Tate was born with spina bifida, and also has kyphosis. His family moved to Farnham, Surrey when he was young and he attended Farnham Grammar School between 1954 and 1961 gaining a State Scholarship to Cambridge University, where he directed theatre productions. Tate initially read medicine at Christ's College, Cambridge (1961–64), specializing in eye surgery. He later worked at St Thomas's Hospital, London, before giving up his clinical career to study music at the London Opera Centre. He became a repetiteur and a coach at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, under the tutelage of Sir Georg Solti.
Tate's international conducting début was with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1979. In 1985, he was appointed the first principal conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra. He was named to the position of principal conductor of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden effective in September 1986, the first person in the House's history to have that title. He was principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from 1991 to 1995. In 2005, he was appointed music director of the San Carlo Theatre of Naples, and served in the post through 2010. Tate's recordings include a series of Mozart piano concertos with Dame Mitsuko Uchida.
Tate has been president of UK Spina Bifida charity ASBAH (now SHINE [Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus, Information, Networking, Equality]) since 1989. A portrait of Jeffrey Tate is in David Blum's book Quintet, Five Journeys toward Musical Fulfillment (Cornell University Press, 1999). It originally appeared as an article in the 30 April 1990 issue of The New Yorker.
In October 2007, the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Tate as its next chief conductor. He formally took up the Hamburg Symphony post in 2009. In February 2014, the orchestra announced the extension of Tate's contract as chief conductor through 2019.
In private life, Tate is partners with Klaus Kuhlemann, a German geomorphologist, whom he met when conducting at Cologne from 1977. Tate has described this situation as being an outsider on two scores:
- "The gay world is immensely hung up with physical perfection for some curious reason ... Therefore, being disabled in that world is harder".
- Tom Service (2011-10-13). "Jeffrey Tate: 'I've had to fight all my life'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
- David Blum (19 June 1994). "Bucking the Biggest Odds of All". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
- "Royal Opera Appoints Tate as Top Conductor". New York Times. 6 December 1984. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
- Dinitia Smith (8 April 1997). "Rapturous Sorrow From a Pianist of Intellectual Rigor". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
- Peter Krause (29 October 2007). "Jeffrey Tate wird neuer Chefdirigent". Die Welt. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
- Kevin Shihoten (5 November 2007). "Jeffrey Tate Replaces Andrey Boreyko as Hamburg Symphony Chief Conductor". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- "Jeffrey Tate und Daniel Kühnel verlängern bis 2019" (PDF) (Press release). Hamburg Symphony. 17 February 2014. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
- David Blum, Quintet: Five Journeys Towards Musical Fulfillment, p. 59. Retrieved 11 January 2014
- Ben Holgate, "Tate à Tate", The Weekend Australian, Review, 26–27 September 1998, p. 17
- The London Gazette: . 31 December 2016.
- Biography from Hamburg Symphony (State: 2011)
- Biography from allmusic
- Theatre San Carlo
- Pieces, 2002 (article in Christ's College newsletter)
- "Jeffrey Tate: 'You can't terrify people any more; you have to do it with love'". The Guardian podcast with Christopher Cook, 13 October 2011
|Principal Conductor, English Chamber Orchestra
|Principal Conductor, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
|Music Director, Teatro di San Carlo in Naples
|Chief Conductor, Hamburg Symphony Orchestra