Composers conducting

The Concertgebouw Orchestra has a long tradition of forging close and enduring ties with composers. And, quite wonderfully, they then also sometimes present their own interpretation by stepping into the role of conductor. On 1 December, George Benjamin will conduct his own work, just as Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schönberg have done before.
Igor Stravinsky (cr. NMI) and George Benjamin (cr. Renske Vrolijk). John Adams (cr. Renske Vrolijk) and Richard Strauss
Igor Stravinsky (cr. NMI) and George Benjamin (cr. Renske Vrolijk). John Adams (cr. Renske Vrolijk) and Richard Strauss

Big names

A symphony orchestra exists by the grace of the music that is written. And music is ever evolving. This is why the Concertgebouw Orchestra has always found it important to form relationships with contemporary composers. Some of them are also excellent conductors. In the past 135 years, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky, for example, have all conducted the Concertgebouw Orchestra more than once. A tradition that still continues today. Now, leading composers such as John Adams, Thomas Adès and Matthias Pintscher frequently take to the podium.

George Benjamin

The orchestra also has close ties with George Benjamin: since 1986 the Concertgebouw Orchestra has performed his beautiful and colourful compositions on a regular basis, and more than twenty years ago, in February 2003, the Briton himself stepped up to the rostrum. He is now returning for the eighth time, and with a more personal programme than ever: the chosen theme is the bond of friendship between composers.

George Benjamin (photo: Renske Vrolijk)

Benjamin’s own Concerto for Orchestra, for example, is dedicated to his good friend, the composer and conductor Oliver Knussen, who died in 2018. “I met Olly in the late 1970s (…) We had a lot in common as conducting composers, but he also had an incredibly fascinating musical mind with astonishing volumes of knowledge… in addition he was – as his other friends can attest – the funniest person on the planet.”

Benjamin wanted to capture his friend’s humour and energy in the Concerto for Orchestra. “I tried. (…) I worked on it for eighteen months. Then I’m working on the technical aspects, the nuts and bolts of the piece, which is complicated enough in itself. What comes out in terms of expression? I like to think that it emerges as a surprise for me, it’s not something I put in there. That’s the kind of composing business I discussed with Olly much longer and in more depth than with anyone else.”

Benjamin is looking forward to the upcoming collaboration: “It’s always a thrill for me to work with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.”

Read the complete interview with George Benjamin by Carine Alders in Preludium.