"...one of the most important and influential contemporary artists of recent decades..." The Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation
The 2023 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize has been awarded to composer and conductor George Benjamin. The awards ceremony will take place on 26 May at the Herkulessaal der Münchner Residenz, where Benjamin will conduct longstanding collaborators Ensemble Modern in At First Light (1982) and Into the Little Hill (2006).
The Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation commented,
By awarding the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize to George Benjamin, the EvS Music Foundation honours one of the most important and influential contemporary artists of recent decades who has shaped New Music both as a composer and conductor. The Board of Trustees thereby honours a composer who has always remained true to himself without bending to fashions and trends. Benjamin has almost uniquely succeeded in renewing music with traditional means, and his works bringing contemporary music closer to a broad audience, thus making him a central figure in current musical life. The sixty-three-year-old has devoted himself to almost all genres through his career and he remains at the peak of his creative powers.
Philippe Albèra pays tribute to Benjamin's compositions in an essay here.
Sam Wigglesworth, Director of Performance Music, remarked
At two pivotal moments in George Benjamin’s 2012 opera Written on Skin, the listener is confronted with a sonority almost certainly never before heard in the history of music: the sensual, languorous colours of viola da gamba mixed with the luminous sheen of glass harmonica. Moments of musical alchemy like this occur throughout Benjamin’s output, a concise and consistently exquisite body of just over forty works which, I am very proud to say, are all published by Faber Music. As well as being jewel-like creations, Benjamin's pieces often have stark, uncomfortable things to say to us. In the operas – and even in purely instrumental works, like his recent Concerto for Orchestra – I am struck by something that I can only describe as the moral weight of his music. Congratulations, dear George, on this much deserved honour.
The Ernst von Siemens Music Prize has been awarded annually since 1973 by the privately-run Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, based in Switzerland. Benjamin joins a distinguished list of composers to be honoured by the foundation, including Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Mauricio Kagel, Elliot Carter, Olga Neuwirth, Harrison Birtwistle, Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Kurtág, and its first-ever recipient Benjamin Britten.
The award for a lifetime of service to music comes with €250,000 prize money. Benjamin’s previous awards include the 2015 Prince Pierre of Monaco composition prize (for Written on Skin) and the 2019 Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement from the Venice Biennale. He was awarded a C.B.E. in 2010 and made an Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2015. In 2017 he was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Benjamin was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 2018. In 2022 he received the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Works Collection, and the Institut de France’s Grand Prix artistique 2022 de la Fondation Simone et Cino Del Duca.
Picture a day like this, Benjamin’s fourth opera and latest collaboration with playwright Martin Crimp, premieres at the Aix-en-Provence festival this summer.