Sally Beamish was born in London on August 26th, 1956 and started writing music and playing the piano at an early age. Beamish studied the viola at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she received composition lessons from Anthony Gilbert and Sir Lennox Berkeley. She later studied in Germany with the Italian violist Bruno Giuranna. As a violist in the Raphael Ensemble, she recorded four discs of string sextets.
She moved from London to Scotland in 1990 to develop her career as a composer and moved from London to Scotland, where she and her husband, cellist Robert Irvine, founded the Chamber Group of Scotland, with co-director James MacMillan, and where Beamish’s career as a composer really began to flourish.
Since moving to Scotland she has received a steady stream of commissions, and in 1994 and 1995 was Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ assistant on the SCO composers’ course in Hoy. From 1998 to 2002 she was composer in residence with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the SCO, for whom she wrote four major works. Beamish won a ‘Creative Scotland’ Award from the Scottish Arts Council which enabled her to write her oratorio for the 2001 BBC Proms – the Knotgrass Elegy premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with Sir Andrew Davis.
Scotland, she agrees, is the place to be. ‘It’s incredible up here,’ she said. ‘Everything has happened at exactly the right moment. It’s very important for composers to rub along together and talk. And that is what is so fantastic in Scotland – there is that sort of atmosphere between us of mutual support.’
In 2001 Sally Beamish was the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Music (DMus) from Glasgow University, for her services to musical life in Scotland.
Her music embraces many influences; particularly jazz and Scottish traditional music. Scotland’s lively and responsive musical scene have fed into her work, and she has drawn on the inspiration of Scotland’s landscape and its musical traditions, from Scottish fiddle playing to music for bagpipes.