Meet Simon Bennison

Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall

Most of us will never experience synaesthesia. In preparation for Prometheus, what have you learned about the condition?

Synaesthesia is an enigmatic condition which is fascinating. It does not always apply to one sense and relates to other body senses being triggered by another sense, in this case the visualising of colour when hearing music. It’s speculated that Scriabin wasn’t a true synaesthete and used it as a concept to apply an additional layer of effect for his writing.

What are you hoping the audience will experience through the lighting this evening?

The light is a scored support to what is already a wonderful piece of music threaded with legend and drama. I think the music should be enjoyed first and then if the layer of light begins to propel the work sensorily, as not only an auditory but also visual experience, then we may have achieved something of what Scriabin intended.

Could you tell us more about the ‘Colour Organ’ Scriabin incorporates into his score?

Scriabin had a machine developed for him by a colleague in Moscow which must have been bespoke, as it’s apparently said to have not managed to work for the opening performance. In concept, the keyboard attached a coloured light bulb to a pitch; Scriabin then attached a specific colour to a note of the tone row created for composing the piece. Therefore, he was able to combine pitches to create shade and colour. The interesting element is this is just as much a form of composition in light as that of music and, if you like, a form of lighting design. The piece is divided mostly into two lines of colour and occasionally three. It is in many ways a completely fascinating creation.

When and how did you first become interested in lighting design? What’s the most fascinating part of your job?

I first became interested in lighting design when working on various ballet and opera productions in Manchester, predominantly at the Palace Theatre. This was after also studying music in Salford and it seemed to me that light could be constructed and layered visually in much the same way as music notation.

The most fascinating part of the job is finding the correct light. This process can often be like deciphering a code, whereby a certain angle, type of instrument, colour or level of light will provide just the right moment needed for communicating the work or moment in a piece. I think also light is a sensorial material, which is to say it is felt and has physical presence in a space. It is interesting that Scriabin recognised this as another way to communicate aspirations for his piece.

Which concerts coming up in the Philharmonia’s London season catch your eye, and why?

Working quite a lot in the world of dance and ballet, it will be wonderful to see and hear the Stravinsky Firebird and Petroushka coupled with the Prokofiev. And then a performance of the Beethoven Triple Concerto is always a wonderful event.