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Sally Beamish is an internationally recognised musician and composer. Born in London in 1956, she trained initially as a viola player at the Royal Northern College of Music. She moved from London to Scotland in 1990 to develop her career as a composer and continues to live and work in Scotland.

Sally was awarded a Cove Park residency in 2002 to develop work with the Scottish poet Magi Gibson. As she had young children at home, she commuted from Glasgow to Cove Park daily to work on site with Magi and discuss her work in progress. As with many Cove Park residencies, this offered a unique opportunity to explore ideas and the potential for collaboration across art forms without the pressure of producing a final work. Although in the end both Magi and Sally felt the poems were complete without added music, Sally commented that ‘… the ideas that I developed, inspired by (Magi’s) poems, went forward into further work.’ At a particularly busy time for Sally, this residency provided a very welcome change in working routine and perspective: ‘I still remember the sense of pace and space I experienced during my days at Cove Park – a real tonic after working in the midst of a busy household.’

Collaboration is a constant feature of Sally’s career: ‘I love working with other artists, and I’m currently involved in several collaborative projects. The Judas Passion, with librettist David Harsnet and director Peter Thomson, will be premiered in Saffron Walden and at St. John Smith’s Square, London, in September. Two Scottish artists are also involved: the piece will incorporate a sculpture by Graham Fagen, and specially commissioned percussion instruments with John Creed. The Little Mermaid, with choreographer David Nixon, will be premiered on a UK tour in September, and presents a Celtic take on the Andersen tale. And I’m working on a collaboration with American saxophonist Branford Marsalis on a major work with his quartet and sumphonic strings (premiere in 2018, to be announced).’

Sally’s music embraces many influences, particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music. She performs regularly as violinist, pianist and narrator, and as a presenter and contributor on TV and radio. Her music is performed and broadcast internationally, and since 1999 she has been championed by the BIS label, who have recorded much of her work. The concerto for Scottish harp and fiddle, Seavaigers, has enjoyed considerable success, and a CD is now available, performed by its dedicatees, Catriona McKay and Chris Stout, and the Scottish Ensemble.

In February 2012 Beamish was BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week; and this was repeated in 2015. Her ballet of the Tempest for Birmingham Royal Ballet and Houston Ballet, with choreographer David Bintley, was premiered in October 2016 at Birmingham Hippodrome and Sadler’s Wells, London, with the US premiere in May 2017. Also for the Shakespeare centenary, A Shakespeare Masque was premiered at Stratford by Ex Cathedra, with text by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Her piano concerto for Ronald Brautigam, Hill Stanzas, received its premiere with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta early in 2016. The second concerto, Cauldron of the Speckled Seas’, for Martin Roscoe, was premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, under Thomas Dausgaard, in December; and the third, City Stanzas, for Jonathan Biss, was premiered in January 2017 with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra under Mischa Santora.

As part of her 60th birthday celebrations in 2016, her music was featured at the Aldeburgh, Cheltenham and St Magnus Festivals, and also at Musikdorf Ernen in Switzerland. In 2017 she is resident composer at the Ryedale and Trondheim festivals.

Forthcoming commissions include A Judas Passion, with librettist David Harsent, for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Nicolas McGegan. She is currently working on a second ballet, The Little Mermaid, this time for Northern Ballet with choreographer David Nixon. Sally Beamish is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow, a Creative Scotland Award, and a Paul Hamlyn Award. She was recently made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.With composer Alasdair Nicolson, Sally Beamish co-directs the annual St. Magnus Composers’ Course in Orkney. Her music is published by Edition Peters and by Norsk Musikforlag.

Image: Sally Beamish, Photo Ashley Coombes