Several noted British organists have crossed the Atlantic to take up appointments in the US. One was John Scott. He was born in Wakefield, and as a boy sang in the choir of Wakefield Cathedral. Then from 14 to 18, after his voice had broken, he was assistant organist there.
From 1974-78 he was organ scholar of St John's College, Cambridge, where in 1975 he was awarded the John Stewart of Rannoch Scholarship in Sacred Music, then from 1978-85 he was assistant organist simultaneously at St Paul's and Southwark Cathedrals in London. He was sub-organist of St Paul's until 1990, when he succeeded Christopher Dearnley as organist and director of music.
He won First Prizes in the Manchester International Organ Festival in 1978 and at the Leipzig International JS Bach Competition in 1984. At St Paul's, as well as the daily services there were many special occasions: services of national and international importance, which during his time included the Queen's Golden Jubilee service, the service to celebrate the Queen Mother's 100th birthday and the memorial service commemorating the victims of 9/11. In 2004, when he left St Paul's the Queen appointed him Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO).
Recordings – as a solo organist and as conductor of the St Paul's Cathedral Choir – were many and distinguished. He recorded the Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani written in 1970 by Kenneth Leighton, who was also born in Wakefield and owed his musical awakening – and his interest in the organ – to being a chorister in the cathedral choir.
Scott also recorded two volumes of organ music by Mendelssohn, as well as music by Marcel Dupré, Maurice Duruflé and the Welsh composer William Mathias, in addition to several anthology compilations. He also plays the spectacular solo organ movement in the London Symphony Orchestra's recording of Janacek's Glagolitic Mass conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas in 1992. With the St Paul's Cathedral Choir, not least among his achievements are benchmark recordings of canticles, anthems and the Psalms of David – the bread and butter of the choir's daily repertoire, an inspiration to those who hear them and to others who also sing them.
He appeared six times at the Proms, the first as accompanist to the choir of St John's College Cambridge in 1975; but his first appearance as a soloist was on 16 September 1977 when, at the age of 21, he preceded the customary penultimate night's traditional offering of Beethoven's Choral Symphony – played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Bernard Haitink – with the Proms premiere of Julius Reubke's Sonata on the 94th Psalm, which he always said was his favourite work. Joan Chissell in The Times noted that he "played with great aplomb and an unusually wide range of dynamics". Scott was two years younger than the composer when he wrote it, she also observed. In 1979 he gave the Proms premiere of Alun Hoddinott's Organ Concerto.
In 2004 he became organist and director of music of the great church of St Thomas, Fifth Avenue, New York, where a traditional, all-male Anglican church choir, a choir school, and services to match, had been established by another British émigré, the former organist of York Minster, Thomas Tertius Noble, after his appointment there in 1913. Scott continued and developed this legacy through choral services, organ recitals and concerts by the choir which this year included performances of Handel's Israel in Egypt and Bach's St Matthew Passion, and in November Scott was due to direct Mozart's Requiem and Haydn's Nelson Mass.
Scott died in New York aged only 59, following "a sudden cardiac episode" according to his church's website. He had returned only the previous day from a tour of Austria, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain and Ireland that included a recital at the Three Choirs Festival, where in Hereford Cathedral on 31 July he gave the first performance of a Festival commission, O Gott, du frommer Gott by Anthony Powers. Later in August and in September he was due to return to Europe for more recitals in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.
Andrew Lucas, organist and master of the choristers at St Albans Abbey, worked with Scott for 17 years at St Paul's, and remembers him as "gracious, intelligent, intense, a keyboard virtuoso, supremely professional and committed, a consummate musician who was never willing to settle for anything other than the best at every service or concert and above all extremely kind and loyal.... He was much more than just an amazing musician and for this he will be greatly missed." µ GARRY HUMPHREYS
John Gavin Scott, organist and director of music: born Wakefield, Yorkshire 18 June 1956; LVO 2004; married 1979 Carolyn Jane Lumsden (divorced 2010; one daughter, one son), 2013 Lily Isabel Ardalan; died New York 12 August 2015