Sally Beamish

26 August 1956

Composer and Violist

Sally Beamish is a composer and violist. Her works include chamber, vocal, choral and orchestral music. She has also worked in the field of music theatre, film and television, as well as composing for children and for her local community.

Beamish was born on 26 August 1956 in London, to Tony and Ursula Beamish. She studied viola at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she received lessons from Anthony Gilbert and Lennox Berkeley. She later studied in Germany with the Italian violist Bruno Giuranna.

As a violist in the Raphael Ensemble, she recorded four discs of string sextets. However, it was as a composer that she made her mark, particularly after moving from London to Scotland. She has written a large amount of music for orchestra, including two symphonies and several concertos (for violin, viola, cello, oboe, saxophone, saxophone quartet, trumpet, percussion, flute and accordion). She has also written chamber and instrumental music, film scores, theatre music, and music for amateurs.

In September 1993 Beamish received the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for outstanding achievement in composition. In 1994 and 1995 she co-hosted the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) composers' course in Hoy with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

From 1998 to 2002 she was composer in residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the SCO, for whom she wrote four major works.

Beamish won a 'Creative Scotland' Award from the Scottish Arts Council which enabled her to write her oratorio for the 2001 BBC Proms – the Knotgrass Elegy premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with Sir Andrew Davis.

Beamish’s new concerto for Scottish fiddle and harp, 'Seavaigers', was premiered in Glasgow, at Celtic Connections 2012, and has just been recorded by Chris Stout, Catriona McKay and the Scottish Ensemble for release to coincide with a tour in 2014.  It will also be featured at the International Harp Congress in Sydney.

The Britten centenary year of 2013 was a prolific period for the composer, with several Britten-related commissions and world premières.  Her ‘Variations on a Theme of Benjamin Britten’ was premiered by the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields; and Ursula Smith commissioned ‘Suite for Solo Cello’, in memory of Kevin McRae.  Beamish’s opera with Clara Glynn, ‘Hagar in the Wilderness’, was premiered at the Presteigne Festival and has toured England and Scotland.  

Beamish’s ‘Spinal Chords’, one of the PRS 20x12 Olympic commissions, with text by The Times Journalist Melanie Reid, will be touring the UK in 2014 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and narrator Juliet Stevenson.

She lives in Stirlingshire in Scotland and has three children.

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