My friend Benedict Cruft, who died at the age of 73, was a violinist who performed around the world, including with the London Symphony Orchestra, and was recently Dean of Music at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts . He lived and breathed music throughout his life.
We had known each other since our student days at the Royal College of Music, where Ben won the violinists’ first prize at the age of 19. Born in London, he was the son of Kiki (née McCormick) and John Cruft, a respected oboist who later served as Director of Music and Drama at the Arts Council.
From Westminster School, Ben went to study at the Royal College of Music in 1966, and after graduation he played in the LSO and other orchestras. He also joined the London String Quartet, led by his friend Tony Pini. In 1980 he and Katia Ross, a librarian, moved to Hong Kong. They were married there the following year, Ben having been appointed associate concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and professor at the Hong Kong Conservatory.
When they returned to London in 1984, he became a freelance violinist, gave recitals and took part in recordings. On occasion he composed music for commercials and stock library music for use by television, radio and film companies, some of which accompanied the television series Friends.
The six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by JS Bach were the passion and obsession of his life. He believed that although they were well known, they were overlooked as live performance settings. In 1987 he first performed them in full at two concerts, and went on to do so over 100 times in the UK and overseas. He also arranged several of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues for string trio.
In 2003, Ben and Katia returned to Hong Kong so he could serve as Dean of Music at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and he worked there for ten years. He transformed many management systems at the academy and was much admired for his musical expertise, his teaching, and his generosity as a mentor and advisor to students. More broadly, he was respected for his serenity and wisdom. In 2012 he became the fourth member of the Cruft family to receive a scholarship from the Royal College of Music.
Among his many interests, Ben became fascinated with Chinese art and he loved trees and plants – posing as a guerrilla gardener, as he planted shrubs and perennials on shoulders and roadsides. A true epicurean, in the company of Katia, he was also a wonderful host, combining his superb cuisine with his carefully assembled wine cellar.
When Katia fell ill with cancer in 2013, they returned to London for her medical treatment. she died later that year. Afterwards, Ben essentially retired, although he continued to do session work.
He is survived by his stepson, Alain, two grandchildren, Grégoire and Lucas, and his brother Sébastien.