Violinist

Benedict Cruft

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BENEDICT CRUFT returned to London in June 2013 from Hong Kong, where from 2003 - 2013 he was the Dean of the School of Music of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Born in 1949 into a family whose members have been prominent in the musical life of London since the middle of the nineteenth century, Ben started learning the violin at the age of six, and after studying in London for four years with Sascha Lasserson - a pupil of Leopold Auer - in 1966 entered the Royal College of Music, where he won the top violin prize in 1968 when he was only nineteen. While still at the RCM (where he performed the Sibelius and Berg concertos) he started working professionally with chamber orchestras, and from 1969 was a regular cast member at the National Theatre in Jonathan Miller's production of the Merchant of Venice, playing a virtuoso fiddle piece by Carl Davis on the Old Vic stage. After working as an extra with the LSO from 1971, during the 1970s he played in the Covent Garden Opera for the 1971-72 season, became an Associate Member of the LSO in 1972 and then in 1976 joined the first violin section of the Philharmonia, subsequently also becoming the second violin in the London String Quartet when it was re-formed with Rusen Gunes and Roger Smith by the Philharmonia's leader Carl Pini. In 1980 he went for the first time to live in Hong Kong as the Associate Concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and while living there taught at the Hong Kong Conservatory and, as well as frequently performing in Hong Kong as a soloist and chamber music player, formed and led the Tononi String Quartet, which gave regular series of recitals and broadcasts, playing in Hong Kong, Macau and China.

In 1984 Ben returned to London, where he free-lanced, giving solo and chamber music recitals, playing with many different groups in England and abroad, recording music for films, records and television in the London studio world, and occasionally composing music for television commercials, Library Music and the theatre. From 1985 until 2003 he worked for most of the London session fixers, while still keeping up his connections in the Far East through guest leading, teaching and coaching; in Thailand (leading Beethoven's 9th in 1987), five weeks as guest leader with the Shanghai Symphony orchestra in July 1989 (an interesting time to be there, just a few weeks after Tiananmen Square), three different month-long trips to coach and lead the Viet Nam National Symphony Orchestra in 1992, 1994 and 1995, touring them through the country from Hanoi to Saigon in 1992 and 1995, and from 1995-96 working for a five-month period as a visiting professor of violin at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

Having been fascinated since childhood by Johann Sebastian Bach’s set of unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas for violin and feeling that while by the early 1980s these masterpieces had become well-known through recordings they were still neglected as a set in live performances, he decided in 1985 to present the six works in a pair of concerts, and since first performing them over a pair of concerts in London in 1987, has now presented them like this more than 90 times. As well as performing the complete cycle many times in Britain and in Hong Kong, he has performed Bach's unaccompanied set in France, Finland, Hungary, Israel, Macau, in China in 1989, and in Hanoi in 1992. Since starting his project of performing the works as a set he has been invited to repeat them in many places, including every year since 1989 during the Brighton Festival. His recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete Sonatas & Partitas is available as a double CD album from Tononi Records. His love of Bach’s music encouraged him to learn to play the six violin and harpsichord sonatas on a baroque violin, performing the set many times with Robert Aldwinckle and Shalev Ad-El.

During the ten years that Ben was the Dean of Music in the Hong Kong Academy he continued to perform as regularly as he could, and since 2006 has been playing the major works of the violin and piano repertoire with Amy Sze. They gave two complete cycles of the Mozart sonatas on baroque violin and fortepiano using the Academy’s Chris Maene Walter copy, and since then have played all the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas, as well as sonatas by Debussy, Franck, Fauré, Poulenc, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Dvorak and Elgar. Since returning to the UK to be based in London he has continued to perform the Bach sonatas and partitas and Mozart and Beethoven string trios (with George Robertson and Anthony Pleeth) in Brighton, and recitals with Amy Sze in August 2014 in China in Harbin and Shanghai when he was a panel member for the Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld international string competition that was held in the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang province. When he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music in 2012 Benedict became the fourth member of the Cruft family to have been honoured with an FRCM.

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