Obituary: Christopher Kite

Leslie East
Monday 20 June 1994 23:02
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Christopher James Kite, pianist, harpsichordist, teacher: born Ilford, Essex 5 November 1947; Professor of Harpsichord and Fortepiano, Guildhall School of Music and Drama 1977-87, Fellow 1983, Head of Music Studies 1987-94; Chairman, Early Music Centre 1992-94; married 1981 Ursula Ksinsik (one son); died London 15 June 1994.

THE death of the pianist and harpsichordist Christopher Kite has robbed the world of classical music of an extremely serious and significant performer, teacher and, latterly, administrator.

After studying at Oxford University, Chris Kite made his Wigmore Hall debut in 1972 and then developed a busy career that embraced modern piano, early piano and harpsichord. He founded a superb piano duo/duet partnership with Robert Ferguson and began solo tours to all parts of Europe. He became a Professor of Harpsichord and Fortepiano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London, when barely 30 and attracted some very talented students, from abroad as well as Britain, to his 'stable'.

Kite was a meticulous teacher. Being a formidable musician himself, he recognised the importance of all-round ability in any performer. For a keyboard player he knew that versatility was even more vital. He would never subscribe to the view that potential performers should be trained in a vacuum, with single-minded devotion to the goal of a solo career, whatever the outcome. The Kite philosophy embraced musicianship skills of all kinds, providing the kind of experience that would equip his students for continuo playing, teaching or editing. His conviction that this was the right approach was supported not only by the subsequent success of his students but also by the obvious fact that he did all three himself to a highly professional standard, for example editing the keyboard works of Handel and Domenico Scarlatti for Stainer and Bell.

When I left my position as Director of Music at the Guildhall School in 1987, Kite took on the newly created post of Head of Music Studies. Among a myriad of other things, this gave him responsibility for running the Early Music Course. Kite shook this up as perhaps only he could. He took the excellent component parts and integrated them in a way none of us had managed before. It was a pleasure every year to return to the Guildhall and hear the early-music standards maintained and enhanced. Kite applied himself with equal determination to the restructuring of the Guildhall's Jazz and Rock Course and of the teacher- training element of the undergraduate courses. The anarchic but invigorating environment of the jazz department was given a dose of the Kite brand of administration, to the extent that, when Kite was already ill in April, the jazz auditions apparently ran themselves as if he had been there anyway.

Even while shaking up the Guildhall, Kite was continuing and developing his playing career. He leaves a legacy of very fine recordings of classical chamber music (Beethoven and Mozart) on the Meridian label, of classical and early romantic piano concertos on Nimbus, with the Hanover Band, and of 17th-century English virginal music on Hyperion. He was a popular contributor to summer schools, in Britain and abroad, as a lecturer as well as a teacher, most recently and most prominently at Dartington where, with his wife, Ulla, and son, Sebastian, he enjoyed the unique atmosphere of concentrated study and performance in beautiful and relaxing surroundings.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Chris Kite was his sense of humour. Those who knew him slightly might be surprised at this. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing him for a long time were always kept on our toes by his rather wicked, ironic laconicism and the twinkle in the eye that meant you were never sure whether he was being serious or having you on.

In 1989 he was invited to join the Council of the Early Music Centre, in London, and later to become its Chairman. The centre had been going through difficult times. Kite realised there was no easy way of improving matters and many will think that he dealt with the situation insensitively. That was not the case at all. He realised the centre had to change and it had to change quickly in order to demonstrate its vital role in the support of early music. Before he died he had made the hard decisions and started the process of change.

Along with his legacy as a player and teacher, the future success of the centre will be an important memorial to Christopher Kite.

(Photograph omitted)

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