Sir George Benjamin: A Duet and a Dream

A Duet and a Dream
Philharmonia Orchestra & Voices, Sir George Benjamin
Pierre-Laurent Aimard piano, James Hall counter-tenor
Royal Festival Hall, 5 March 2020

Knussen: Choral
Messiaen: Le merle bleu (The blue rock thrush) from Catalogue d’oiseaux
Benjamin: Duet for piano & orchestra
Benjamin: Dream of the Song
Janáček: Sinfonietta

A nicely balanced programme of music dating from 1926 to 2015 saw Sir George Benjamin conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra in two of his own pieces, together with one of the piano works of his teacher, Messiaen, the 1972 Choral by the influential composer Oliver Knussen with Janáček’s rousing Sinfonietta as a finale. The opening Choral was composed for wind, percussion and double basses, the number 4 appearing to be an underlying thread in the instrumentation. As well as four double basses, there were similar quartets of slithering trombones, fluttering flutes, saxophones, oboes, bassoons and percussionists. It was composed Knussen’s vision of “several funeral procession converging into a point in the distance”, the slow pulse and evolving instrumental colour reinforcing this image. Continue reading

George Benjamin: Written on Skin

George Benjamin: Written on Skin
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 13 January 2017

Since it premiered in 2012, Written on Skin, George Benjamin’s first full-length opera (to a text by Martin Creed), has been hailed as one of the masterpieces of the contemporary opera world, bringing such accolades as “the work of a genius 0326 WRITTEN ON SKIN PRODUCTION IMAGE c ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.jpgunleashed”. This 90 minute work was composed over two years of concentration and virtual isolation, while Benjamin eschewed all other composition, teaching, and conducting work. It was commissioned by the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, along with the Royal Opera House and opera houses in Amsterdam, Toulouse, and Florence. A request to base the opera on something related to the Occitan area of Provence led to a mediaeval tale about a troubadour employed by a local lord who has a love affair with the lord’s wife. When he finds out, the lord kills the troubadour, cooks his heart and feeds it to his wife. When she finds out what she has eaten, she swears to never eat or drink again to keep her lover’s taste in her mouth. She avoids the lord’s anger and his sword by leaping from a window to her death. Continue reading