Born in 1960, George Benjamin is one of the outstanding composers of his generation.
He started to play the piano at the age of seven, and began composing almost immediately. In 1976 he entered the Paris Conservatoire to study with Olivier Messiaen (composition) and Yvonne Loriod (piano), after which he concluded his studies at King's College Cambridge under Alexander Goehr.
His first orchestral work, Ringed by the Flat Horizon, was played at the BBC Proms when he was just 20; from the first it achieved a remarkable international performance record, as did two subsequent works, A Mind of Winter and At First Light. Antara was a commission from IRCAM to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Pompidou centre in 1987 and Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra was written for the opening of the 75th Salzburg Festival in 1995. The LSO and Pierre Boulez gave the world premiere of Palimpsests in 2002 to mark the opening of "By George”, the LSO's season-long portrait of his work at the Barbican.
Recent years have seen numerous international retrospectives of his work, including at the 2008 Lucerne festival where Duet for Piano and Orchestra was premiered with its dedicatee, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, as soloist. The centre point of a portrait at the 2006 Festival d'Automne in Paris was his first operatic work, Into the Little Hill, a collaboration with the playwright Martin Crimp, which has toured widely on both sides of the Atlantic since its premiere. The two have collaborated on a second and larger operatic project, Written on Skin, premiered at Festival Aix-en-Provence in July 2012 (webcast live on medici.tv). Written on Skin is a co-commission with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Netherlands Opera, Maggio Musicale (Florence) and the Theatre du Capitole Toulouse. It is also scheduled for further performances in Munich, Vienna and Paris in 2013.
As a conductor he regularly appears with some of the world's leading ensembles and orchestras, amongst them the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Cleveland and Concertgebouw orchestras and the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1999 he made his operatic debut conducting Pelléas et Mélisande at la Monnaie, Brussels. He has conducted numerous world premieres, including important works by Rihm, Chin, Grisey and Ligeti and his repertoire stretches from Schumann and Wagner to Knussen, Abrahamsen and Murail.
In January 2010 there were extensive celebrations marking Benjamin’s 50th birthday given by the San Francisco Symphony and London Sinfonietta; later the same season he was featured at the Aldeburgh Festival and at the Ojai Festival in California.
In September 2011 Benjamin was composer in residence in Schwaz (at the Klangspuren festival) and in Frankfurt (as the subject of the Alte Oper’s 2011 Auftakt project). He has built up a close relationship with the Tanglewood festival in America since his first appearance in 1999, and returns there in 2012.
The founding curator of the Southbank’s Meltdown festival, George Benjamin was artistic consultant to the BBC’s three-year retrospective of twentieth century music, Sounding the Century. He is a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et Lettres and is a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. An honorary fellow of the Guildhall School, the Royal Academy and the Royal College of Music, he won the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester's first ever Schoenberg Prize for composition. In June 2010 he was awarded a C.B.E. in the Queen’s birthday honours, and he was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2011. He lives in London, and since 2001 has been the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King‘s College, London. His works are published by Faber Music and are recorded on Nimbus Records.
© Matthew Lloyd