At First Light


chamber orchestra of 14 players
Chamber/Small Orchestra
1(=afl+picc).1.1(=bcl).1(=cbsn) - 1.1(=ptpt)1.0 - perc(1): 4 susp.cym/2 tgl/2 crot/gong/vib/guiro/mcas/whip/ ball/flat-bottomed drinking glass/large newspaper/tam-t/SD - pno(=cel) - 2 vln.vla.vlc.db

Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta for their concert series 1982, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain

First Performance
23.11.1982, St John's Smith Square, London, UK: London Sinfonietta/Simon Rattle

Score 0-571-50718-2 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes

In the Tate Gallery there is a late Turner oil painting, Norham Castle, Sunrise. The 12th century castle in this picture is silhouetted against a huge, golden sun. What struck me immediately about this beautiful image was the way in which solid objects – fields, cows and the castle itself – virtually appear to have melted under the intense sunlight. It is as if the paint were still wet. Abstractly, this observation has been important to the way I have composed the piece. A ‘solid object’ can be formed as a punctuated, clearly defined musical phrase. This can be ‘melted’ into a flowing, nebulous continuum of sound. There can be all manner of transformations and interactions between these two ways of writing. Equally important, however, this piece is a contemplation of dawn, a celebration of the colours and noises of daybreak. It is set in three movements: in the short, opening one, superimposed fanfares burst into hazy, undefined textures. After a pause the extended second movement follows, itself subdivided into several contrasted sections, full of abrupt changes in mood and tension. The concluding movement arrives without a break, and progresses in a continuous, flowing line illuminated with ever more resonant harmonies. At First Light, which is dedicated to Donald and Kathleen Mitchell, was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain. The première, under Simon Rattle, took place in November 1982. George Benjamin

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Faber Music at the 2015 Aldeburgh Festival

Featuring no fewer than six Faber composers, this summer’s Aldeburgh Festival looks set to be particuarly vibrant and stimulating. George Benjamin will be Artist-in-Residence, appearing as conductor, pianist and curator in what will be the largest UK retrospective of his work since the Southbank Centre’s ‘Jubilation’ festival in 2012. Read more

'At First Light' reviews

‘…a bold piece, reminiscent of Varese in its eruptive force, and another bolt in this young composer’s self-discovery.’ Read more

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