Gürzenich Orchester Köln celebrated the music of George Benjamin this April, where they were conducted by the composer himself and Christian Karlsen in two programmes.
Benjamin gave three performances of his 2021 Concerto for Orchestra at the Philharmonie, where he was also joined by countertenor Cameron Shahbazi and the women of ChorWerk Ruhr for his 20-minute orchestral song cycle Dream of the Song (2014-15). On 16 April Christian Karlsen conducted Benjamin’s first stage work Into the Little Hill (2006), with Helen Rasker and Keren Motseri. Two works by Oliver Knussen, to whose memory Benjamin dedicated his Concerto for Orchestra, completed the programme: Songs without Voices and Ophelia Dances Book 1.
Karlsen is a keen exponent of Benjamin’s music. In 2019 the conductor led the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in the Swedish premiere of Dance Figures, alongside Ringed by the Flat Horizon and Benjamin’s 1981 setting of Wallace Stevens for soprano and orchestra A Mind of Winter. In 2020 Karlsen conducted At First Light with the London Sinfonietta at Festival Présences in Paris; he returns to the piece for the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize ceremony on 26 May at Munich’s Herkulessaal. At the same ceremony Benjamin conducts Into the Little Hill, which receives its Canadian premiere in Vancouver from Astrolabe Musik Theatre on 19 May. It is conducted by Leslie Dala and directed by Idan Cohen, with Emma Parkinson and Heather Pawsey singing.
In late 2020 François-Xavier Roth conducted Gürzenich Orchester Köln in Benjamin Lazar’s production of Written on Skin for Oper Köln, streamed online during the pandemic. That cast included Cameron Shahbazi, originator of the role of The Boy in the acclaimed opera, who joins Benjamin again this summer at the Aix-en-Provence Festival for the world premiere of Picture a day like this, the composer’s latest collaboration with Crimp. Shahbazi plays Lover 2/Composer’s Assistant.