On Tour with Sir George Benjamin

30 Years Collaboration

As a composer and conductor, Sir George Benjamin has played a role in contemporary music during the past decades that can hardly be overstated. In May 2023, he was honoured with the renowned Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in recognition of this fact. Between September 2 and 16, Ensemble Modern and the full-size Ensemble Modern Orchestra will go on tour with Sir George Benjamin, presenting three different programmes in seven concerts in Berlin, Cologne, London, Frankfurt am Main and Amsterdam.

The collaboration and friendship between the composer and conductor Sir George Benjamin and Ensemble Modern goes back three decades exactly. “From the beginning, I was astonished by the commitment, energy, brilliance, and force of the Ensemble Modern. They always give 200 per cent in their concerts,” Sir George Benjamin summarizes his experience with the Ensemble.

The Ensemble Modern programme includes works by three “grand masters” of early modernism: Maurice Ravel’s “Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé” (1913), Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 (1906) and Edgard Varèse’s massive sound sculpture “Octandre” for wind and brass (1923). This will be combined with a string quartet by the composer Saed Haddad from Jordan and Benjamin’s arrangement of two movements of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Art of the Fugue”.

The programme of the Ensemble Modern Orchestra features only orchestral music by composers of our time: Dieter Ammann’s “Glut” (2014/16) fans orchestral embers, turning into multi-coloured sound masses, dramatic polyphony and striking rhythms. A similarly sumptuous sound can be found in Unsuk Chin’s “SPIRA” (2019), which starts with bowed vibraphones and sparkles in innumerable sonic colours. Elizabeth Ogonek’s “Cloudline” (2021) emerges from microtonally oscillating sound surfaces. The vocal parts in Benjamin’s own early work “A Mind of Winter” (1981) – a musical setting of “The Snow Man”, a poem by Wallace Stevens – and the world premiere of “Cantico delle Creature” by Francesco Filidei will both be sung by the soprano Anna Prohaska. “I am particularly happy that both the Filidei and this piece will be sung by the wonderful Anna Prohaska, whom I have admired from afar for many years, and at last we are able to work together,” says Benjamin. However, it is not only the collaboration with Sir George Benjamin that turns thirty; the International Ensemble Modern Academy also celebrates an anniversary this year, turning 20 in 2023. On this occasion, the Ensemble Modern Orchestra will be made up of members of Ensemble Modern as well as current and former participants in the various formats of the International Ensemble Modern Academy.

The end of the tour finds the Ensemble and Sir George Benjamin at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, performing two works they have frequently played together: “At First Light” (1982) and “Into the Little Hill – A Lyric Tale for Two Voices and Ensemble” (2006) featuring Keren Motseri (soprano) and Helena Rasker (contralto). The programme is completed with the “Chamber Concerto for 13 Instrumentalists” (1969/70) by György Ligeti, who would have been 100 this year.