From 19-24 March George Benjamin is the focus of the 42nd Festival Aspects des Musiques d’Aujourd’hui at the Conservatoire & Orchestre de Caen, which also sees world and national premieres from Martin Suckling, as well as music by Julian Anderson and Oliver Knussen – full details of the programme here.

The Orchestra de Caen, conducted by Nicolas Simon, open the Festival with a performance of Benjamin’s 2021 Purcell transcription Three Consorts, A Mind of Winter (1981) for soprano and orchestra, Duet for piano and orchestra (2008), and Oliver Knussen’s Symphony No.2 (1971). Jenny Daviet is soprano soloist in Benjamin’s 10-minute setting of Wallace Stevens and the Knussen, which takes the form of a 17-minute song cycle to texts by Georg Trakl and Sylvia Plath, whilst Florent Boffard is soloist in Duet; on 23 March Boffard also performs Benjamin’s Shadowlines (2001). Benjamin's piano music, along with chamber works by Martin Suckling, will be presented alongside excerpts from Martin Crimp's Attempts on Her Life (1997) on 22 March

Jenny Daviet returns for a Jacques Osinski’s production of Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s Into the Little Hill (2006) on 21 and 22 March at the Théâtre de Caen; Daviet is joined by alto Camille Merckx, conductor Alphonse Cemin, and Ensemble Carabanchel. It is prefaced by Benjamin’s  Flight (1979) for solo flute, performed by Claire Luquiens. On 23 March Sarah Breton sings Benjamin’s Upon Silence for mezzo soprano and five viols, with Benjamin conducting Ensemble Hic et Nunc - the 10-minute setting of W.B. Yeats’ The Long Legged Fly, appears alongside music by Purcell; Knussen and Benjamin’s 1995 transcriptions of Purcell – Fantasia 7 and …upon one note for clarinet, cello violin and piano/celesta will be performed on 24 March.

Martin Suckling’s Chanson à cordes, a set of duets for viola and cello, commissioned by the Festival, receives its world premiere on 24 of March; the 19-minute work in eight parts will be performed by Grégoire Mariette (viola) and Pawel Robinne (cello) (pieces 1-4) and Nils Maurice (viola) and Viktor Klépa (cello) (pieces 5-8). The same day also sees the French premiere of Visiones (after Goya), inspired by an eerie Goya sketch of a couple dancing, seemingly suspended in mid-air, was commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival and premiered in 2015 with Mark Simpson, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Tamara Stefanovich.

On 20 March Ilan Sousa conducts students from the conservatoire in Suckling’s Meditation (after Donne) for chamber orchestra and electronics; the 11-minute work, premiered by Scottish Chamber Orchestra, uses recordings of Scottish bells to recall the tolling that marked Armistice day in 1918; its elegiac character is complemented by keening strings, the mournful wail of an oboe, and bird song.

‘In Memoriam’, the first of Suckling’s Postcards for string ensemble (2012-13), also receives its first French performance: the miniatures, commissioned by Scottish Ensemble, crystallise the composer’s style: radiating melodies that glow with microtones, shimmering textures that reveal a dark underworld. The concert concludes with the French premiere of Benjamin’s Altitude (1977) for brass band – the 9-minute piece, written for Elgar Howarth and Grimethorpe Colliery Band, portrays an imaginary fight at an extreme height – frigid but agile.

Students from the Conservatoire de Caen will also explore Suckling’s music in masterclasses with the composer on 22, 23 and 24 March, including two movements from his song cycle The Tuning for mezzo soprano and piano, which sets Michael Donaghy; violin duets Òran Fìdhle, based on traditional Gaelic song; Three Venus Haiku (2009), performed by both flute and violin with piano, inspired by Scottish poet George Bruce; and Cumha na Cloinne and Sky Song (2013) for piano solo. Julian Anderson’s chamber works Lucretius (for soprano and percussion), Mime (for clarinet), Bach Machine (for vibraphone, violin and clarinet), Etude No.4 (‘Misreading Rameau) for piano, will also be performed on 24 March.

The Orchestre Régional de Normandie and Jean Déroyer perform Benjamin’s Turner-inspired At First Light on 24 March, alongside Julian Anderson’s Khorovod (1989-94) and Knussen’s Ophelia Dances, Book 1 and Songs without Voices. Dedicated to Knussen, Anderson’s 12-minute piece is a bustling set of round dances for fifteen players, that takes melodic and rhythmic inspiration from Lithuanian, Russian, Turkish, Romanian, and Spanish folk music.