Sally Beamish was born in London. Initially a viola player, she moved from London to Scotland in 1990 to develop her career as a composer. Her music embraces many influences: particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music. The concerto form is a continuing inspiration, and she has written for many internationally renowned soloists, including Håkan Hardenberger, John Harle, Branford Marsalis, Tabea Zimmermann, James Crabb, Dame Evelyn Glennie and Colin Currie.
She perfoms regularly as violist, 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.
Her string quartet for the Elias Quartet, Reed Stanzas, received its premiere at the 2011 BBC Proms, and won a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. The concerto for Scottish harp and fiddle, Seavaigers, has enjoyed considerable success, and a CD is 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. Branford Marsalis, James Crabb and Håkan Hardenberger are the soloists on her latest CD on the BIS label (release August 2015), featuring the RSNO and NYOS conducted by Martyn Brabbins.
Flodden, written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the battle, was premiered in September 2013 with soprano Shuna Scott Sendall, and was shortlisted for both a Royal Philharmonic Society and a British Composer Award. The Trio Apaches have released Beamish’s Seafarer Trio, narrated by Sir Willard White, on Orchid Classics, alongside her new arrangement of Debussy’s La Mer, for piano trio. Spinal Chords, one of the PRS 20×12 Olympic commissions, with text by The Times Journalist Melanie Reid, toured the UK in 2014 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and narrator Juliet Stevenson. The composer has also appeared several times as narrator. Equal Voices, for the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with their choruses, with text by Sir Andrew Motion, was premiered at the Barbican and then in Scotland to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War. The conductors were Gianandrea Noseda and Rory Macdonald, with soloists Shuna Scott Sendall and Marcus Farnsworth. Her full-length 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 second ballet, The Little Mermaid, with choreographer David Nixon, for Northern Ballet, toured the UK in 2017/18.
She completed her three piano concertos within a year: the first, 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 ’16; 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, her music was featured at the Aldeburgh, Cheltenham and St Magnus Festivals, and at Musikdorf Ernen in Switzerland. In 2017 she was resident composer at the Ryedale and Trondheim festivals, where she also performed.
Merula Perpetua, for violist Lise Berthaud and pianist David Saudubray, was premiered in a BBC Chamber Prom in August 2016. The work was written in memory of her friend and mentor, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and was shortlisted for a British Composer Award. A Judas Passion, with librettist David Harsent, was co-commissioned by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Philharmonia Baroque, and conducted by Nicolas McGegan, with soloists Mary Bevan, Brenden Gunnell and Roderick Williams.
At present Sally Beamish is composer-in-residence with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, for whom she is writing two substantial works. 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.