Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Sally Beamish



Her Times: Born in 1956, Sally Beamish studied Viola at the Royal Northern College of Music, receiving lessons from notable composers Anthony Gilbert and Lennox Berkeley. When she first tried break into composition during the late 1970s, many institutions favoured the more difficult, unforgiving end of modern classical music. A move to Scotland afforded Sally with the opportunity – and the audience, which she needed. The premiere of her work Commedia with the Hebrides Ensemble enjoyed widespread acclaim, and a flood of commissions from symphonies to solo works soon followed. Now busier than ever, Sally is frequently sought after for commemorative works, and has expanded her scope to include compositions for film, theatre and ballet.

Her Music: Much like her hero Benjamin Britten, Sally has arrived at a very coherent style which frequently revives and explores folk music, particularly from Scotland, with a knack for combining all kinds of musical traditions including jazz. We approached Sally to compose our entry into the 20×12 New Music Series, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The resulting piece, Spinal Chords, was an instant success with audiences and critics alike. Employing the unique sound of our period strings, Sally crafted an unsettling, constantly shifting accompaniment to journalist Melanie Reid’s inspirational account of her struggle with disability. Our second collaboration with Sally, The St Judas Passion, is a co-commission with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale of San Francisco. Exploring the Easter passion story from the perspective of Judas, this work for voice and the OAE draws on fragments from Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Chassidic chanting to tell the story of one of history’s most controversial figures.

Herself: The daughter of a professional violinist, Sally Beamish was a born composer, writing notes before she could scribble words. This passion continued throughout her education and professional development, but became increasingly difficult to balance alongside her duties as a principal viola player with The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and The Mozart Players. An unfortunate event finally prompted Sally to move into composing full-time. Rising early in her London flat one morning, she experienced every musician’s worst nightmare – her viola had been stolen from its case. Determined that something good should come out of this awful scenario, she decided to devote more of her energies to composing. Sally has returned to the viola as a performer in recent years, and in a rather lovely turn of events, now plays an instrument made by her daughter, who trained as a luthier.

Book tickets to the Judas Passion at Saffron Hall, or St John’s Smith Square.

Download Spinal Chords here.

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