George Benjamin has taken San Francisco by storm. In his 50th birthday year, he has numerous concerts scheduled around the globe but in San Francisco he received a special welcome. Benjamin returned to the San Francisco Symphony in January as featured composer for the new “Project San Francisco”, a two-week long residency which saw him three-fold as conductor, pianist and educator. Benjamin made his debut in San Francisco in 1992 when he curated the Wet Ink Festival. The “Project San Francisco” programmes included orchestral works Ringed by the Flat Horizon, Jubliation, Dance Figures and the West Coast premiere of Duet. Media coverage has been plentiful. Mark Swed acknowledged ‘the orchestra played as if for an old friend’.
‘...Benjamin has a sensual streak, a flare for color and a musical mind that works rationally...This was his first time back, but the orchestra played as if for an old friend.’
Los Angeles Times (Mark Swed), 15 January 2010
‘…The sounds that flowed from the San Francisco Symphony in the moments after the deep breath, that taking stock were close to astonishing… he is a communicator; the orchestra had its antennae up, from bar one. It sounded splendid.
Benjamin's “Duet” was taut and anxious, bristling with atmospherics...Scored without violins ... this recent piano concerto...is a work of granite-hard detail.
... the piano functions almost as a drum, doubling some of the parts played, for instance, by the temple blocks. Elsewhere, the piano intones a slow, persistent, nail-hard melody, scratched from below by a rhythmic itching of low plucked strings and harp.
The piece is a push and pull, or maybe a tug of war, between the two partners in the duet: the piano and the rest of the orchestra. With every detail tucked in place — including overlapping overtones of piano and percussion...’
The Mercury News (Richard Scheinin), 15 January 2010
‘With a creative voice uniquely his own, Benjamin’s Figures range from intrigue to exuberance; from introspection to excitement.’
The Epoch Times (Eman Isadier), 13 January 2010
‘Duet …It is a work of striking imagination and intensity...Cast in a single movement, the score places the soloist on a parallel track with the ensemble in a dense, flinty study in timbral and textural contrasts. The writing for orchestra is starkly atmospheric, with the voices of muted trumpets, brooding low strings, woodwinds, and celesta (there are no violins) occasionally emerging. Against this backdrop the piano, which remains in a confined register throughout, comes across with startling clarity; Hodges, responding to Benjamin’s direction, negotiated the work’s demands with chilly precision.
San Francisco Classical Voice (Georgia Rowe), 14 January 2010
‘He has been described by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini as “one of the most formidable composers of his generation,” his music “bursting with personality.” His “feeling for French sonorities” comes from his studies in Paris, while a teenager, with Olivier Messiaen, one of the greatest composers of the last half of the 20th century. The critic Paul Griffiths described one of his pieces as “bringing into an airy Ravel-Debussy world a Mahlerian sense of the composer’s emotional self.” Benjamin also impresses critics with the meticulousness and clarity of his music...’
San Francisco Classical Voice (Jeff Nunn), 5 January 2010