Conductors

George Benjamin

© Matthew Lloyd

Introduction

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 Elder. 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 was premiered at the Aix-en-Provence festival in July 2012. The world premiere of a new collaboration with Martin Crimp, Lessons in Love and Violence, is scheduled for the Royal Opera House in 2018.

As a conductor George has a broad repertoire 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 Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Modern.

Since 2001 George has been the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King‘s College, London and was made a Fellow of the College in 2017. George was made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2015 and was knighted in the 2017 Birthday Honours.

His works are published by Faber Music and are recorded on Nimbus Records.


  • 01 Jul 17 BENJAMIN Into the Little Hill CD review
    More info  

    London Sinfonietta, Hila Plitmann (soprano), Susan Bickley (contralto), Nimbus Records

    “… the new version [Into the Little Hill] boasts long-standing Benjamin advocate Susan Bickley alongside the highly versatile soprano Hila Plitmann with the composer at the helm … this latest addition to Nimbus to the Benjamin discography is altogether essential listening.”
    ★★★★★, BBC Music Magazine, July 2017

  • 30 Jan 17 BENJAMIN Written on Skin
    Royal Opera House, London
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    “Benjamin himself conducts, and in his quietly assured hands, the music glistens.”
    ★★★★★ Hannah Nepil, Financial Times, 16 January 2017

    ” … everything that happens in the orchestra pit is intimately related to the drama that unfolds. The sheer technical skill informing this is breathtaking. The composer himself conducts here with unassertive authority, drawing playing of crystal clarity from an orchestra swelled with the unconventional sounds of glass harmonica, sleigh-bells, viol and steel drum. There is magic in the air.”
    ★★★★★ Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph, 14 January 2017

  • 08 Sep 16 Ligeti, Murail and Benjamin: Musica Viva Vol 22 CD Review
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    “Benjamin’s performance of Ligeti’s Lontano, a 20th-century classic, is exceptional for its transparency and its wonderfully controlled sense of mystery, as if the real key to the music is always just out of reach. Benjamin has recorded his own Palimpsests before, with Ensemble Modern for Nimbus Records, but this performance of the pair of linked pieces, first performed in 2000 and 2002 and dedicated to Pierre Boulez, seems even more poised and impressive than that one. Like all the best music, Palimpsests makes up its own structural rules as it goes along, defining its aims and achieving them with total success.”
    ★★★★  Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 8 September 2016

  • 15 Aug 15 BENJAMIN Into the Little Hill
    Alice Tully Hall
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    During a discussion onstage after the opening-night performance of George Benjamin’s haunting opera ‘Written on Skin’, Mr. Benjamin, who has conducted the piece many times, lavished praise on the textured, exciting performance Alan Gilbert had just led.

    “I’m a composer who conducts,” Mr. Benjamin told the audience. Pointing to Mr. Gilbert, he added, “This is a real conductor.”

    On Sunday afternoon, however, Mr. Benjamin demonstrated to a nearly full house at Alice Tully Hall that he is a highly skilled conductor. In a program presented by the increasingly innovative Mostly Mozart festival, Mr. Benjamin led the International Contemporary Ensemble, a crack new-music group, in riveting, lucid accounts of Messiaen’s ‘Oiseaux Exotiques’ and Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, both featuring the brilliant French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. After intermission, Mr. Benjamin conducted ‘Into the Little Hill’, his 2006 chamber opera, a grimly modern take on ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, with an eerily alluring 40-minute score. That Mr. Benjamin led such an assured account of his mysterious opera was no surprise. His depth as a conductor came through especially in the dazzling performances of the Messiaen and Ligeti works he drew from the superb players.

    ‘Oiseaux Exotiques’ (‘Exotic Birds’), composed in the mid-1950s, sounded stunningly fresh in this animated performance. Scored for varied wind instruments, percussion and a piano (a formidable solo part), this sixteen minute piece sounds like a carefully rendered mélange of birdsongs, from chirpy short ones to skittish riffs that almost suggest twelve tone rows. On the surface the music may seem thorny, but it’s hard to think of a more riotously joyful mid-twentieth-century score.

    Ligeti’s 5-movement piano concerto might be a repertory work were it not so difficult. In this twentyfive-minute score, completed in 1988, you hear elements of the styles that fired Ligeti’s imagination, from Bartok’s folkloric idiom to Conlon Nancarrow’s giddily complex player-piano works. Yet here is an idiosyncratic concerto teeming with invention.

    As with ‘Written on Skin’, ambiguities permeate ‘Into the Little Hill’, the first operatic collaboration between Mr. Benjamin and the playwright Martin Crimp. The setting is vague. There is even a suggestion that the rats plaguing the town could be other, undesirable people. Just two singers, a soprano and a mezzo-soprano, share all the roles and mix lines of narration into their dialogue. The pied piper is a creepy figure: a man with no eyes, nose or ears.This unconventional opera might seem hard to stage, though a simple, effective production was presented by Lincoln Center Festival in 2007. Mr. Benjamin’s rumbling, spectral and mysterious music, scored for an unusual ensemble including basset horns and a banjo, worked its magic in Sunday’s taut, intense concert performance. The mellow-voiced mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley varied her sound and persona impressively as the Minister and the Minister’s Wife; the agile soprano Hila Plitmann brought radiant sound, even during passages of sky-high vocal writing, to the Stranger and the Minister’s Child. Both also sang the music of the Narrator and the Crowd.

    That Mr. Benjamin’s work shared a program with two giants of 20th-century music seemed entirely fitting.

    Read the full review in The New York Times here.

  • 03 Apr 14 BENJAMIN Written on Skin DVD release
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    “George Benjamin’s opera is the most subtle, the most sophisticated, the most powerful musical drama of the modern era … Benjamin’s achievement is to make opera seem natural in the 21st century: Written on Skin is a vivid successor to Pelléas et Mélisande in its lyrical sensuousness and to Wozzeck in its cinematographic fluency and unsparing analysis of the human condition.”
    Andrew Clark, Financial Times, 31 January 2014

    “The first truly great opera of the 21st century … [its] communicative power is immense, with Benjamin’s highly coloured music, never forbiddingly complex, consistently moving in step with Martin Crimp’s tangy and chiselled words.”
    Geoff Brown, The Times, 17 January 2014

Discography

  • Musica Viva 22 More info  

    Label: Neos

    Release Date: 29 Jul 16

    LIGETI Lontano

    MURAIL Le Désenchantement Du Monde, Concerto Symphonique Pour Piano Et Orchestre

    BENJAMIN Palimpsests

    Piano: Pierre-Laurent Aimard
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks

  • Horizon 7 More info  

    Label: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

    Release Date: 10 Jun 16

    BENJAMIN Dream of the Song

    Countertenor: Bejun Mehta
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
    Nederlands Kamerkoor

    Recorded live at Concertgebouw Amsterdam on 25 and 26 September 2015

  • Written On Skin (DVD) More info  

    Label: Opus Arte

    Release Date: 06 Jan 14

    Composer: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    Text: Martin Crimp

    The Protector: Christopher Purves
    Agnès: Barbara Hannigan
    Angel 1/The Boy: Bejun Mehta
    Angel 2/Marie: Victoria Simmonds
    Angel 3/John: Allan Clayton
    Angel Archivists: David Alexander, Laura Harling, Peter Hobday, Sarah Northgraves

    Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
    Co-Concert Master: Sergey Levitin
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    Director: Katie Mitchell
    Designs: Vicki Mortimer
    Lighting design: Jon Clark

    Recorded: 2013

  • Written On Skin (CD) More info  

    Label: Nimbus Records

    Release Date: 04 Feb 13

    Recording of the first performance at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, 2012

    Composer: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    Text: Martin Crimp

    Agnès: Barbara Hannigan
    Angel 1/The Boy: Bejun Mehta
    The Protector: Christopher Purves
    Angel 2/Marie: Rebecca Jo Loeb
    Angel 3/John: Allan Clayton

    Mahler Chamber Orchestra
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN

    Plus Duet for Piano & Orchestra
    Piano: Pierre-Laurent Aimard

  • George Benjamin Piano Figures: Ten short pieces for solo piano More info  

    Label: Nimbus Records

    Release Date: 15 May 12

    Spell
    Knots
    In the Mirror
    Interruptions
    Song
    Hammers
    Alone
    Mosaic
    Around the Corner
    Whirling

    Piano: GEORGE BENJAMIN

  • Horizon 2, A Tribute to Olivier Messiaen More info  

    Label: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

    Release Date: 11 Jan 10

    DUKAS /VAN KEULEN La plainte, au loin, du faune…
    Recorded live at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam on 8 an 9 November 2007

    MESSIAEN Les offrandes oubliées
    Recorded live at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam on 8 an 9 November 2007

    DALBAVIE La source d’un regard
    Leo van Doeselaar, organ
    Recorded live at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam on 8 an 9 November 2007

    MESSIAEN Chronochromie
    Recorded live at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam on 8 an 9 November 2007

    ZUIDAM Adam-Interludes*
    Recorded live at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam on 13 and 14 June 2008

    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

    (*Ingo Metzmacher, conductor)

  • George Benjamin Palimpsests and other Orchestral Works More info  

    Label: Nimbus Records

    Release Date: 06 Jun 04

    BENJAMIN
    Palimpsests
    At First Light
    Sudden Time
    Olicantus*

    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    Ensemble Modern

    (*Conductor: Oliver Knussen)

  • Benjamin 'Viola Viola' and other chamber music More info  

    Label: Nimbus Records

    Release Date: 23 Aug 03

    Shadowlines:
    Cantabile
    Wild
    Scherzando
    Tempestoso
    Very Freely, Solemn And Spacious
    Gently Flowing, Flexible

    Piano: Pierre-Laurent Aimard

    Viola, Viola

    Viola: Tabea Zimmerman, Antoine Tamestit

    Three studies for solo piano:
    Fantasy On Uambic Rhythm
    Meditation On Haydn’s Name
    Relativity Rag

    Piano: GEORGE BENJAMIN

    Piano Sonata:
    Vivace
    Lento
    Allegro Straziando

    Piano: GEORGE BENJAMIN

  • George Benjamin 'A Mind of Winter' and other Orchestral Works More info  

    Label: Nimbus Records

    Release Date: 03 Apr 00

    BENJAMIN

    Ringed by the Flat Horizon
    Cello: Ross Pople
    Conductor: Mark Elder
    BBC Symphony Orchestra

    A Mind of Winter
    Soprano: Penelope Walmsley-Clarke
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    London Sinfonietta

    At First Light
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    London Sinfonietta

    Panorama

    Antara
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    London Sinfonietta

  • George Benjamin Orchestral and Chamber Music More info  

    Label: Nimbus Records

    Release Date: 01 Feb 97

    BENJAMIN
    Three Inventions
    Upon Silence
    Sudden Time
    Octet

    Mezzo Soprano: Susan Bickley
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    Fretwork
    London Sinfonietta
    London Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Harvey, Boulez and Benjamin Orchestra Music More info  

    Label: Nimbus Records

    Release Date: 01 Oct 90

    BENJAMIN Antara

    BOULEZ Derive; Memoriale

    HARVEY Song Offerings

    Soprano: Penelope Walmsley-Clark
    Flute: Sebastian Bell
    Conductor: GEORGE BENJAMIN
    London Sinfonietta

Articles

Zachary Woolfe from The New York Times interviews George Benjamin ahead of the US premiere of Dream of the Song, 22nd July 2016.

George Benjamin writes on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, The Guardian, 29th May 2013.

Alan Rusbridger from The Guardian interviews George Benjamin ahead of the Southbank Centre’s weekend festival celebrating his work (as part of the Cultural Olympiad), 10th May 2013.

Opera News interviews George Benjamin, just ahead of the world premiere of Written on Skin, July 2012.