Conductor and pianist Steuart Bedford has died at the age of 81. Bedford had a particular affinity with the music of Benjamin Britten, and was one of the artistic directors of the Aldeburgh Festival between 1974 and 1998. This came after he gave the premiere of Britten’s last opera, Death in Venice, at the festival in 1973.
Bedford was first introduced to Britten through his mother, the singer Lesley Duff. She was friends with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears during the early days of the English Opera Group, when she performed in several operas by Britten. She went on to buy a holiday cottage in Snape and her sons soon grew close to Britten, who lived nearby.
After leaving school, Bedford presumed he would go on to pursue a career as a cathedral organist, but as soon as he conducted his first opera – Britten’s Albert Herring – in 1964 for the Oxford University Opera Club, he decided to pursue conducting. Soon enough, he was on staff at Glyndebourne and in 1966 was offered a role with the English Opera Group, with whom his mother had performed for many years.
With very little experience, Britten asked him to assist on the recording of his A Midsummer’s Night Dream. This job lead to many others with Britten.
When Britten was suffering from ill health towards the end of his life, he asked Bedford to conduct the premiere of Death in Venice, at just 32 years old. Countertenor James Bowman, who sang the Voice of Apollo in Death in Venice – told BBC Music Magazine in 2018, ‘I wasn’t surprised when [the conductor’ turned out to be Steuart because I knew Ben implicitly and trusted him enormously. He’s a wonderful musician and was the obvious person to do it. I don’t think anyone else was in the frame. Steuart deserved to do it; he was the heir-apparent.’ He retired from the podium later in life, because of Parkinson’s disease.