George Benjamin

(1960 - )

British

George Benjamin is one of the outstanding composers of his generation. Born in 1960, Benjamin started to play the piano at the age of seven, and began composing almost immediately. In 1976 he entered the Paris Conservatoire to study with Olivier Messiaen (composition) and Yvonne Loriod (piano), after which he studied under Alexander Goehr at King's College Cambridge.

 

His first orchestral work, Ringed by the Flat Horizon, was played at the BBC Proms when he was just 20; since then it has achieved a remarkable international performance record, as have his two subsequent works, A Mind of Winter and At First LightAntara was a commission from IRCAM to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Pompidou centre in 1987. Benjamin conducted the first performances of Sudden Time at the first Meltdown Festival in 1993, and Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra at the 75th Salzburg Festival in 1995. 

 

The LSO and Pierre Boulez gave the world premiere of Palimpsests in 2002 to mark the opening of the LSO's season-long retrospective of his work at the Barbican, "By George", a project which also included the premiere of Shadowlines by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. There have been numerous other major retrospectives of his work, including Carte blanche  a George Benjamin (Opera Bastille, Paris,  1992), Brussels (Ars Musica, 2003), Tokyo (Tokyo Opera City, 2003), Berlin (DSO, 2004-5), Strasbourg (Musica Festival, 2005), Madrid (Spanish National Orchestra, 2005), Lucerne Festival (2008), Frankfurt (Alte Oper, 2011), London (Cultural Olympiad, South Bank Centre, 2012), and Milan/Turin (MITO, 2013).

 

The centre-point of a large-scale portrait at the 2006 Festival d'Automne in Paris was his first operatic work, Into the Little Hill, a collaboration with the English playwright Martin Crimp, which has toured widely on both sides of the Atlantic  since its premiere and won the Royal Philharmonic Society’s 2008 Award for Large-Scale Composition. It received its London premiere in a new production at the Royal Opera House in February 2009, where it was revived in July 2010. His second operatic collaboration with Martin Crimp, Written on Skin was commissioned and premiered by the Aix en Provence festival (July 2012), and has subsequently been presented in ten cities worldwide, amongst them the Royal Opera House, with many future productions planned. The opera has been greeted by universal praise, recorded on CD and DVD, broadcast on BBC radio and TV and won several prizes here and abroad including awards from Opern Welt, the South Bank Sky Arts Award, British Composer Awards, International Opera Awards, BBC Music Magazine and a Grand Prix from the Académie Charles Cros. Benjamin and Crimp are now working on their third operatic creation, a full-scale opera for the Royal Opera House, London, to be premiered in 2018.

 

Benjamin has built up a close relationship with the Tanglewood Festival in America since his first appearance there in 1999. As a conductor he regularly appears with some of the world's leading ensembles and orchestras, amongst them the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia, Cleveland and Concertgebouw orchestras and the Berlin Philharmonic.  In 1999 he made his operatic debut conducting Pelléas et Mélisande at la Monnaie, Brussels; he has conducted numerous world premieres, including important works by Wolfgang Rihm, Unsuk Chin, Grisey and Ligeti and his repertoire stretches from Schumann to Knussen and from Wagner to Boulez. In 2010 there were extensive celebrations marking Benjamin’s 50th birthday given by the San Francisco Symphony and at London’s South Bank, and in June he was in residence at the Ojai Festival in California and at the Aldeburgh festival.

 

The founding curator of the Southbank’s Meltdown Festival, George Benjamin was artistic consultant to the BBC’s three-year retrospective of twentieth century music, 'Sounding the Century.' He is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et Lettres and is a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts.  In 2010 he was awarded a CBE for his services to music and in 2014 he was chosen as Musical America’s composer of the year. An honorary fellow of King’s College Cambridge, the Guildhall School, the Royal College and the Royal Academy of Music, he was awarded the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester's first ever Schoenberg Prize for composition. He lives in London, and since 2001 has been the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King‘s College, London.

 

His works are recorded on Nimbus Records, and are published by Faber Music in London.

 

April 2014

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