OBITUARY : Spencer Boney

The loss of young life, barely in adulthood, is always incomprehensible. The death of Spencer Boney, a 22-year-old about to embark on postgraduate piano studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, is also a tragic loss to music.

He died in a car accident while on holiday in Italy - characteristically, on the way back from an evening of music- making. The contribution this hugely energetic student was sure to make to classical music would not just have been impressive - it was already that - but major. He was unstoppable. In three years as his teacher I rarely knew half of what he was up to, or even half of what he was playing. He ate up music from Beethoven to Bernstein, performing with a delight and a boldness that at best defied argument. He was bewildered to discover that there were others who did not relish music in the same way.

He was educated at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in London, where he was academically brilliant. He spoke four languages and played four instruments to an equally high standard. Despite winning a scholarship to the Guildhall, he did not especially excel there in piano exams and competitions. But success or failure in this respect would have made no difference, for Boney, extraordinarily for one so young and with so much to learn, always shone in the public arena. Spencer Boney was his own man.

In the public concerts he gave all over London and beyond, without the pressure of competitive judgement upon him, he made music in his own, uniquely exuberant way, with a confidence and a panache that one day would have brought a wider audience to its feet.

But his career, I believe, would have branched out more importantly beyond the piano. Brilliant young pianists abound, but very few with Boney's wide-ranging demon. At the age of 21, while a mere undergraduate, he was appointed organist and choirmaster of the prestigious St Mary's Church in Barnes, west London.

It was a courageous appointment, but Boney proved irresistible. He lit up the large congregation and appeared to charm money from nowhere for ambitious projects. He handled his adult choir with tact and aplomb, winning them over through his infectious musicality, his generosity, and a simplicity of manner that is rare when combined with such self-assurance.

Spencer Boney aimed at the heights, not always appreciating quite how high they were. Only he would have proposed, to the amusement of his friends this summer, to play Balakirev's Islamey - an extended piece of absurdly demanding virtuosity - as an encore to Liszt's great B minor Sonata. In a hastily whispered aside he was prevented in the nick of time. Thus was preserved intact for his listeners the memory of a towering performance of the Liszt which had moved many to tears.

We were unaware that this was to be the summit of his achievement.

Paul Roberts

Spencer Boney, musician: born London 23 December 1972; died Brescia, Italy 4 September 1995.

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