Sally Beamish was born in London in 1956 and started writing music at an early age. She later studied viola at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she also received composition lessons from Anthony Gilbert and Sir Lennox Berkeley.
For a decade her career centred on the viola, particularly as a member of the Raphael Ensemble, with whom she made four discs of string sextets. Many opportunities to develop her compositional skills arose from her playing with the London Sinfonietta and Lontano; through this she became acquainted with many prominent composers, gaining valuable insights into their music and working methods.
In 1989 she received an Arts Council Composer's Bursary, 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 co-hosted the SCO composers' course in Hoy with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. In September 1993 she received the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for outstanding achievement in composition.
Her orchestral output is considerable, including two symphonies (for the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra/LPO respectively), and the concerto form is a continuing source of inspiration to her; she has written concertos for violin (Anthony Marwood / BBCSSO), viola (Philip Dukes, Proms 1995,London Mozart Players), cello ( Robert Cohen/Academy of St Martins) oboe (Douglas Boyd / Premiere Ensemble), and saxophone (John Harle / St Magnus Festival / Swedish Chamber Orchestra). These have all received considerable acclaim. Her first major CD, on the BIS label, features three of these (Swedish Chamber Orchestra / Ola Rudner), and is available from November 1999.
Beamish is interested in writing for non-professional forces, and also theatre. She has written a children's nativity musical, as well as works for amateur strings and full orchestra, and is completing a series of works, commissioned by Children's Classic Concerts, which feature the different sections of the orchestra. 2003 will see the premiere of a trumpet concerto for Hakan Hardenberger, commissioned by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.
The 'psychodrama' Monster, a collaboration with writer Janice Galloway, created a stir at its premiere by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Glasgow. This has led to plans for a full-length opera.
In August 1998, Beamish was featured composer at the Orebro Festival in Sweden, beginning a four-year residency with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. This major appointment offers commissions for four new works for orchestra, including a viola concerto for Tabea Zimmerman, which will be performed in both Sweden and Scotland, as a collaboration between the Swedish and Scottish Chamber Orchestras.
Beamish has recently received a Scottish Arts Council Composers' Bursary to develop various aspects of her work, particularly her interest in jazz.
She has worked for BBC Radio Manchester and Radio Scotland as a presenter of music programmes, and has made several appearances on BBC TV, STV and Channel 4 talking about her work. Many of her works have been broadcast on radio and television, including an excerpt from Tam Lin, featuring Douglas Boyd and Evelyn Glennie, on BBC TV's 'Soundbites' series. She was one of four composers invited to write the music for four BBC television documentaries, 'The Loch', shown in Autumn 1993; her contribution, Winter was recently nominated for a BAFTA Scotland award. This has led to several further commissions for film and television, and she has been instrumental in setting up a company, Irvine Wilson, which specialises in music for film.
Performances are scheduled across the USA, Europe and the Far East, and additional forthcoming premieres include a large-scale work for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (2001 Proms season), and a concerto for Evelyn Glennie.
As well as her first CD for BIS, a recording of her Tuscan Lullaby sung by Mary Wiegold, with Dominic Muldowney conducting the Composers' Ensemble, is available on NMC, and Fretwork's recording of in dreaming is available on Virgin Classics.
Sally Beamish and Robert Irvine live in Stirlingshire, with their three children, Laurence, Thomas, and Stephanie Rose.