About George Benjamin
George Benjamin has had a very successful career as a composer, conductor, pianist, and teacher. Olivier Messiaen's favorite composition student and the youngest composer to have a work performed at the BBC Proms, Benjamin's works have been commissioned and performed by leading orchestras and opera companies. As a conductor, he often premieres his compositions and those by other contemporary composers.
Benjamin was born in London on January 31, 1960. Taking to music as a child, he began to play piano and compose when he was only seven years old. After attending the Westminster School, Benjamin enrolled at the Paris Conservatory and studied composition with Messiaen and piano with Yvonne Loriod. He moved on from Paris to King's College in London to complete his studies with Alexander Goehr. While a student at King's College, he completed the orchestral work Ringed by the Flat Horizon (1980). Following its premiere at Cambridge College by Mark Elder, it was performed at the 1980 BBC Proms by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, also led by Elder. This performance marked Benjamin as the youngest composer to have a work performed at the Proms. Simon Rattle and the London Sinfonietta premiered At First Light (1982). The Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique commissioned Antara (1987) to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Benjamin's Three Inventions (1995) was written for the 75th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival. His first opera, Into the Little Hill (2006), with a libretto by Martin Crimp, was commissioned by Paris' Festival d'Automne.
As a conductor, Benjamin has led orchestras and ensembles in Europe and the U.S. in music ranging from the Classical period to the 21st century. Among the groups he's worked with are the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and Ensemble Modern. His conducting activities have included world premieres of works by his contemporaries, including Wolfgang Rihm, Unsuk Chin, and György Ligeti. He also conducted the world premieres of his second and third operas, working again with Crimp for both: Written on Skin (2012) at the Festival d'Aix en Provence and Lessons in Love and Violence (2017) at the Royal Opera House in London. A 2018 Nimbus recording of the latter featuring Stéphane Degout and Barbara Hannigan with Benjamin conducting, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2019 for Best Opera Recording.
Benjamin has regularly taught at the Tanglewood Festival since the late 1990s, and since 2001, he has been the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College, London. He has earned several prestigious titles in his career: he was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2010, Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2015, and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017. ~ Keith Finke