Obituary: Ronald Stevenson, 87

Ronald Stevenson. Picture: Jon Savage

Ronald Stevenson. Picture: Jon Savage

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Ronald Stevenson, an influential and prolific composer, has died, aged 87.

Born on March 6, 1928, in Blackburn, Lancashire, Stevenson studied at the Royal Northern College of Music where he majored in composition and the piano – graduating with special distinction in 1948. He then studied orchestration at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome and in 1950 moved to Scotland, settling in West Linton in 1955.

He was a man with strong left-wing political beliefs and as a pacifist refused to do national service – spending the two years in jail.

Stevenson was a renowned musicologist and lecturer. He held senior lecturing posts at the University of Cape Town, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, at the Juilliard School, New York and at Melbourne University.

It was his compositions that brought him attention throughout the musical world, including the Piano Concerto No 1 with the Scottish National Orchestra under Alexander Gibson in 1966 and in 1995 the SNO commissioned him to write a cello concerto in memory of Jacqueline du Pré.

Stevenson’s Second Piano Concerto was first heard at the 1972 Proms with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and in 1992 Yehudi Menuhin commissioned him to write a Violin Concerto which he conducted with Hu Kun as soloist and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow.

Stevenson championed the music of the 19th-century Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni and in the 1970s presented a series of programmes on Radio 3 on his music, which did much to re-establish Busoni’s reputation. A BBC2 documentary followed. In 1981 Stevenson wrote an extended series for BBC Radio Scotland on the bagpipe, clarsach and fiddle music of Scotland. The Scottish composer John McLeod was a close friend of many years and said: “Ronald was a giant of a man and a giant of a composer. He might have been more widely recognised had he lived in the 19th century. His piano playing was outstanding – his technique was phenomenal. I conducted him when he played the Greig concerto with the Glasgow Symphony Orchestra and he was tremendous. His playing and teaching has had huge influence on many young Scottish pianists.

“It was always fun working with Ronald. Everyone came away knowing more about the music than when you started rehearsals.”

As a pianist he was hugely respected by audiences all round the world. His touch for the keys was extremely sensitive and absolutely in keeping with the mood of the piece, though he never wanted to concentrate on just a solo career.

His portrait, by Victoria Crowe, hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Stevenson married Marjorie Spedding in 1952. She and their son and two daughters survive him.