The Mahler Chamber Orchestra continues its close collaboration with the British composer Sir George Benjamin with a tour that has at its centre a concerto of our own.
Sir George Benjamin is one of our most important living composers, and his association with the MCO dates back to a concert in Lucerne in 2009. A bond was formed, because three years later we reunited in Aix-en-Provence, this time for the premiere of Benjamin's first large-scale opera, Written on Skin. Few could doubt that this was already one of the great works of the century. But what made the experience so special was the fact that this captivating score had been crafted specifically to suit the MCO's sound.
Nine years and many more collaborations later, and Benjamin has again emerged with a major work that is expressly created for – and this time, dedicated to – our orchestra. His first purely orchestral work in almost two decades, Sir George Benjamin's Concerto for Orchestra receives its world premiere at the 2021 BBC Proms, where the MCO has the distinction of being the only international orchestra performing. This is followed by the German premiere at Musikfest Berlin, and a return to the immaculate acoustics of Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie.
Intimately connected to the Concerto is another British composer, the late Oliver Knussen, in whose memory the work is written. The programme, conducted by Benjamin, begins with The Way to Castle Yonder, Knussen's self-styled "pot-pourri" of orchestral interludes taken from the opera Higglety Pigglety Pop!, a tender and humorous requiem for Maurice Sendak's dog. Passing through consorts of Purcell, in brand new arrangements by Benjamin, the British theme takes pause for Ravel's vibrant Piano Concerto in G major in London and Hamburg, and Stravinsky's Movements for piano and orchestra plus the Suite from Pulcinella in Berlin.
George Benjamin's "Concerto for Orchestra" was commissioned by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, supported by the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, and BBC Radio 3.