Benjamin at Auftakt and Klangspuren festivals in 2011

Benjamin at Auftakt and Klangspuren festivals in 2011 During a very busy composing period when George Benjamin is writing his second opera, he will take a fortnight’s break in September to be in residence at the Klangspuren festival in Schwaz and at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, where he is the featured composer at this year’s Auftakt festival.

What will be the main highlights of your residencies with Alte Oper Frankfurt and Klangspuren?

Both festivals have programmed works by my former students, something which delights me. I also look forward very much to performing 'Into the Little Hill' with Anu Komsi, Hilary Summers and the Ensemble Modern – and I’m particularly happy that the marvellous Junge
Deutsche Philharmonie will present my recent Duet in Frankfurt as part of their autumn 2011 tour.

Beyond performances of your works in the concert halls of the Alte oper, there is also a symposium in Frankfurt.

The festival – which has now reached its 11th edition – features a single composer each year. Recent invitees have included Boulez, Kaija Saariaho and Beat Furrer. Towards the end of each festival there is a gathering of six or seven musicologists, each of whom gives a short
paper on an aspect of the invited composer’s work – quite an intimidating thought!

One of your main roles at the Klangspuren festival is to pass on your wealth of knowledge to the Ensemble Modern’s academy candidates, in a masterclass. What kind of invaluable advice will you be offering to these young musicians?
A group of 20 to 30 young musicians from around the world assemble each year in Schwaz to be tutored exclusively in contemporary repertoire by members of the Ensemble Modern, and I hear that the standard of performing is exceptionally high. As for what my own contribution will be, beyond conducting a few works, it’s difficult for me to say until I get there… though I might add that I love the mountains and the thought of a week in the Alps appeals to me hugely.

You have a close working relationship with Ensemble Modern, who premiered and toured performances of your first opera ‘Into the Little Hill’, and have performed many of your works in the past. Does this close relationship contribute to your future collaborations with them? If so, how?

Many of my most intense musical experiences have been connected to the Ensemble Modern, and I feel immensely grateful for the special relationship we share. Over the last two decades we have toured widely together with an extensive range of repertoire, and my 'Three Inventions' and 'Into the Little Hill' were written for and premiered by them. Whenever my schedule permits, collaboration with them is a priority.

Due to its wide appeal, your music is often performed in central European countries – Germany, Austria and Switzerland included, do you feel a close connection to the culture, the people & their musical tastes, both historically and in the world of modern day music?
During my childhood the Austro-Germanic musical tradition was of central importance to me – particularly Beethoven, Schumann, Mahler, Strauss and Berg. Though my connection to French culture – enhanced greatly by my studies in Paris – has also been crucial, when my
work is welcomed in the countries you mention it means a lot to me. And I have a few composer colleagues from there whose friendship I greatly value.

George Benjamin on composing…

When you begin a new composition – how do you start the process?
Usually with one simple thing - confusion; the clarity of sound and form I desire can take many months to attain.

What is your most prized musical memory?
There were, of course, numerous musical experiences that made a big impact on me during my childhood: discovering the Beethoven symphonies when I was about seven, and feeling this music was unquestionably the greatest thing in existence; hearing 'l’Après-Midi d’un
Faune' at my first ever orchestral concert and sensing the hall change temperature a degree or two; witnessing Ligeti’s music for the first time in the film '2001: A Space Odyssey' when it was brand new; seeing Parsifal in Edinburgh during my teens and being haunted for days
afterwards by its extraordinary harmony…

When you compose, what other art forms are your main sources for inspiration?

Painting, film and, above all, literature. I devour books while writing. I find that the act of reading in silence nurtures the imagination, and sometimes – out of that silence – ideas can begin to crystallise.