George William John Benjamin, CBE (born 31 January 1960) is an English composer of classical music. He is also a conductor, pianist and teacher.
Benjamin was born in London, attended Westminster School and then studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire during the second half of the 1970s. Messiaen was reported to have described Benjamin as his favourite pupil. He then read music at King's College, Cambridge, studying under Alexander Goehr.
His orchestral piece Ringed by 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 to have had music performed at the Proms. He followed this with two more works: A Mind of Winter in 1981 and At First Light (1982), but he then wrote little more until 1993.
In 1992–94, he helped Yvonne Loriod complete her husband Olivier Messiaen's last work, Concert à quatre. In 1993, he curated the first Meltdown music festival in London.
For sixteen years Benjamin taught composition at the Royal College of Music, London, where he became the first Prince Consort Professor of Composition before succeeding Sir Harrison Birtwistle as Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King's College London in January 2001.
In 1999 he made his operatic debut conducting Pelléas et Mélisande at la Monnaie, Brussels, and he has conducted numerous world premieres, including works by Wolfgang Rihm, Unsuk Chin, Grisey and Ligeti.
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 the 2002–03 concert season, the London Symphony Orchestra gave a season-long festival of concerts which he curated, called "By George!". In 2010 he was the Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival in California.
He has been a teacher and mentor to younger composers such as Luke Bedford and Dai Fujikura.
Since the 1980s Benjamin has fulfilled a number of large commissions, including Sudden Time (for orchestra), Three Inventions (for chamber orchestra) and Antara (for ensemble and electronics, realised at IRCAM and the first composition ever published using the Sibelius 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 second opera, Written on Skin, to a libretto by Martin Crimp, was commissioned by the Aix-en-Provence Festival, where it was given its première in July 2012.
In 2001 Benjamin was awarded the Arnold Schönberg Prize. 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 Schoenberg prize for composition in 2002.
He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours.