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B i o g r a p h y

Sally Beamish was born in London. She studied viola at the RNCM with Patrick Ireland and in Detmold with Bruno Giuranna and was a founder member of the Raphael Ensemble. In her early career, Beamish performed regularly with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and the London Sinfonietta and was principal viola in the London Mozart Players and Scottish Chamber Orchestra.


In 1990, she moved from London to Scotland to develop her career as a composer. Her music embraces many influences - particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music.


She has recently moved to Brighton and is married to writer Peter Thomson. She still performs regularly as violist, pianist and narrator.


In February 2012 and July 2015, Beamish was BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week.


Her ballet, The Tempest  (for Birmingham Royal Ballet and Houston Ballet with choreographer Sir David Bintley), was premiered in October 2016 at Birmingham Hippodrome and Sadler's Wells, London, with the US premiere by Houston Ballet in May 2017. 


Her second ballet, The Little Mermaid (choreographer David Nixon OBE), was premiered in September 2017 by Northern Ballet and toured the UK with 75 performances. It will tour the UK again in Autumn 2022.


In 2018, she was a featured composer at the Ryedale and Trondheim festivals, performing with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment as narrator and with the Elias and Chilingirian Quartets on viola, as well as several appearances as pianist.


From 2018-2020, Beamish was composer-in-residence with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields for which she wrote Partita for string quartet and Hover for oboes, horns and string orchestra which was featured at the Academy's 60th anniversary gala concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in November 2019.  


Sally Beamish is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow, a Creative Scotland Award, and a Paul Hamlyn Award, and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 2018, she was awarded the Inspiration Award at the British Composer Awards in recognition of lifetime achievement and in 2020 was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. She was recently appointed as an international fellow of the Royal Swedish musical academy.


Distans - a concerto for violinist Janine Jansen and clarinettist Martin Fröst – was commissioned by the Concertgebouw, Swedish Radio Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic, and London Symphony Orchestras. The premiere performance was given in May 2021 by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Johannes Gustavsson,


Her choral piece, A Knock on the Door (libretto by Peter Thomson), commissioned by Quakers Concern for the Abolition of Torture, was premiered by Ex Cathedra at Birmingham Town Hall in Autumn 2022.


With Sir David Bintley, Beamish is currently working on her third full-length ballet, A Christmas Carol, to be premiered by Finnish National Ballet in December 2023.


As a performer, she is a member of the string quintet Ensemble V, and also the York Road Band, with guitarist Arthur Dick and Peter Thomson on vocals/bass. In March, she premiered a new work for viola and piano commissioned by her long-term patron, Dr Gerry Mattock, with pianist Roland Roberts, and Peter Thomson. This was part of a joint celebration for her 65th birthday, and that of the Park Lane Group at the Royal Overseas League in London. In this concert, she also gave the London premiere of Albatross, as pianist with saxophonist Branford Marsalis. She plays on a viola made by her daughter, Stephanie Irvine.

Sally Beamish’s music is published by Edition Peters and by Norsk Musikforlag. Since 1999, her music has been championed by the Swedish/International Record company BIS and many of her recordings can be found on this label.



In 2006 the Scottish National Portrait Gallery purchased a portrait of Sally for their permanent collection The screenprint was made by printmaker-artist Shelagh Atkinson (    View the portrait online...

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