Pianist Clifford Benson Dies at 60

Classic Arts News   Pianist Clifford Benson Dies at 60
Pianist, composer and teacher Clifford Benson died on August 10 from an inoperable brain tumor. He was 60.

Benson is remembered as a collaborative musician of great versatility, spirit and sensitivity. Among those with whom he had worked are violinists Levon Chilingirian, Shlomo Mintz and Lydia Mordkovitch, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, clarinetist Thea King and flutists William Bennett, Marcel Moyse and Trevor Wye.

"His humility, perceptiveness and skill made him greatly valued by the fortunate few with whom he performed, though as his career developed, he became selective, refusing offers from eminent performers whom he felt lacked empathy," writes Wye in The Guardian of London. "This combination of factors resulted in rather less international recognition than he might have received otherwise."

Born in Essex, England, Benson studied at the Royal College of Music with Cyril Smith and Lamar Crowson. There he took the Chopin Sonata Prize, Geoffrey Tankard Lieder Prize for Accompaniment, and the Tagore Gold Medal. He also performed Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 with the RCM First Orchestra. The New Philharmonia Orchestra later awarded him a Martin Music Fund Scholarship through which he continued his studies.

In 1969, Benson and Chilingirian won the BBC Beethoven Competition, and two years later, the first prize in the Munich International Duo Competition. The victories led to recordings for BBC Radio 3 and debuts at the South Bank Centre, among other solo and chamber music recitals.

Benson became Chilingirian's top choice of pianist in quintets when the violinist formed his eponymous quartet in 1971, and in 1976, performed in the first recording of Frank Bridge's Violin Sonata. He was also a member of the Nash Ensemble of London during its formative years.

He appeared in 1981 on a BBC2 television broadcast of Jacqueline du Pr_'s masterclasses, accompanying the ailing cellist's students on her request.

Benson also possessed a wide-ranging repertoire that included Britten, Lutoslawski, Mozart and Shostakovich. Devoted to new music, he premiered works by Richard Rodney Bennett and Malcolm Lipkin, and promoted the eclectic music of Dunkin Wedd.

"He could grasp the most complex ideas - musical, philosophical or spiritual - reduce them to their essentials, and communicate them with feelings of real poetry," the Thurrock Gazzette reported composer Laurie Dunkin Wedd as saying.

He has given gave master classes and performed at festivals in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Middle and Far East. In 2002, Benson performed a solo recital of Chopin, Debussy and Mozart at the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts.

In a 60th birthday concert for flutist Bennett at Wigmore Hall, Benson accompanied and also sang When I'm 64 in an encore. "[He] was delighted to be able to say he had sung at Wigmore Hall," writes Lewis Foreman in the The Independent of London.

In a performance called The Carnival of Venice, Benson jumped between a number of styles as flutist Wye changed instruments. A clip posted on YouTube in May shows the pair playing Saint-SaêŠns's The Swan with Wye on a modified bicycle pump.

Benson began teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in 1993, and is remembered for his chamber music workshops, gentle hand and good humor. "Clifford was quite without snobbery, giving time as freely to struggling amateurs as to high-flying pros," said Ms. Wedd. "His warm humour showed at last-night concerts on his memorable summer courses, accompanying himself on the ukulele in comic songs, and in his animal poems for children of all ages. His playing and teaching were passionate, dramatic, full of vitality and colour."

Clifford Benson is survived by his wife, Dilys Davies, and two daughters.

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