Who is Sally Beamish?

Sally Beamish, who also paints, writes and narrates, is one of Britain's foremost composers. But she didn't devote herself to writing music until her thirties. Here is everything you need to know about her

Who is Sally Beamish
Published: June 17, 2022 at 2:08 pm
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Who is Sally Beamish?

Sally Beamish is a composer and former violist from Stirlingshire in Scotland, who writes highly evocative music, often influenced by her love of Scotland, its landscape and culture. She has written for the opera house, concert hall, theatre, film and television, but, like the composers Benjamin Britten and Peter Maxwell Davies, with whom she often collaborated, she is equally passionate about composing for children and her local community.

How old is Sally Beamish?

Sally Beamish was born on 26 August 1956.

How would you describe Sally Beamish's work?

Tonal, lyrical, reflective and eclectic in its medley of influences, weaving together elements of Scottish folk music, alongside jazz and birdsong.

Did she come from a musical background?

Yes, her father was an amateur singer and her mother was a professional violinist - a freelancer with the Academy of St Martin-in--the-Fields - who taught Beamish to read and write music before she could read and write letters. Her brother was also a talented singer, and the four of them gave many family concerts.

When did Sally Beamish decide to be a composer?

Not until her thirties. Following training at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, Beamish initially worked for several years as a freelance violist, performing with groups including the London Sinfonietta. Her desire to compose was kept on the back burner until, one day, her precious 18th century Gabrielli viola was stolen from her house. With characteristic optimism, she interpreted the loss as an opportunity for change, and soon afterwards devoted herself to composition.

What are her most famous pieces?

It's hard to choose. But for a novice to her work, it's worth checking out her Accordion Concerto; The Seafarer, her second viola concerto inspired by a ninth century Anglo-Saxon poem; and Seavaigers, her chamber concerto for harp and fiddle.
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Does she still play the viola?

Yes. Her third child - a daughter - made her a viola, which brought Beamish back to the instrument after a 20-year break. The composer also paints, narrates and writes: in 2006 she won The Scotsman and Orange Short Story Award for her drama, Housework, about a woman whose life is turned upside down when her husband leaves.

When can I hear her music?

At the BBC Proms, on Thursday 21 July, when the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, under Ariane Matiakh, performs the world premiere of Sally Beamish's new work: Hive.

Authors

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.

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