George Benjamin (composer)

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Sir George William John Benjamin, CBE (born 31 January 1960) is an English composer of classical music. He is also a conductor, pianist and teacher.


Benjamin was born in London, attended Westminster School and then studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire during the second half of the 1970s. Messiaen was reported to have described Benjamin as his favourite pupil.[1] He then read music at King's College, Cambridge, studying under Alexander Goehr.

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 youngest living composer to have had music performed at the Proms.[2] He followed this with two more works: A Mind of Winter in 1981 and At First Light (1982), but he then wrote little more until 1993.[2]

From 1992 to 1994, he helped Yvonne Loriod complete her husband Olivier Messiaen's last work, Concert à quatre. In 1993, he curated the first Meltdown music festival in London.

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.

In 1999, he made his operatic debut conducting Pelléas et Mélisande at la Monnaie, Brussels, and he has conducted numerous world premieres, including works by Wolfgang Rihm, Unsuk Chin, Grisey and Ligeti.[citation needed]

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, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie.[3][4] In the 2002–03 concert season, the London Symphony Orchestra gave a season-long festival of concerts which he curated, called "By George!".[5] In 2010 he was the Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival in California.[6]

He has been a teacher and mentor to younger composers such as Luke Bedford and Dai Fujikura.[7]

Musical works[edit]

Since the 1980s Benjamin has fulfilled a number of large commissions, including Sudden Time (for orchestra), Three Inventions (for chamber orchestra) and Antara (for ensemble and electronics, realised at IRCAM and the first composition ever published using the Sibelius notation program).[citation needed]

His Duet for piano and orchestra, was commissioned by Roche for the 2008 Lucerne Festival, where he was Composer-in-Residence, and was premiered there by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Moest.


His first operatic work, Into The Little Hill, a collaboration with playwright Martin Crimp, was premiered at the Festival d'Automne in Paris in 2006 and has toured widely on both sides of the Atlantic. It received its London premiere at the Royal Opera House in February 2009.

His second opera, Written on Skin,[8] to a libretto by Martin Crimp,[9] was commissioned by the Aix-en-Provence Festival,[10] where it was given its première in July 2012.

Benjamin and Crimp's third operatic collaboration, Lessons in Love and Violence, was premiered at the Royal Opera House on May 10, 2018.[11]


In 2001 Benjamin was awarded the Arnold Schönberg Prize. He is a Chevalier dans l'ordre des Arts et Lettres[citation needed] and a member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste.[12]

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours[13] and was knighted in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to music.[14]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ Angelique Chrisafis, "British composer's 20-year opera quest ends with Paris premiere". The Guardian (London), 25 November 2006
  2. ^ a b Gavin Thomas. "George Benjamin: Overview". online at Composition:Today. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  3. ^ Hume, L., ed. (2017). Debrett's People of Today 2017. London, U.K.: Debrett's Peerage Limited – via Credo Reference.
  4. ^ "Concerts and Tours". Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Swed, Mark (15 June 2009). "Review: eighth blackbird and other new music at Ojai Music Festival". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 June 2009.
  7. ^ Tom Service (4 February 2005). "I'm inspired by Stockhausen, Xenakis … and Seinfeld". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  8. ^ Erica Jeal, "Written on Skin - Review" of the production at Covent Garden, The Guardian (London), 10 March 2013. Retrieved 10 March 2013
  9. ^ Charlotte Higgins,"With George Benjamin's Written on Skin, British opera takes a bold step into the future", The Guardian (London), 11 March 2013
  10. ^ Biography on Retrieved 10 March 2013
  11. ^ Lessons in Love and Violence production page at Retrieved 15 August 2017
  12. ^ "Musik: Korrespondierende Mitglieder". Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste (in German). 2017. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  13. ^ Announcement in The London Gazette, Issue 59446, 12 June 2010, p. 7
  14. ^ "No. 61962". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 2017. p. B2.
  15. ^ Andrew Clements, "Into the Little Hill" (review of Opéra Bastille, Paris production), The Guardian, 25 November 2006. Retrieved 10 March 2013
  16. ^ Bernard Holland, "Tick, Tock or Maybe Tock, Tick", The New York Times, 2 April 2007. (Review of Carnegie Hall premiere) Retrieved 10 March 2013
  17. ^ Tom Service, "BBCSO/Robertson" (review of 2006 Prom 14), The Guardian, 26 July 2006. Retrieved 10 March 2013

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Online version is titled "How the composer George Benjamin finally found his voice".