John Scott’s Music Life

John Gavin Scott, LVO (18 June 1956 – 12 August 2015) was an English organist and choirmaster who reached the highest levels of his profession on both sides of the Atlantic. He directed the Choir of St Paul's Cathedral in London from 1990 to 2004. He then directed the Choir of Men and Boys of St Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City until his death at age 59. Whilst training countless young musicians, he maintained an active career as an international concert performer and recording artist, and was acclaimed as "the premier English organist of his generation.

John Scott was born in 1956 in Wakefield, Yorkshire, where he became a Cathedral chorister.  While still at school he gained the diplomas of the Royal College of Organists winning the major prizes.  In 1974 he became Organ Scholar of St. John’s College, Cambridge, where for four years he acted as assistant to Dr. George Guest and held the University John Stewart of Rannoch Scholarship in Sacred Music.  His organ studies were with Jonathan Bielby, Ralph Downes, and Dame Gillian Weir.  He made his debut in the 1977 Promenade Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, playing Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm.  He was the youngest organist to appear as a soloist in the Proms.

John Scott at the Saint Thomas Church organ

On leaving Cambridge, he was appointed Assistant Organist at London’s two Anglican Cathedrals, St Paul’s and Southwark.  During this time he won first prizes from the Manchester and Leipzig J. S. Bach International Organ Competitions in 1978 and 1984 respectively.

In 1985 he became Sub-Organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, becoming Organist and Director of Music there in 1990.

His work at St Paul’s involved the training and direction of the choir, and the overseeing and development of the Cathedral’s busy music program.  He was responsible for the music at a number of high-profile events, including the National Service of Thanksgiving for the Millennium, the services to mark the 100th birthday of HM The Queen Mother and the Golden Jubilee of HM The Queen (for which he was asked to compose an anthem) and the service held on 14 September 2001 following the terrorist atrocities in the USA.  Under his direction, the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir toured extensively in Europe, Japan, and North and South America, made many widely acclaimed recordings, worked with a number of distinguished orchestras and ensembles and gave world premieres of many works commissioned especially for them.

John Scott with St. Thomas Choir, New York

As an organist, John Scott performed in five continents, premiered many new works written for him, and worked with various specialist ensembles. In November 1989 he inaugurated the new Rieger organ in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and in 1990, he was one of five international Cathedral organists invited to play in Washington National Cathedral to celebrate the completion of the Cathedral. In recent years, recital engagements have included venues in the USA, UK, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, South Africa, Slovakia, Australia and New Zealand. Highlights have included recitals in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Notre Dame in Paris, St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, the Aarhus Organ Festival in Denmark, Cologne Cathedral, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, London’s Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral and King’s College, Cambridge. At St Paul’s he played a complete cycle of the organ works of J.S. Bach in 2000 and followed this in subsequent years with the organ symphonies of Vierne and Widor, as well as the complete organ works of Franck and Buxtehude. At St Thomas, Fifth Avenue, he has performed complete cycles of the organ works of Buxtehude in 2007, Messiaen in 2008 and the six organ symphonies of Louis Vierne in 2009.

In addition to his work as a conductor and organist, John Scott has published a number of choral compositions and arrangements and he has jointly edited two compilations of liturgical music for the Church’s year, published by Oxford University Press.

John Scott’s many recordings include the organ sonatas of Elgar, organ music by William Mathias, Duruflé and Mendelssohn, as well as two discs of music by Dupré.  He has also recorded the solo organ part in Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. He recently made a recording at the organ of Washington’s National Cathedral for the JAV label.

In 1998 he was nominated International Performer of the Year by the New York Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.  He is a Past President of the Incorporated Association of Organists and he has been a member of a number of international competition juries, including those in Manchester, Dublin, Chartres, Dallas, St. Albans, Erfurt and the Bach/Liszt Competition in Weimar.

In the summer of 2004, after a 26 year association with St Paul’s Cathedral, he took up the post of Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York, where he directed the renowned choir of men and boys. He was awarded the LVO in the New Year’s Honours List of 2004, a personal gift from HM Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of his work at St Paul’s Cathedral. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin in 2007.

Saint Thomas Church is heartbroken by the sudden death of John Scott, Organist and Director of Music, on Wednesday, August 12.

In the summer of 2015, at age 59, Scott performed fourteen organ recitals across seven European countries in six weeks. He completed what would become his final concert tour, and returned to New York on 11 August 2015. The next day, he suffered a cardiac episode, was admitted to Roosevelt Hospital, and died there with his wife Lily at his side. St Thomas Church held a public funeral service on 12 September 2015.

Links to some of his performances are below:


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