New York, and he performed the same feat for Bach’s great predecessor and mentor Dietrich Buxtehude.

Eclecticism

At the other end of the interpretative spectrum, he played the complete organ oeuvre of César Franck in five successive recitals. His musical eclecticism can be savoured in his numerous recordings on Hyperion, Priory and Decca.

As a conductor, mainly of his choirs at St Paul’s and St Thomas, he gave regular performances of the hardy annuals such as Handel’s Messiah and the Bach Passions and cantatas which were regarded as among the best of the numerous annual performances on offer of these works in London and New York. In New York he and his choir regularly teamed up with the period-instrument band Concert Royal in giving stylish and authoritative accounts of these masterpieces.

His July recitals in Ireland, where he played in the annual summer series in St Michael’s, Dún Laoghaire, Tullamore, and Galway Cathedral, saw him in peak form, eliciting from Irish Times critic Michael Dervan enthusiastic reference to “his fabulously fluent fingers” and his “minimally intrusive interpretative approach, as if he wished the music to sound as if it were just happening”. This was the essence of Scott’s art, an ability to get to the heart of the music, with him acting unobtrusively as a conduit to draw the listener to a deeper and more profound appreciation of the mystery of sonic beauty.

John Scott is survived by his second wife, Lily, who is due to give birth to their first child next month. He is also survived by two adult children from his first marriage, Emma and Alex, and by two sisters, Judith and Helen.