Oliver Knussen

(1952 - )


Born in Glasgow in 1952, Oliver Knussen grew up near London, where his father was principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra for many years.  It was with the LSO that he made his debut in April 1968, conducting his First Symphony in London and in Carnegie Hall, New York.  His first major works Coursing (1979) and the Third Symphony (1973-9) placed him in the forefront of contemporary British music.  In the 1980s he collaborated with Maurice Sendak on Where the Wild Things Are (1979-83) and Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1984-5, rev. 1999), two chamber operas that have since been performed all round the world, and in the UK by Glyndebourne and London's National Theatre.  In 2012 a new production of the two operas (with digital background) was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival and subsequently travelled to LA and the Barbican, London as part of the BBC’s ‘Total Immersion’ festival dedicated to the composer.

Several of Knussen’s later works have quickly established themselves in the repertory: Flourish with Fireworks (1988), The Way to Yonder Castle (1988-90), Songs without Voices (1992), Two Organa (1994), the Horn Concerto (1994), the Violin Concerto (2002), Requiem – Songs for Sue for soprano and chamber orchestra (2005-6) and most recently, Ophelia’s Last Dance (2010) for solo piano. 
Knussen has become one of the most skilled and sought-after conductors of new music, and in this capacity has appeared with many major international orchestras.  He is currently Artist in Association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. From 1983 till 1998, Knussen was Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival, and in 1992, in collaboration with Colin Matthews, established the Contemporary Composition and Performance Courses at the Britten-Pears Programme at Aldeburgh.

Among Knussen’s many awards are Honorary Memberships of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Royal Philharmonic Society, an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and the 2004 Association of British Orchestras Award. In 2006 he was named the second recipient of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University, USA and in 2012 he won the Critics Circle award for an ‘Outstanding Musician.’ He became a CBE in the 1994 Birthday Honours.

October 2012

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