Sir George Benjamin

(b. 31 January 1960, London).

British composer of mostly orchestral, chamber and piano works that have been performed throughout the world; he is also active as a conductor.

Prof. Benjamin studied piano privately with Marguerite Tury from 1967–74 and wrote his first composition at age nine. He studied composition and piano privately with Peter Gellhorn in London from 1974–76, then studied composition with Olivier Messiaen and piano with Yvonne Loriod at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris from 1976–78. He studied composition with Alexander Goehr at King's College Cambridge from 1978–82, where he earned his BMus.

Among his honours are the Koussevitzky International Critics Award and the Grand Prix du Disque from the Académie Charles-Cros (both 1987), the Contemporary Record of the Year Award from Gramophone (1990) and the Edison Award (1998), all for recordings on the label Nimbus Records. His other honours include the prize of the Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund in Boston, Massachusetts (1985), the Arnold-Schönberg-Preis in Berlin (2001) and two prizes in the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards (2002, for Palimpsest III; 2008, for Into the Little Hill). In addition, he was named a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the government of France in 1996, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2010 and a Knight Bachelor in 2017. He has been a member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste in Munich since 2000.

His music was featured prominently at the festival Carte blanche à George Benjamin at the Opéra Bastille in Paris (1992) and was the subject of portrait concerts at the Salzburger Festspiele (1995), the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts (1999) and the festival Ultraschall Berlin (2002). In addition, nine works were performed in Hamburg (2000), the London Symphony Orchestra featured many of his orchestral works (2002–03), ten works were performed in Tōkyō (2003), and nine works were performed in Berlin (2004–05). He served twice as composer-in-residence at the Tanglewood Music Festival (1999, 2003) and once at the Salzburger Festspiele (2008).

As a conductor, he has led premières of works by Niccolò Castiglioni, Unsuk Chin, Alexander Goehr, Gérard Grisey, György Ligeti, Magnus Lindberg, Tristan Murail, and Wolfgang Rihm. He served as principal guest-artist of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester from 1993–96 and regularly conducts Ensemble Modern and the London Sinfonietta.

He is also active in other positions. He was initially active as a pianist, with special affinities for music by Fryderyk Chopin, Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Maurice Ravel, and Robert Schumann. He worked as a researcher at IRCAM in Paris from 1984–87 and co-founded the Wet Ink Festival with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1992 and the Meltdown Festival in London in 1993. He later served as an advisor to the series Sounding the Century for BBC Radio 3 from 1996–99 and as composer-in-residence to the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in 2004–05.

He taught composition at the Royal College of Music in London from 1985–2001, where he was the Prince Consort Professor of Composition from 1994–2001. He has taught as Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College London since 2001. He also led the faculty of composition at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 2000.

His publisher is Faber Music.





Into the Little Hill (lyric tale in 2 parts, text by Martin Crimp), high soprano, alto, flute (+ piccolo, bass flute), 2 basset horns, contrabass clarinet, 2 cornets, trombone, cimbalom (+ percussion), 2 violins (2nd + mandolin), 2 violas (2nd + banjo), 2 cellos, double bass, 2006

Written on Skin (opera in 3 parts, libretto by Martin Crimp), soprano, mezzo-soprano, countertenor, tenor, bass-baritone, orchestra (11 winds, 12 brass, harp, glass harmonica, 4 percussion, 30 strings [2 violins + mandolin], viola da gamba), 2009–12


Altitude, brass band, 1977

Ringed by the Flat Horizon, large orchestra (93 players), 1979–80

At First Light, small orchestra (14 players), 1982

Fanfare for Aquarius, small orchestra (15 players), 1983

Antara, 2 flutes (both + piccolo), 2 synthesizers, small orchestra (2 trombones [both + bass trombone], 2 percussion, 3 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, double bass), 1985–87

Sudden Time, large orchestra (85 players), 1989–93

Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra, small orchestra (7 winds, 2 French horns, trumpet [+ flügelhorn, piccolo trumpet], trombone [+ euphonium], harp, piano [+ celesta], 2 percussion, 3 violins [3rd + viola], 2 violas, 2 cellos, 2 double basses), 1993–95

Palimpsest I, orchestra (9 winds, 11 brass, 2 harps, piano [+ celesta], 3 percussion, 5 violins, 3 violas, 8 double basses), 1998–99

Olicantus, small orchestra (2 flutes, 2 bass clarinets [1st + clarinet], 2 French horns, harp, celesta, vibraphone, tubular bells, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass), 2002

Palimpsest II, orchestra (9 winds, 11 brass, 2 harps, piano [+ celesta], 3 percussion, 5 violins, 3 violas, 8 double basses), 2002

Dance Figures, large orchestra (minimum 76 players), 2004

Duet, piano, orchestra (9 winds, 8 brass, harp, celesta, timpani, 3 percussion, 8 violas, 8 cellos, 6 double basses), 2007–08


Sonata for Violin and Piano, violin, piano, 1976–77

Octet, flute (+ piccolo), clarinet, violin, viola, cello, double bass, celesta, percussion, 1978

Flight, flute, 1979

Duo, cello, piano, 1980

Viola, Viola, 2 violas, 1997

Three Miniatures for Solo Violin, violin, 2001


Jubilation (vocalise), 60–100 children's voices, youth orchestra (10 sopranino recorders [any 3 + Garkleinblockflöte (very small recorder)], 10 soprano recorders [any 3 + Garkleinblockflöte], 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, piccolo trumpet, 4 trombones, 7 steel drums, 10 or more percussion), large orchestra, 1985

Sometime Voices (text by William Shakespeare), baritone, mixed chorus, large orchestra, 1996

Dream of the Song (texts by Solomon ibn Gabirol [translated by Peter Cole], Samuel ibn Naghrillah [translated by Peter Cole], Federico García Lorca), countertenor, female chorus, orchestra (2 oboes, 4 French horns, 2 harps, 2 percussion, 48 strings), 2015


A Mind of Winter (text by Wallace Stevens), soprano, orchestra, 1981

Upon Silence (text by William Butler Yeats), mezzo-soprano, treble viol (+ viola da gamba), 2 tenor viols, 2 violas da gamba, 1990 (also version for mezzo-soprano, 2 violas, 3 cellos, 2 double basses, 1991)


Sonata for Piano, 1977–78

Sortilèges, 1981

Three Studies, 1982–85 (each study may be performed separately: Meditation on Haydn's Name, 1982; Relativity Rag, 1984; Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm, 1985)

Shadowlines, 2001

Piano Figures (10 pieces), 2004

Two or Four, piano/piano 4 hands, 2010


Panorama, fixed media (2 tracks), 1985


Fantasia VII (Henry Purcell), clarinet, violin, cello, celesta, 1995

Récit de Tierce en Taille (Nicolas de Grigny), small orchestra, 2004

Kanon und Fuge from Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080 (Johann Sebastian Bach), small orchestra (flute, 2 French horns, 3 or more violins, 2 or more violas, cello), 2007


Viola, Viola. Sachiko Suda, Shota Yanase, violas (BIS Records: BIS-CD-1379–80)

Sudden Time; Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra; Viola, Viola. Susan Knight, Geneviève Strosser, violas; Sir George Benjamin/Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Modern Orchestra (Ensemble Modern Medien: EMCD-002)

Sortilèges. Markus Bellheim, piano (Jade: 198 775)

Olicantus. Sir George Benjamin/London Sinfonietta (London Sinfonietta: SINFCD1-2004)

Flight. Ingrid Culliford, flute (Lontano Records Ltd. [Lorelt]: LNT 107)

Sonata for Piano. Sir George Benjamin, piano (Nimbus Records: NI 1415)

At First Light; A Mind of Winter; Ringed by the Flat Horizon. Penelope Walmsley-Clark, soprano; Sir George Benjamin/London Sinfonietta; Sir Mark Elder/BBC Symphony Orchestra (Nimbus Records: NI 5075)

Antara. Sebastian Bell, Richard Blake, flutes; Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Ichiro Nodaira, synthesizers; Sir George Benjamin/London Sinfonietta (Nimbus Records: NI 5167)

Upon Silence (both versions); Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra; Sudden Time; Octet. Susan Bickley, mezzo-soprano; Fretwork; Sir George Benjamin/London Sinfonietta, London Philharmonic Orchestra (Nimbus Records: NI 5505)

Ringed by the Flat Horizon; A Mind of Winter; At First Light; Panorama; Antara. Penelope Walmsley-Clark, soprano; Sebastian Bell, Richard Blake, flutes; Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Ichiro Nodaira, synthesizers; Sir George Benjamin/London Sinfonietta; Sir Mark Elder/BBC Symphony Orchestra (Nimbus Records: NI 5643)

Shadowlines; Three Studies; Viola, Viola; Sonata for Piano. Antoine Tamestit, Tabea Zimmermann, violas; Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Sir George Benjamin, pianos (Nimbus Records: NI 5713)

Palimpsest III; At First Light; Sudden Time; Olicantus. Sir George Benjamin, Oliver Knussen/Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Modern Orchestra (Nimbus Records: NI 5732)

Into the Little Hill; Dance Figures; Sometime Voices. Anu Komsi, high soprano; Hilary Summers, alto; Dietrich Henschel, baritone; Franck Ollu/Ensemble Modern; Kent Nagano/Rundfunkchor Berlin, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (Nimbus Records: NI 5828)

Written on Skin. Barbara Hannigan, soprano; Rebecca Jo Loeb, mezzo-soprano; Bejun Mehta, countertenor; Allan Clayton, tenor; Christopher Purves, bass-baritone; Sir George Benjamin/Mahler Chamber Orchestra (Nimbus Records: NI 5885–86)

Altitude. Bramwell Tovey/Foden's Richardson Band (NMC Recordings: D142)

Dream of the Song. Bejun Mehta, countertenor; Sir George Benjamin/females of the Nederlands Kamerkoor, Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest (RCO Live: RCO 16003)

At First Light. Kunitaka Kokaji/Tōkyō Sinfonietta (Tōkyō Sinfonietta: TS95001)

At First Light. Lorraine Vaillancourt/Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (UMMUS: UMM102)

Panorama. (Unknown Public: upcd 6220086)