On 22 October 2017, George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s Written on Skin, one of the most successful new operas of recent times, premiered at St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre as part of the 17th International Conservatory Week festival.
Since its premiere at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 2002, the opera has been performed worldwide to widespread critical acclaim. Composed by George Benjamin, one of the UK’s top contemporary composers, and drawn from a medieval legend on tragic love, the opera explores the enduring themes of love, passion and violence. Oliver Zeffman conducts the Melos Sinfonia orchestra and five outstanding young soloists in a new concert staging of this landmark work.
Music by George Benjamin
Libretto by Martin Crimp
Ross Ramgobin, baritone (UK)
Lauren Fagan, soprano (UK)
Patrick Terry, countertenor (USA, UK)
Bethan Langford, mezzo-soprano (UK)
Nick Pritchard, tenor (UK)
Melos Sinfonia (UK)
Conductor: Oliver Zeffman (UK)
Organisers and participants
17th International Conservatory Week festival (Russia)
Founded in 2001 by the St Petersburg N A Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory, the International Conservatory Week festival has showcased over 250 top music schools from around the world to industry experts and amateurs, discovered emerging musicians, and promoted research by leading academics in the field from Russia and abroad.
The festival will be attended by top music schools from 14 countries: Armenia, Australia, Austria, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, Sweden, the UK and the USA.
Youth Symphony Orchestra Melos Sinfonia (UK)
The Melos Sinfonia is an energetic, London-based orchestra that provides talented young musicians with the necessary performing experience and exposure to establish a successful career in the arts. Founded in 2010 by young conductor, Oliver Zeffman, the orchestra recruits players from major conservatoires and universities across the UK, as well as from orchestras including the European Union Youth Orchestra, Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Britten-Pears Orchestra and the Southbank Sinfonia chamber orchestra.
Recent highlights include semi-staged productions of Puccini’s Il tabarro, Rachmaninoff’s Aleko, the UK premiere of Myaskovsky Symphony No. 27 and performances of the Panufnik Cello Concerto and Dutilleux’s Sur le même accord. In the past three years, the orchestra has also commissioned twelve new works from some of the most exciting contemporary composers.
The orchestra has toured to St Petersburg three times before with the Russian premieres of Walton’s Façade, Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, Holst’s Savitri and Ligeti’s Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures.
George Benjamin (UK)
George Benjamin is one of the outstanding composers of his generation. Born in London in 1960, he studied composition under the late Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire. The French composer compared Benjamin to Mozart, referencing the clarity and purity of his music.
In 1980, at the age of 20, Benjamin’s first orchestral composition, Ringed by the Flat Horizon, premiered in Cambridge and impressed critics so much that it was performed again at the BBC Proms, an orchestral classical music festival in the UK. Benjamin became the festival’s youngest composer-debutant.
In 1984, the late French composer Pierre Boulez invited Benjamin to Paris, to work with the IRCAM (the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics and Music). IRCAM commissioned Benjamin to write Antara in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Pompidou centre in 1987. Antara is Benjamin’s only work using electronic instruments and first score in the world produced with music composition software Sibelius.
In 1992, the first retrospective to Benjamin’s work, Carte blanche a George Benjamin, was held in Paris. There have since been numerous other major retrospectives of his work, including a season-long retrospective at the Barbican in 2002, in which the London Symphony Orchestra and Pierre Boulez gave the world premiere of Palimpsests.
The centre point of a large-scale portrait at the 2006 Festival d'Automne in Paris was his first operatic work, Into the Little Hill, a collaboration with UK playwright Martin Crimp, which has toured internationally since its premiere and won the Royal Philharmonic Society’s 2008 Award for Large-Scale Composition. His second operatic collaboration with Crimp, Written on Skin, was commissioned and premiered by the Festival d’Aix en Provence in 2012. The premiere of his third opera, Lessons in Love and Violence, will take place in London in May 2018.
Benjamin collaborates with London Sinfonietta, German Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Benjamin received the Arnold Schönberg Prize for international composers in 2001. In 2010, he became Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of his services to music.