George Benjamin

"Music is unquestionably the most abstract, least earthed of all art forms and has a unique range and poten­tial. Composers are con­fronted with questions that take them into a huge array of fields in­cluding archi­tecture, logic, psycho­logy, and techno­logy, to name but a few. Yet, when all is said and done, com­posing is a process of shaping, a craft. Compositions are structured entities and our methodo­logy is far more impor­tant for the final out­come than many people think. Only when all of the elements relate to one another harmonious­ly does the music "elevate" us, touch our souls ..."

Born in 1960, George Benjamin began com­posing at the age of seven. In 1976 he entered the Paris Conservatoire to study with Messiaen, after which he worked with Alexander Goehr at King's College, Cambridge. When George was only 20 years old, Ringed by the Flat Horizon was played at the BBC Proms by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Mark Elder. 

Picture © Renske Vrolijk Royal Concertgebouw 


The London Sinfonietta, under Sir Simon Rattle, premiered At First Light two years later. Antara was commis­sioned for the 10th anni­versary of the Pompidou Centre in 1987 and Three Inventions was written for the 75th Salzburg Festival in 1995. 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. More recent cele­brations of George’s work have taken place at the Southbank Centre in 2012 (as part of the UK’s Cultural Olympiad) and at the Barbican in 2016, and the last decade has seen multi-concert retro­spectives in Paris, Lucerne, San Francisco Dortmund, Frankfurt, Aix-en-Provence, Turin, Milan, Aldeburgh, Toronto, Dortmund and New York.

George’s first operatic work Into the Little Hill, written with play­wright Martin Crimp, was com­missioned in 2006 by the Festival d'Automne in Paris. Their second colla­boration, Written on Skin, premiered at the Aix-en-Provence festival in July 2012 has since been scheduled by 20 inter­national opera houses, winning as many inter­national awards. He con­ducted the UK premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in March 2013; the pro­duction was filmed and broad­cast by BBC tele­vision and was re­vived in January 2017. The world premiere of a new colla­boration with Martin Crimp, Lessons in Love and Violence, is scheduled for the Royal Opera House in 2018.

Conducting score

"Each of Benjamin’s orchestral works… is a miraculously crafted master­piece, often the result of years of planning and sketching…" (The Guardian)

As a conductor George has a broad reper­toire – ranging from Mozart and Schumann to Knussen and Abrahamsen – and has con­ducted numerous world premieres, in­cluding impor­tant works by Rihm, Chin, Grisey and Ligeti. He regular­ly works with some of the world's leading orches­tras, amongst them the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Modern; he has an especially close relation­ship with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, who gave the world premiere of Dream of the Song under his baton in Amsterdam in September 2015.

Picture © Javier del Real


"… one of the greatest musicians of our time…" (El Pais)

Picture © Matthew Lloyd

Pierre-Laurent Aimard on George Benjamin’s Shadowlines

"George and I have been friends since our student days at the Paris Conservatoire. He was working on his large orches­tral piece Palimpsets and reached a point where he couldn’t con­tinue. He called me on the phone and said, ‘You’ll be getting a surprise’. A day later the piece came in the mail. It was born during a blocked creative compo­sitional pro­cess and at the same time re­solved it.

In that phase of his work he ex­panded his style by an extremely poly­phonic dimen­sion, com­bined with the charming sound that was always character­istic of George’s music. The piece is a mutual pene­tration of two opposed, almost contra­dictory musical forms: prélude and canon."

"… one of the most formidable composers of his generation…" (The New York Times)

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