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George Benjamin’s Concerto for Orchestra premieres at the BBC Proms

Sep. 01, 2021

A new Concerto for Orchestra by George Benjamin, a work tailor-made for the players of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, was premiered at the BBC Proms on August 30, with subsequent performances at Musikfest Berlin and the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. The composer himself conducted a program that also included the premiere of his new Purcell transcriptions, Three Consorts and Oliver Knussen’s The Way to Castle Yonder.

The eighteen-minute Concerto for Orchestra – George Benjamin’s first purely instrumental work since his Duet for piano and orchestra (2008) – is the latest product of the extraordinarily close relationship between the composer and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO), who premiered his 2012 opera Written on Skin in Aix and have since toured it around the world, including to the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York.

(Excerpt from George Benjamin's Written on Skin/Festival d'Aix-en-Provence 2012/Mahler Chamber Orchestra/George Benjamin, conductor)

An MCO podcast – featuring an interview with George Benjamin and clips from early rehearsals of the Concerto for Orchestra in Cologne - can be heard here.

Of the Concerto for Orchestra, the composer notes:

“This Concerto for Orchestra was written in memory of Oliver Knussen, with whom I maintained the closest of friendships for 40 years. His passing in 2018 was widely mourned in the musical world; his extraordinary brilliance as composer and conductor – and kindness and generosity as a person – are irreplaceable.  In some ways this work attempts to conjure a trace of the energy, humor, and spirit I associate with my friend and its mood is often playful, though on occasion it twists into much more turbulent terrain.

The score is also dedicated to – and was written for – the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble with whom I have developed a particularly close working relationship. The orchestral writing is frequently virtuosic, and every instrument has its moment in the foreground – hence the title.

During its virtually unbroken 18-minute span, shaped almost entirely within a single tempo, a wide diversity of instrumental invention evolves, interacts, and superimposes. Long, suspended lines weave a path through contrasting textures, some rapid and skittish, others more dynamic and propulsive. All of the instruments play multiple roles – both dramatic and sonoric – across the structure, among them a volatile solo tuba, elaborate horn duos, bubbling clarinets and two pairs of rumbling timpani. Most prominent of all are the impassioned first violins, who almost have the last word during the work’s conclusion.”

To learn more about George Benjamin, visit:

George Benjamin
Concerto for Orchestra (2021)
for orchestra
2(pic).2(––3perc-str( The parts for cello 5 and double bass 3 can be doubled. All three double basses require low C-strings or extensions

Duet (2008)
for piano and orchestra

Written on Skin (2012)

opera in three parts

text (Eng) by Martin Crimp

for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and countertenor

3(2.pic, 3.pic & afl).2.2.bcl(cl).cbcl.2(2.cbsn)-4.4(I.ptpt).3.1-4perc-harp-glass harmonica–bass viola da gamba-str
ca. 95’

George Benjamin/Henry Purcell
Three Consorts (2021)
for chamber/small orchestra
2(pic).2.2.2––perc: t.bells / Korean temple bell / tgl–str( 
All violins and violas require practice mutes, except for the front desks

Oliver Knussen
The Way to Castle Yonder, The - Pot-pourri after the Opera Higglety, Pigglety Pop (1990)
for orchestra