Robert Rattray, 1950-2018

We are devastated to report the passing of Robert Rattray, our dear friend and colleague, who died yesterday in New York after suffering a stroke on Sunday.

Born and raised in England, Robert attended Eton Prep School, St Edwards School, Oxford and then Edinburgh University, before beginning his career as a trainee artist manager with Ibbs and Tillett in 1973. He then joined Lies Askonas in 1977, becoming Joint Chief Executive of Askonas Holt when the company merged with Harold Holt in 1998. Made an MBE in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Robert joined the Metropolitan Opera in the same year, as the company’s Assistant General Manager for Artistic Administration.

Among the many exceptional artists Robert worked with are Janet Baker, Sir Thomas Allen, Robert Lloyd, John Mark Ainsley, Ann Murray, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Simon Keenlyside, Dame Felicity Lott, and Ian Bostridge. Alongside fellow Joint Chief Executive Martin Campbell-White, Robert was also involved in the management of conductors including Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Simon Rattle, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Martin Campbell-White, former Joint Chief Executive, writes:

“I first met Robert in 1973; he was downstairs at Ibbs and Tillett, which I left the previous year to join Harold Holt, the floor above. We quickly became friends. His gifts were evident even then in his mid-twenties; his knowledge and love for opera and lieder; his elegantly fluent German; his persistent attention to detail; his realistic appreciation of an artist’s strong points (and the weak points) made him the perfect manager of important careers, especially singers, for the ensuing 40 years.

His mentor was of course the legendary Lies Askonas. It was she who helped him feel completely at home in Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Salzburg, not to mention Paris and New York. It took until 1998 to persuade Robert that the strengths of Askonas and Holt were made for a fruitful and strong partnership. For the next 15 years, we had tremendous fun together working for our artists and our projects and helping to develop the next generation of managers and artists.

I know that Robert was slightly apprehensive to leave the management treadmill at the end of 2013; but the Met came with the perfect offer at just the right time. Serendipity! He loved his new job; he loved greeting all his old mates. He loved being in New York. How he was appreciated. Witness all the moving tributes.

I still can’t believe that there will be no more wicked, erudite and informative e-mails to chuckle over. Thank you, Robert, for so many things.”

Chief Executive Donagh Collins says:

“To miss Robert is to miss a colleague, mentor and friend all at once. We at Askonas Holt mourn his loss, we grieve as we cling to our innumerable memories of him. But we can celebrate too – Robert was an extraordinary artist manager, a man of talent, humour, sensitivity and sparkle. He loved what he did. He is our inspiration as we look forward.”

The Met will honour Robert’s memory by dedicating the opening performance of Parsifal – conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin – on Monday 5 February to him.

Our thoughts are with Robert’s family and friends, and the global artistic community by whom he was loved and admired.

Farewell, Robert. Rest in Peace.

Photo credit: Tristan Cook / Met Opera 

Tributes from across the industry

“I am heartbroken.
My friend Robert Rattray, the MET’s Assistant General Manager and former Chief Executive at Askonas Holt, passed away this afternoon. He suffered a stroke on Sunday. Two days before, we had drinks here in New York, and we talked about music, life, singers, the MET, family, cats… Robert has been so important in my life, from my beginnings in Europe with Askonas Holt in 2004, and later here in New York. His support has been invaluable, and his genuine love of opera and singers truly inspiring.
The entire MET family is in a state of shock. We will all miss his kindness, humor, class, his incredible knowledge and above all his immense humanity.
Merci pour tout mon cher Robert. Au revoir.”
Yannick Nezet-Seguin

“I could write reams about Robert; of his good counsel, his wit and wisdom, his loyalty, his brilliant management and deep knowledge and interest in all things cultural.
And then our shared love of nature, first in line in almost all the discussions over so many years.
But I can’t write reams. I’m drained of feeling.
A light has gone out that was still so brilliant and, as ever, naughty, during our two months in New York until a matter of days ago.
He has gone and left a gaping void for so many of us who loved him dearly.
Robert cared for both of us, Jeannie and I, with equal love.
What a privilege it was to have had him in our lives, but oh too short a time.
Good night dearest Robert, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”
Sir Thomas Allen

“There have been so many moving and eloquent tributes to our beloved Robert Rattray. In our sometimes unkind business, Robert was always a wise, caring manager, the only one I ever had in the UK. Everyone trusted and respected him. He always tried to choose the career path that was best for his family of artists. Sometimes we might be asked to take on an exciting role that he didn’t think was right for us, but Robert would gently steer us away from it before we proved to the world how good his judgement was.

I met Robert more than forty years ago when I was accepted on to the roster at Ibbs and Tillett and have had the privilege of his management and friendship ever since. He was a witness
at our wedding and is godfather to our daughter. He was a real gentleman, and cared deeply about his artists and about his team at Askonas Holt; he was friend, manager and frequently therapist to us all.

I can’t bear that I am writing all this in the past tense: I had never known Robert do a cruel thing until this. No more larks, Pip. My love always.”

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