Jonathan Biss will give the world premiere of Sally Beamish's piano concerto City Stanzas on January 20 with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Mischa Santora. The piano concerto – Beamish's third to date – is the second in Biss's commissioning project, Beethoven/5, for which five composers have been asked to write new piano concertos, each influenced by one of Beethoven's. The first concerto in the series, Timo Andres's The Blind Banister, premiered in 2015 and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. The Andres concerto was inspired by and paired with Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 2, and the new Beamish concerto by Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 1.
Known for her musical depictions of the natural world, Beamish has taken the urban landscape as her inspiration on this occasion. City Stanzas' three movements depict street scenes, urban decay and renewal, all the while connecting to Beethoven. She explains, "All the material in this work derives in some way from the Beethoven concerto – taking a small group of notes or a rhythmic pattern from each corresponding movement as a starting point. All three movements are symmetrical in some sense – the first two framed by a mirror image of their opening bars, and the last a typical rondo, beginning and ending with its main theme."
Says Biss, "I’ve known and admired Sally’s music for years, so it’s very exciting to have a brand new work from her. City Stanzas is constantly inventive and full of energy, and I’m discovering new things in it every day. As I learn it, I’m also relearning Timo’s The Blind Banister, and I find it particularly gratifying to see that while both are of very high quality, they have really nothing much in common. That was my great hope for this project – that it produce a set of works as wide-ranging as possible – and it makes me very happy to see that become a reality."
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is the lead commissioner on all five Beethoven/5 concertos, including new concertos by Salvatore Sciarrino, paired with Beethoven 4, to premiere in 2017-18; by Caroline Shaw, paired with Beethoven 3, to premiere in 2018-19, and by Brett Dean, paired with Beethoven 5, to premiere in 2019-20. After its world premiere in Saint Paul, City Stanzas will see its European premiere on tour April 6 - 8 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It was commissioned by The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Orchestre de Chambre de Paris with support from Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
Sally Beamish was born in London and moved to Scotland in 1990 to focus on composition. Her music embraces many influences, particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music. Her work includes symphonic, choral, stage, and chamber works, as well as music for film and TV. Her latest major premiere was a ballet of The Tempest, with Birmingham Royal Ballet and choreographer David Bintley. 2016 saw premieres of her first two piano concertos - Hill Stanzas, for Ronald Brautigam, and Cauldron of the Speckled Seas, for Martin Roscoe. Future commissions include an oratorio for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with librettist David Harsent, and a second ballet for Northern Ballet.