Sir George Benjamin begins his 60th birthday season this week as featured composer at the Stockholm International Composer Festival, from 21 to 24 November. Becoming only the fifth British composer to be featured (the others being Tippett, Knussen, Musgrave and Adès), the breadth of his work will be explored across several performances at the Swedish festival.
The composer himself will conduct two performances of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra during the festival. Joined by pianist Stefan Lindgren, countertenor Bejun Mehta and baritone Gyula Orendt, Benjamin will lead the orchestra in his Duet for piano and orchestra, Dream of the Song for countertenor, female chorus and orchestra, Sometime Voices for baritone, chorus and orchestra, and Palimpsests.
French conductor Franck Ollu will conduct Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill, a lyrical tale based on the Pied Piper story, Viola, Viola with soloists Vicki Powell and Pascal Siffert, and At First Light, inspired by a William Turner painting. Now somewhat synonymous with the work, having conducted its world premiere at the Festival d’Automne, Opéra Bastille, Opéra national de Paris in 2006, Franck reunites with the original Into the Little Hill soloists, mezzo-soprano Hilary Summers and soprano Anu Komsi, for this performance with musicians from The Royal Swedish Orchestra.
Swedish conductor Christian Karlsen will lead the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in Benjamin’s A Mind of Winter for soprano and orchestra with Susanna Ansersson, Dance Figures, and Ringed by the Flat Horizon, Benjamin’s first orchestral work, written when he was 19 and a first-year undergraduate at Cambridge and performed at the 1980 BBC Proms.
Benjamin, who was knighted in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours, is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers living today. Earlier this year, he became the first British musician to receive the prestigious Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale, joining a list of laureates that includes Berio, Kurtág, Rihm, and Boulez. The Biennale website says:
“His prodigious talent, which exploded at a very early age with his composition At First Light, brought him instant international notoriety at the age of twenty, drawing the acclaim of audiences and critics alike who greeted him as predestined. His deep yet refined compositions reveal a precious and incisive style that shapes the material of sound with the visionary imagination of a sculptor who feels and sees form even before it is materialized in the score. A great educator, George Benjamin is a unique model for the new generations of composers for his creative imagination, intelligence in composing and understanding of form.”
In February 2020, Benjamin will be featured composer once again, this time at Radio France’s 30th edition of its Présences Festival, where 11 of his works will be featured across 15 events, including concert performances of Written on Skin and Into the Little Hill.
Find out more:
Stockholm International Composer Festival
Radio France’s Présences Festival