George Benjamin (composer)
Benjamin's oeuvre has been described as exhibiting "consummate craftsmanship" coloured by "a love of rich and unusually coloured sonorities".
Benjamin taught composition at the Royal College of Music, London, for sixteen years, where he became the first Prince Consort Professor of Composition before he succeeded Sir Harrison Birtwistle as Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College London in January 2001. Benjamin has been a teacher and mentor to such younger composers as Luke Bedford and Dai Fujikura.
Benjamin was born in London. He 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.
He then read music at King's College, Cambridge, studying under Alexander Goehr, and emerged in his early twenties as a mature and confident voice. 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 ever to have had music performed at the Proms.
Since the 1980s he 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).
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 most recent project is an opera, Written on Skin, to a libretto by Martin Crimp, with whom he also collaborated on Into the Little Hill. It was commissioned by the Aix-en-Provence Festival, where it was given its première in July 2012, with subsequent performances given at Covent Garden in March 2013, plus subsequent stagings planned for La Scala, Netherlands Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Wiener Festwochen and in Toulouse at the Théâtre du Capitole. The Aix-en-Provence Festival premiere was recorded by Radio France, the score was published by Faber Music and the CD of the premiered was released by Nimbus Records. The score and CD were both released in February 2013 in time for the Covent Garden performances.
Curated programmes and conducting
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. 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.
Benjamin was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours. He is a Chevalier dans l'ordre des Arts et Lettres and a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, and was awarded the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester's first Schoenberg prize for composition in 2002.
In 2001 he was awarded the Arnold Schönberg Prize.
- Sonata for Violin and Piano, 1976–77
- Octet, ( for flute (+ piccolo), clarinet, violin, viola, cello,
double bass, celesta, percussion), 1978
- Flight, flute, 1979
- Viola, Viola, duo for 2 violas (1996)
Vocal and choral
- Jubilation (vocalise), 1996
- Sometime Voices (text by William Shakespeare), 1996
- A Mind of Winter (text by Wallace Stevens), 1981
- Upon Silence (text by William Butler Yeats), 1991
- Dream of the Song (for orchestra, countertenor, and female chorus; text by Ibn Gabirol, Samuel HaNagrid, and Federico Garcia Lorca), 2015
- Sonata for Piano, 1977–78
- Sortilèges, 1981
- Three Studies, 1982–85
- Shadowlines, 2001
- Piano Figures, 2006
- Two or Four, 2010
- Concert à quatre (Olivier Messiaen's final work - in conjunction with Yvonne Loriod and Heinz Holliger, Benjamin orchestrated the second half of the 1st movement as well as the whole of the 4th), 1992–94.
- Gavin Thomas. "George Benjamin: Overview". online at Composition:Today. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
- Tom Service (4 February 2005). "I'm inspired by Stockhausen, Xenakis … and Seinfeld". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 10 March 2013.
- Angelique Chrisafis, "British composer's 20-year opera quest ends with Paris premiere". The Guardian (London), 25 November 2006
- Erica Jeal, "Written on Skin - Review" of the production at Covent Garden, The Guardian (London), 10 March 2013. Retrieved 10 March 2013
- Charlotte Higgins,"With George Benjamin's Written on Skin, British opera takes a bold step into the future", The Guardian (London), 11 March 2013
- Biography on fabermusic.com Retrieved 10 March 2013
- 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.
- Swed, Mark (15 June 2009). "Review: eighth blackbird and other new music at Ojai Music Festival". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 June 2009.
- Announcement in The London Gazette, Issue 59446, 12 June 2010, p. 7
- Andrew Clements, "Into the Little Hill" (review of Opéra Bastille, Paris production), The Guardian, 25 November 2006. Retrieved 10 March 2013
- Bernard Holland, "Tick, Tock or Maybe Tock, Tick", The New York Times, 2 April 2007. (Review of Carnegie Hall premiere) Retrieved 10 March 2013
- Tom Service, "BBCSO/Robertson" (review of 2006 Prom 14), The Guardian, 26 July 2006. Retrieved 10 March 2013
- Alex Ross, "Illuminated: George Benjamin's long-awaited masterpiece", The New Yorker, 25 March 2013.
- Andrew Powell, "Written On Skin, at Length", Musical America, 24 August 2013.
- George Benjamin's page at King's College London
- Page on the website of Faber Music, Benjamin's publisher, with biography, catalogue of works and details of forthcoming performances
- George Benjamin, "In the realm of the senses" (article on György Ligeti) The Guardian, 23 February 2007.
- Education project on collection "Piano Figures" – George Benjamin explains his work in short films
- A biography on IRCAM's website (French)
- Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva), "The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with composer George Benjamin" on operalively.com, 25 July 2013