In February, Radio France celebrated Benjamin’s music in Paris with an impressive and compendious focus at the Présences Festival. From concert performances of two operas, to chamber and orchestral works, over ten pieces were included in what was a resounding confirmation of Benjamin’s importance in French musical life.
In the opening concert Benjamin conducted the Orchestre National de France in his Duet for piano and orchestra and Palimpsests. Pascal Rophé conducted the same orchestra in Sudden Time, while Kent Nagano led the Orchestre Philharmonique et Chœur de Radio France in Sometime Voices, with baritone Gyula Orendt. Ensemble Intercontemporain presented Into the Little Hill, and Benjamin conducted Written on Skin with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (a performance which was repeated in Vienna).
‘A brilliant edition of Présences… a portrait commensurate with Benjamin’s excellence. Here we have a master in the old sense… isolating himself for months on end to chisel away at scores that have the purity of diamonds. Nothing is left to chance, and yet music seems to be constantly inventing itself… we are once again confounded by his mastery of the orchestra… The highlight was Written on Skin, his greatest triumph to date.’
Le Figaro (Christian Merlin), 18 February 2020
Palimpsests impresses with its formal perfection and a virtuosity of technique which, although hardly perceptible, contributes to the impression of the music’s progress being inexorable… The climax came with Written on Skin. The dramaturgy is written into the DNA of text and music… [in concert] we gain tenfold in our perception of the incredible refinement of the orchestral writing, whose depth of field opens up grandiose acoustic and dramatic spaces… It may be Benjamin’s birthday, but it is the public that receives a gift.’
Diapason (Pierre Rigaudière), 22 February 2020
‘[In Duet] Benjamin imagines all kinds of instrumental alloys between the timbres of orchestra and piano, with an almost cinematographic trajectory, where images and soundscapes pass by, as enigmatic as they are delectable… Palimpsests [is] one of Benjamin’s orchestral masterworks… an extraordinary sonic imagination. The palette is extravagantly rich and the alloys of timbres are always surprising. [Benjamin] leads the orchestra to speak with a rare acuity, conferring both the energy of the sound and the sensuality of the material.’
ResMusica (Michèle Tosi), 11 February 2020