Born in London in 1956, Sally Beamish initially trained as a viola player at the Royal Northern College of Music before moving to Scotland in 1990 to develop her career as a composer. Her music embraces many influences, particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music, in a catalogue boasting over 200 compositions including solo, duo, chamber, orchestra, vocal, choral, ballet and opera works. Her music has been broadcast and performed extensively around the world with notable soloists including Håkan Hardenberger, John Harle, Branford Marsalis, Tabea Zimmermann, James Crabb, Dame Evelyn Glennie and Colin Currie amongst others.
Celtic themes are often present in Beamish’s music. One such piece, Reed Stanzas, for the Elias Quartet, received its premiere at the 2011 BBC Proms and won a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. Flodden, written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the eponymous battle, was premiered in September 2013 and shortlisted for both a Royal Philharmonic Society and a BASCA British Composer Award. 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.
2016 marked Beamish’s 60th birthday and included two works as part of Shakespeare 400: a full-length ballet of The Tempest for Birmingham Royal Ballet and Houston Ballet, with choreographer David Bintley, and A Shakespeare Masque with Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy, for Ex Cathedra. She completed three piano concertos with the first, Hill Stanzas for Ronald Brautigam, receiving its world premiere with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta in March 2016. The second, Cauldron of the Speckled Seas premiered in December 2016 with Martin Roscoe and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard. The third, City Stanzas, premiered in January 2017 with soloist Jonathan Biss and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Mischa Santora in Minnesota.
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 Beamish’s friend and mentor, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. West Wind, a song cycle with a text by P.B. Shelley, was premiered by tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook at the Wigmore Hall in June 2016.
Beamish is currently resident composer at Ryedale and Trondheim Festivals for 2017. She co-directs the annual St. Magnus Festival Composers’ Course in Orkney with composer Alasdair Nicolson, and was recently made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Her music is published by Edition Peters and Norsk Musikforlag.