Berersford King-Smith obituary


Beresford King-Smith, who died earlier this week at the age of 90, was an employee and chronicler of the CBSO for half of the Orchestra's entire history. Born near Bath in 1931, he left the family paper business to join the CBSO's management in January 1964. By the time he retired, in January 2014, he had served the Orchestra as Concert Manager, Deputy Chief Executive and latterly Honorary Archivist for an unprecedented (and unsurpassed) 50 years.

Beresford joined the CBSO under the conductorship of Hugo Rignold, and took a hands-on role in the running of the orchestra from his very first day - fixing and managing the musicians, as well as organising extensive tours in Europe, both East and West of the Iron Curtain: a formidable task in an era before email or fax. Beresford handled the situation when Rignold was briefly arrested by Soviet border guards as a suspected spy during the 1968 Czechoslovakia tour, and negotiated with Yugoslavian officials when players were mistakenly detained during the 1972 Eastern Bloc tour.

He played a leading role in the establishment of the CBSO Chorus in 1972; somehow he'd also found time to write the first official history of the CBSO in 1970, and to design the organisation's first ever logo. He was also the man on the spot in March 1978, when he arrived at work to find that both the general manager and the music director Louis Frémaux had resigned over the weekend. Beresford's professionalism as acting general manager steadied the CBSO in the most serious crisis of its postwar existence, and led to the appointment of Edward Smith as general manager and Simon Rattle as chief conductor - and all that followed.

After serving as part of the team that implemented the expansion of the Orchestra in 1988 and the move to Symphony Hall in 1991, Beresford took early retirement in 1993 to write Crescendo!, the first full-length history of the CBSO, which was published by Methuen to mark the CBSO's 75th anniversary in 1995. He continued to work, unpaid, as the CBSO's Honorary Archivist for a further two decades and he was a familiar and friendly presence at CBSO Centre - creating a superb archive of CBSO documents and recordings, fielding public inquiries about the orchestra's history, and writing a regular history column in the CBSO's in-house magazine Music Stand, which he founded and (for many years) edited.

Semi-retirement freed Beresford to involve himself even more deeply in the musical life of the West Midlands. He was a gifted composer and choral conductor and between 1955 and 1963, as founder of the (still active) Bath Cantata Group, he conducted pioneering performances of Schütz, Gabrieli and Monteverdi. Early music and choral music remained a passion after he moved to Birmingham. From his home in Sutton Coldfield, which he shared with his wife Margot and (after Margot's death of cancer in 1980) his second wife Kate (who died in 2017), he served as Chair of the Midlands Early Music Forum and music director of the Circle Singers of Royal Leamington Spa.

Beresford was a member of Sutton Coldfield United Reformed Church, and his faith inspired both his charitable work (he was a co-founder of the Christian African Relief Trust) and his compositions, which ranged from the choral Psalm Symphony (2005) to hymns, anthems, chamber musicals and carols – many of which have been performed in the CBSO's annual Christmas concerts. But to all who worked with him at the CBSO, he will be remembered principally as a wise, generous and utterly unflappable colleague; a living embodiment of the CBSO's history, and one of the quiet heroes of musica in the Midlands (and the wider UK) over a long life of devoted service to the art, and the community, that he loved.

Richard Bratby

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