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. She also 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.
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. She has recently moved to Brighton, and is married to writer Peter Thomson. She still performs regularly as violist, pianist and narrator, and as a presenter and contributor on TV and radio.
Since 1999 her music has been championed by the BIS label, who have recorded much of her work. In February 2012, Beamish was BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week, and this was repeated in 2015.
Her ballet 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 by Houston Ballet in May 2017. Her second ballet, The Little Mermaid (choreographer David Nixon), was premiered in September 2017 by Northern Ballet, and toured the UK with 75 performances.
In 2018 she was 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. She is now composer-in-residence with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, for which she has written a string octet, Partita, and an orchestral piece, Hover, which was featured at their 60th anniversary gala concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in November 2019.
The Judas Passion, with libretto by David Harsent, was jointly commissioned by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Philarmonia Baroque, and was performed in London and San Francisco in 2018, conducted by Nicholas McGegan, with soloists Mary Bevan, Brenden Gunnell and Roderick Williams.
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.
Current projects include a concerto for violinist Janine Jansen and clarinettist Martin Fröst, commissioned by the Concertgebouw and Swedish Radio Orchestra, with the London Symphony Orchestra. Her music is published by Edition Peters and by Norsk Musikforlag. She plays on a viola made by her daughter, Stephanie Irvine.
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 (www.shelaghatkinson.co.uk).