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George Benjamin (composer)

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George Benjamin
Born (1960-01-31) 31 January 1960 (age 64)
London, UK
  • Composer
  • Conductor
  • Pianist
  • Academic teacher

Sir George William John Benjamin, CBE (born 31 January 1960) is an English composer of contemporary classical music. He is also a conductor, pianist and teacher. He is well known for operas Into the Little Hill (2006), Written on Skin (2009–2012) and Lessons in Love and Violence (2015–2017)—all with librettos by Martin Crimp. In 2019, critics at The Guardian ranked Written on Skin as the second best work of the 21st-century.[1]


Benjamin was born in London and attended Westminster School. He studied piano privately with concert pianist and eminent teacher, Marguerite Tury in 1967–74, wrote his first composition at the age of nine, and took piano and composition lessons with Peter Gellhorn until the age of 15,[2] after which Gellhorn arranged for Benjamin to continue his lessons in Paris with Olivier Messiaen, whom he had known for many years.[3] Messiaen was reported to have described Benjamin as his favourite pupil.[4] He then read music at King's College, Cambridge, studying under Alexander Goehr and Robin Holloway.

His orchestral piece Ringed by the Flat Horizon (written for the Cambridge University Musical Society and premiered in Cambridge under the baton of Mark Elder on 5 March 1980) was performed at The Proms that August, while he was still a student, making him the then youngest living composer to have had music performed at the Proms.[5] The London Sinfonietta and Sir Simon Rattle premiered At First Light two years later.[6] Antara was commissioned by IRCAM for the 10th anniversary of the Pompidou Centre in 1987[7] and Three Inventions for chamber orchestra were written for the 75th Salzburg Festival in 1995.[8] The London Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez premiered Palimpsests in 2002 to mark the opening of ‘By George’, a season-long portrait which included the first performance of Shadowlines by Pierre-Laurent Aimard.[9] More recent celebrations of Benjamin's work have taken place at Southbank Centre in 2012 (as part of the UK's Cultural Olympiad) and at the Barbican in 2016.[10][11]

A scene from a 2018 performance of Benjamin's opera Written on Skin by Opera Philadelphia

Benjamin's first operatic work Into the Little Hill, written with playwright Martin Crimp, was commissioned in 2006 by the Festival d'Automne in Paris. It received its London premiere at the Royal Opera House in February 2009. Their second collaboration, Written on Skin, premiered at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July 2012. Benjamin conducted the UK premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in March 2013.[12] Lessons in Love and Violence, a third collaboration with Martin Crimp, premiered at the Royal Opera House in 2018.[13] His fourth opera, the 70-minute Picture a Day like this, again with Crimp, was commissioned by and first produced at the Aix Festival at the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume in 2023; Benjamin conducted with Marianne Crebassa as the woman.[14]

As a conductor, he regularly appears with some of the world's leading ensembles and orchestras, amongst them the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, the Cleveland and Concertgebouw orchestras, and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie.[15][16] In 1999, he made his operatic debut conducting Pelléas et Mélisande at la Monnaie, Brussels,[17] and he has conducted numerous world premieres, including works by Wolfgang Rihm, Unsuk Chin, Gérard Grisey, and György Ligeti.[18][19][20] In 1993, he curated the first Meltdown music festival in London and in 2010 he was the Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival in California.[21] During the 2018/2019 season, Benjamin was Composer in Residence to the Berliner Philharmoniker.[22]

For sixteen years, Benjamin taught composition at the Royal College of Music, London, where he became the first Prince Consort Professor of Composition before succeeding Sir Harrison Birtwistle as Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College London in January 2001. His pupils include Luke Bedford, Robin de Raaff,[23] and Dai Fujikura.[24]


In 2019, Benjamin was awarded the Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement from the Venice Biennale. Other awards include the 2001 Arnold Schönberg Prize,[25] the 2015 Prince Pierre of Monaco composition prize (for his opera Written on Skin),[26] and 2023 the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.[27] For 2023 he received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award.[28]

An honorary fellow of King's College Cambridge, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music,[29] Benjamin is also an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society.[30] He was awarded a C.B.E. in 2010,[31] made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2015,[32] and was knighted in the 2017 Queen's Birthday Honours.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Benjamin now lives in northwest London with his partner, the filmmaker Michael Waldman, whose recent credits include The Day John Lennon Died, The Scandalous Adventures of Lord Byron, and the TV miniseries Musicality.





  • Ringed by the Flat Horizon for orchestra (1979–1980)
  • A Mind of Winter for soprano and orchestra (1981) text: Wallace Stevens
  • Sudden Time for large orchestra (1989–1993)
  • Three Inventions for chamber orchestra (1993–1995)
  • Sometime Voices for baritone, chorus and orchestra (1996) text: William Shakespeare
  • Palimpsests for orchestra (2000–2002)
  • Dance Figures, nine choreographic scenes for orchestra (2004)
  • Duet for piano and orchestra (2008)
  • Dream of the Song for countertenor, female chorus and orchestra (2014–2015) texts: Solomon Ibn Gabirol and Samuel HaNagid, trans. Peter Cole; Federico García Lorca
  • Concerto for Orchestra (2021)


  • Octet for 8 players (1978)
  • At First Light for 14 players (1982)
  • Antara for 16 players and electronics (1987)
  • Upon Silence for mezzo-soprano and viols/strings (1990) text: Yeats
  • Olicantus for 15 players (2002)

Chamber and instrumental[edit]

  • Piano Sonata (1977–1978)
  • Flight for solo flute (1979)
  • Three Studies for piano (1982–1985)
  • Viola, Viola for viola duo (1997)
  • Shadowlines – six canonic preludes for piano (2001)
  • Three Miniatures for solo violin (2001–2002)
  • Piano Figures – ten short pieces for piano (2004)


  1. ^ Clements, Andrew; Maddocks, Fiona; Lewis, John; Molleson, Kate; Service, Tom; Jeal, Erica; Ashley, Tim (12 September 2019). "The best classical music works of the 21st century". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  2. ^ Anderson, Julian. 'Benjamin, George (William John)' in Grove Music Online
  3. ^ Obituary, 'Peter Gellhorn' in The Guardian, 16 February 2004
  4. ^ Angelique Chrisafis, "British composer's 20-year opera quest ends with Paris premiere". The Guardian (London), 25 November 2006
  5. ^ Gavin Thomas. "George Benjamin: Overview". online at Composition:Today. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  6. ^ "London Symphony Orchestra - Rattle: the exhibition". lso.co.uk. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  7. ^ "Antara". www.fabermusic.com. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  8. ^ "Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra". www.fabermusic.com. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  9. ^ George Benjamin,"My heroes and I", The Guardian (London), 20 September 2002: He was artistic consultant to the BBC's 3-year retrospective of 20th-century music for the Millennium, 'Sounding the Century'. There have been major retrospectives of his work in London, Pris, Tokyo, Brussels, Berlin, Strasbourg, San Francisco and Madrid.
  10. ^ Nepilova, Hannah (21 March 2016). "Benjamin at the Barbican, Barbican, London — 'The power of suggestion'". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  11. ^ Clements, Andrew (14 May 2012). "Jubilation: The Music of George Benjamin – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  12. ^ Jeal, Erica (10 March 2013). "Written on Skin – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  13. ^ Lessons in Love and Violence production page at roh.org.uk. Retrieved 15 August 2017
  14. ^ Allison, John. Report from Aix-en-Provence. Opera, September 2023, Vol. 74 No. 9, p1063.
  15. ^ Hume, L., ed. (2017). Debrett's People of Today 2017. London, U.K.: Debrett's Peerage Limited – via Credo Reference.
  16. ^ "Concerts and Tours". Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  17. ^ "George Benjamin". www.nimbusrecords.co.uk. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  18. ^ "Hamburg Concerto". englisch. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  19. ^ Service, Tom (18 March 2013). "A guide to Gérard Grisey's music". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  20. ^ Dixon, Gavin (6 February 2018). "Contemporary composer: Unsuk Chin". www.gramophone.co.uk. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  21. ^ Swed, Mark (15 June 2009). "Review: eighth blackbird and other new music at Ojai Music Festival". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 June 2009.
  22. ^ Philharmoniker, Berliner. "Composer in Residence 2018/2019 | Berliner Philharmoniker". www.berliner-philharmoniker.de. Archived from the original on 6 June 2023. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  23. ^ "Robin De Raaff". brahms.ircam.fr. Retrieved 25 April 2023.
  24. ^ Tom Service (4 February 2005). "I'm inspired by Stockhausen, Xenakis ... and Seinfeld". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  25. ^ "George Benjamin | Delphian Records". Archived from the original on 17 October 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  26. ^ "Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco". www.fondationprincepierre.mc. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  27. ^ "Komponist George Benjamin erhält Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis - neue musikzeitung". nmz (in German). 31 January 2023. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  28. ^ BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award 2023
  29. ^ "George Benjamin". www.nimbusrecords.co.uk. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  30. ^ "George Benjamin". Royal Philharmonic Society. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  31. ^ Announcement in The London Gazette, Issue 59446, 12 June 2010, p. 7
  32. ^ "George Benjamin Guest at Composers' Club". barenboimsaid.de. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  33. ^ "No. 61962". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 2017. p. B2.
  34. ^ "George Benjamin - Works". www.fabermusic.com. Retrieved 1 November 2019.

Further reading[edit]