John Scott, Organist and Director of Music at St Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, died of a heart attack on Wednesday, August 12. He was 59 and expecting to become a father in the weeks ahead.
As a teenager, John was the youngest organist ever to perform at the BBC Proms. Our sympathies to his family and community. His compositions are widely performed.
Official announcement follows.
Saint Thomas Church is heartbroken by the sudden death of John Scott, Organist and Director of Music, on Wednesday, August 12.
John returned to New York on August 11 after a very successful European tour. He was not feeling well the next morning and suffered a sudden cardiac episode. He was taken to Roosevelt Hospital but never regained consciousness. His wife, Lily, was by his side when he died. John and Lily are expecting their first child in September.
The Rector, Headmaster, Wardens, Vestry, and Staff are shocked by John’s untimely death. Our thoughts and prayers are with Lily and John’s family. John and Lily are at the very heart of the Saint Thomas Church family and its mission.
John was appointed Organist and Director of Music of Saint Thomas Church and Choir School in 2004. He previously served at Saint Paul’s Cathedral for 26 years. He was born in 1956 and is a graduate of Saint John’s College, Cambridge. In addition to his beloved wife, Lily, he is survived by two children, Emma and Alex, and two sisters, Judith and Helen.
John’s contribution to music is a lasting legacy to the Church and to the world. He was a man of great faith; the words of J.S. Bach, Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone) inspired his ministry.
A Requiem Mass will be offered for the repose of his soul at Saint Thomas Church on Thursday, August 13, at 5:30pm. Funeral arrangements will be posted here in due course.
May choirs of angels receive him and may he have eternal rest.
The composer Nico Muhly writes of his Facebook page (reproduced with permission):
So, I’ve spent the better part of the afternoon driving around Santa Cruz listening to every recording of John Scott in his various guises as conductor and organist I could find on my phone and other devices. It turns out there are LOADS there: hours, days, even? His recording of the chant for psalm 37 on volume ninety-seven-jillion of the Psalms from St Paul’s series remains one of my favorite things in the world.
I emailed him this fact five days ago, and he wrote back from Sweden (his first trip, apparently!) seconds later, “Oh those divine Howells chants!” with his typical enthusiasm and joy. This was a man deeply devoted to the tradition of music and the music of tradition, to his service to the church, and to his ability to transmit the possibility of the divine to friends and strangers.
It is insane to me that he died – like, actively unbelievable. There are so many of us whom he touched as a recording artist, as a conductor, organist, educator, mentor, hero, husband, father, martini partner and interlocutor. He loved plainchant — Lent has never been so austere! — but could throw down a Howells Coll Reg with the lashings of cream and coulis required by such music.
Any of the choristers — now grown — with whom he recorded in 2003, I’m sure, remember his insistence on the distance between repeated notes in Tallis’s Salvator Mundi; when he played my music at the organ in 2013, I was consistently humbled by the freakish connection between his technical abilities and expressive musicianship; to watch him conduct the choir for a random Thursday’s evensong was to watch an essay on simultaneous restraint and spontaneity: centuries of performance practice reanimated, stylised, and tightened. I think of his influence as a form of epidemic: a great choirmaster infects everybody near him with an evangelical love for the music, the tradition, and the rigor required to get it done correctly but in the (liturgical) background: music for use, but music for the only use worth using. Even though the world feels dimmer without him in it, I am excited to spend tomorrow, the rest of the summer, and the rest of my life listening to his recordings, thinking about his influence on all of us, and thinking about the subtle magnificence of his contribution to the world in which we all live. We are all better musicians because of John.
The organist Cameron Carpenter adds:
IN MEMORIAM JOHN SCOTT: He was an important colleague and friend to me and to all of us in the world of the organ, so I am sad to have to speak of the death of organist John Scott (1956-2015). He died yesterday of a heart attack in New York City (August 12, 2015), and by far too young a man. As a high school freshman at the North Carolina School of the Arts, I used his recording of “Grande Choeur Dialogue” by Gigout to wake up every morning; his steely control and ceremonial delivery still remains with me in startling contrast to the ribald power and easy-to-get-out-of-hand excitement of the huge brass-type stops he was using on the big organ at Saint Paul’s in London. John could easily have been one of the large number of accomplished organists who cross the street even at the mention of my name, but he was too good. Despite we being at opposite ends of the spectrums of style, belief, and musical performance, he was always so warm and supportive. I wish I could have thanked him again. Be reminded: death is always in the room.
Te composer Lera Auerbach (on Fb):
I was shocked to learn about the sudden death of John Scott – a brilliant musician and a very kind man. I worked with John on one of my largest and most important works: he prepared the Saint Thomas Boys Choir in NYC to perform the world premiere of my “Requiem – Ode to Peace” with Dresden Staatskapelle at the Dresden’s Semper Opera and at the Frauenkirche couple of years ago. This was one of the most memorable and profound premieres I have experienced and the highlight of my residency with the Dresden Staatskapelle. I worked with John for several years from the very initial conception of this work. We have also planned several projects for future collaborations. I always thought how fortunate are the boys of St. Thomas to have him as their teacher and conductor! He will be greatly missed.
St Paul’s Cathedral has issued this statement:
The entire St Paul’s community is shocked and sincerely dismayed at news that John Scott, a ‘musical genius’ regarded as one of the world’s finest organists and who led the music at St Paul’s Cathedral for 14 years, has died suddenly aged just 59.
St Thomas Church in New York, where John worked since leaving St Paul’s in 2004 reported his death from a heart attack on Wednesday, 12 August 2015.
John’s career at St Paul’s spanned more than a quarter of a century, with the last 14 years as Organist, leading the vast and varied musical output of the Cathedral including directing the world-famous choir of men and boys.