George Benjamin focuses in Berlin and Hamburg

George Benjamin smiling portrait credit Matthew Lloyd (WEB).jpg
For their 18/19 season the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation undertook a major focus on Benjamin. Seven concerts (three presented in collaboration with the Musikfest Berlin) featured works from across his output. Benjamin conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker in his Palimpsests, and lead the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in both Into the Little Hill and Written on Skin. 
 
Meanwhile, the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie presented an equally impressive retrospective. Almost a decade in the hatching, it included all three operas (with the German premiere of Lessons in Love and Violence) plus Palimpsests, Dream of the Song and Into the Little Hill, among others.
 
‘He really knows how to win people over to music.’
Der Tagesspiegel (Ulrich Amling), 10 September 2018
 
‘Undoubtedly, the Briton is one of the greatest composers of the present day.’
The Welt, 12 November 2018
 
Lessons in Love and Violence on stage and DVD 
 
Lessons in Love and Violence, George Benjamin’s third opera with Martin Crimp has been released on DVD by Opus Arte. The DVD is directed for screen by Margaret Williams, and is based on the initial run of performances at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, conducted by the composer. 
 
Delving into the dark and turbulent events of Edward II’s life and death, the 90-minute opera to a text by Martin Crimp is directed by Katie Mitchell, with designs by Vicki Mortimer. The baritones of Stéphane Degout and Gyula Orendt – as the King and his lover Gaveston – entwine in duets of dark sensuality, whilst soprano Barbara Hannigan, as Isabel the Queen, traces an ever-descending spiral of desperation with a vocal angularity quite different from the role of Agnès in Written on Skin. Tenor Peter Hoare is terrifying as the cold utilitarian Mortimer, whilst the gleaming haut-contre of Samuel Boden (as Boy and Young King) is only revealed fully in the opera’s denouement, when he restores order with a terrible act of violence. The vividly characterised supporting roles are sung by soprano Jennifer France, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, and bass-baritone Andri Björn Róbertsson. A CD recording, taken from the 2018 Amsterdam performances, will be released in June on Nimbus.
 
‘I was pretty blown away by what I saw and heard… I wanted to see it again… The music is gripping, a constantly changing harmonic flow that tells us things that the characters themselves do not know… An absolute masterpiece.’
France Culture (Sophie Bourdais and Charles Arden), 19 February 2019
 
‘An opera of impressive concentration with not a word or note wasted… Like Crimp’s text, the music is a model of clarity on the surface, while suggesting an undercurrent of evil, which wells up powerfully in the interludes…' 
Gramophone (Richard Fairman), March 2019
 
‘It’s Benjamin’s translucent score that both grounds and elevates the piece. No one today writes better music for the voice … The orchestration is extraordinary and protean.’
The Bay Area Reporter (Tim Pfaff), 5 March 2019
 
Following the initial run of performances in London and Amsterdam, the opera premired in Hamburg earlier this month, and will now travel to Opéra de Lyon, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona and Teatro Real, Madrid. Details of a new stage production will be announced in the coming months.