David Bedford 1937-2011

Composer who studied with Lennox Berkeley and worked with Mike Oldfield dies aged 74

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The composer David Bedford, who has died aged 74, enjoyed a unique career as one of the most inventive and established classical music composers of his generation, while also crossing over successfully into the world of pop.

Born in London in 1937, Bedford studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Lennox Berkeley and then in Venice with Italian modernist composer Luigi Nono.

His early classical works included commissions for the Cheltenham Festival and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, and he even wrote an oboe concerto for a John Lewis department store, premiered in 1998 by Nicholas Daniel.

The following year he wrote a percussion concerto for Dame Evelyn Glennie and in 2001 collaborated with sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke on a choral work called The City and the Stars.

Bedford experimented with using everyday objects as instruments: ‘Cans of dog biscuits are just as good as maracas,’ he once suggested. And his music variously asked for 1,000 balloons to be scraped and rubbed, for audience members to play kazoos and for the string section to play using their fingernails.

He first began working in pop music in the late 1960s, writing pieces for Kevin Ayers and his band The Whole World including The Garden of Love for pop band and orchestra. He also worked with Deep Purple, Elvis Costello and orchestrated Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Oldfield’s album Song of the White Horse included Bedford’s Star Clusters, Nebulae & Places in Devon.

Speaking about his double-headed career Bedford said ‘I was on the road playing keyboards with these bands, fighting off the groupies, and then the next night I would be in the Festival Hall doing some plinky-plonk music to an audience of about four.’

Another strand to his work was music for community groups: next year his most recent composition, Wreck of the Titanic, will be premiered by school choirs in Cumbria, Lancashire and Liverpool. His work Stories from the Dreamtime was written in 1961 for an orchestra of deaf children and Seascapes in 1986, for symphony orchestra and schoolchildren.

Bedford was composer in association with the English Sinfonia from 1996 and chairman of the Performing Rights Society from 2001. He was married three times and had seven children.

Elizabeth Davis

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