George William John BenjaminCBE (born 31 January 1960) is a British composer of classical music. He is also a conductorpianistand teacher.

Benjamin's oeuvre has been described as exhibiting "consummate craftsmanship" coloured by "a love of rich and unusually coloured sonorities".[1]

Benjamin taught composition at the Royal College of Music, London, for sixteen years, where he became the first Prince Consort Professor of Composition before he succeeded Sir Harrison Birtwistle as Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College London in January 2001. Benjamin has been a teacher and mentor to such younger composers as Luke Bedford and Dai Fujikura.[2]


Benjamin was born in London. He attended Westminster School and then studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoireduring the second half of the 1970s. Messiaen was reported to have described Benjamin as his favourite pupil.[3]

He then read music at King's College, Cambridge, studying under Alexander Goehr, and emerged in his early twenties as a mature and confident voice. His orchestral piece RINGEDby the Flat Horizon (written for the Cambridge University Musical Society and premiered in Cambridge under the baton of Mark Elder on 5 March 1980) was performed at The Proms that August, while he was still a student, making him the youngest living composer ever to have had music performed at the Proms.

Musical worksEdit

Since the 1980s he has fulfilled a number of large commissions, including Sudden Time (for orchestra), ThreeINVENTIONS (for chamber orchestra) and Antara (for ensemble and electronics, realised at IRCAM and the first composition ever published using theSibelius notation program).

His Duet for piano and orchestra, was commissioned by Roche for the 2008 Lucerne Festival, where he was Composer-in-Residence, and was premiered there by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Moest.


His first operatic work Into The Little Hill, a collaboration with playwright Martin Crimp, was premiered at the Festival d'Automne in Paris in 2006 and has toured widely on both sides of the Atlantic. It received its London premiere at the Royal Opera House in February 2009.

His most recent project is anOPERAWritten on Skin,[4] to a libretto by Martin Crimp, with whom he also collaborated on Into the Little Hill.[5] It was commissioned by the Aix-en-Provence Festival,[6] where it was given its première in July 2012, with subsequent performances given at Covent Garden in March 2013, plus subsequent stagings planned for La ScalaNetherlands OperaBavarian State OperaWiener Festwochen and in Toulouse at the Théâtre du Capitole. The Aix-en-Provence Festival premiere was recorded by Radio France, the score was published by Faber Music and the CD of the premiered was released by Nimbus Records. The score and CD were both released in February 2013 in time for the Covent Garden performances.

Curated programmes and conductingEdit

In 1993, Benjamin curated the first Meltdown music festival in London. In 1992–94, he helped Yvonne Loriod complete her husbandOlivier Messiaen's last work, Concert à quatre.

In the 2002–03 concert season, the London Symphony Orchestra gave a season-long festival of concerts which he curated, called "By George!".[7]

He served as Music Director of the 2010 Ojai Music Festival in California.[8]

As a conductor he regularly appears with some of the world's leading ensembles and orchestras, amongst them the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, the Cleveland and Concertgebouw orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. In 1999 he made his operatic debut conducting Pelléas et Mélisande at la Monnaie, Brussels and he has conducted numerous world premieres, important works by Wolfgang Rihm, Unsuk Chin, Grisey and Ligeti.


Benjamin was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours.[9] He is a Chevalier dans l'ordre des Arts et Lettres and a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, and was awarded the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester's first ever SchoenbergPRIZE for composition in 2002.

In 2001 he was awarded the Arnold Schönberg Prize.

Selected worksEdit



  • Altitude, 1977
  • RINGEDby the Flat Horizon, 1979–80
  • At First Light, 1982
  • Fanfare for Aquarius, 1983
  • Antara, 1985–87
  • Sudden Time, 1989–93[11]
  • ThreeINVENTIONS for Chamber Orchestra, 1993–95
  • Palimpsest I, 1998–99
  • Palimpsest II, 2002
  • Dance Figures, 2004[12]
  • Duet for piano and orchestra, 2008

Chamber musicEdit

  • Sonata for Violin and Piano, 1976–77
  • Octet, ( for flute (+ piccolo), clarinet, violin, viola, cello,
    double bass, celesta, percussion), 1978
  • FLIGHT, flute, 1979
  • Viola, Viola, duo for 2 violas (1996)

Vocal and choralEdit


  • Sonata for Piano, 1977–78
  • Sortilèges, 1981
  • Three Studies, 1982–85
  • Shadowlines, 2001
  • Piano Figures, 2006
  • Two or Four, 2010