A new Concerto for Orchestra by George Benjamin, a work tailor-made for the players of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, will be premiered at the BBC Proms on 30 August, before performances at Musikfest Berlin and the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. The composer himself conducts a programme that also includes his new Purcell transcriptions and Oliver Knussen’s The Way to Castle Yonder.
The 18-minute Concerto for Orchestra – Benjamin’s first purely instrumental work since his Duet for piano and orchestra (2008) – is the latest product of the extraordinarily close relationship between the composer and the MCO, who premiered his 2012 opera Written on Skin in Aix and have since toured it around the world, including to the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York.
An MCO podcast - featuring an interview with Benjamin and clips from early rehearsals in Cologne - can be heard here.
“This Concerto for Orchestra was written in memory of Oliver Knussen, with whom I maintained the closest of friendships for 40 years” writes Benjamin. “His passing in 2018 was widely mourned in the musical world; his extraordinary brilliance as composer and conductor – and kindness and generosity as a person – are irreplaceable. In some ways this work attempts to conjure a trace of the energy, humour, and spirit I associate with my friend and its mood is often playful, though on occasion it twists into much more turbulent terrain.
The score is also dedicated to – and was written for – the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble with whom I have developed a particularly close working relationship. The orchestral writing is frequently virtuosic, and every instrument has its moment in the foreground – hence the title.
During its virtually unbroken 18-minute span, shaped almost entirely within a single tempo, a wide diversity of instrumental invention evolves, interacts, and superimposes. Long, suspended lines weave a path through contrasting textures, some rapid and skittish, others more dynamic and propulsive. All of the instruments play multiple roles – both dramatic and sonoric – across the structure, among them a volatile solo tuba, elaborate horn duos, bubbling clarinets and two pairs of rumbling timpani. Most prominent of all are the impassioned first violins, who almost have the last word during the work’s conclusion.”
Full details of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra Prom can be found here