In March Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform George Benjamin’s 1993 work Sudden Time in Spain and the United Kingdom. On 1 and 2 March Gardner conducts the 15-minute piece in Madrid and Zaragoza, before a further performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 4 March.

The piece takes its title from a poem by Wallace Stevens, whose verse Benjamin set in 1981’s A Mind of Winter for soprano and orchestra. “It was like sudden time in a world without time”, writes Stevens in Martial Cadenza. The piece evokes a sense of elasticity, of things stretching, warping and coming back together, partly inspired by Benjamin’s perception of the sound of a thunderclap in a dream, compared to his apprehension of it upon suddenly waking.

Although the forces employed are substantial, the music often has a chamber-like intimacy and transparency across its two continuous movements. The work oscillates between focused, pulsed simplicity and whirlpools of complex polyrhythm. Distinctive textural contributions come from a quartet of alto flutes, a pair of miniature recorders, muted piano and a plethora of mini-tablas which accompany the virtuosic viola solo that concludes the piece.

In November 2022 Gardner conducted the Cleveland Orchestra in another Benjamin orchestral work inspired by the modernist poetry of T.S. Eliot – 1980’s Ringed by the Flat Horizon. Sudden Time has recently received performances from Robin Ticciati with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Deutsches-Sinfonie Orchester; other exponents of the work include Sakari Oramo, Oliver Knussen, Zoltán Kocsis and Ilan Volkov; Benjamin has conducted the piece over 25 times.

In January Benjamin was honoured with the 2023 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize; Picture a day like this, his fourth opera and latest collaboration with playwright Martin Crimp, premieres at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in July.