To borrow the title of one of Oliver Knussen’s most famous works,* there have been plenty of ‘flourishes’ and ‘fireworks’ as his 60th birthday celebrations continue. Coming up are new stagings of Knussen’s world-renowned operatic double-bill Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop! at the Aldeburgh Festival (8 & 10 June) and with the LA Philharmonic (11-14 October). The two operas will then travel to London in November as part of the BBC’s Total Immersion Festival, which will offer a wider retrospective of Knussen’s distinguished oeuvre. Preceding all this was Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s recent birthday concert, where Knussen took to the podium to conduct a selection of his own works alongside those of his colleagues, Magnus Lindberg, Tansy Davies and Sean Shepherd. Critics, broadcasters and fellow composers paid tribute to his extraordinary talent:
*Flourish with Fireworks
‘a pivotal figure in British contemporary music’
‘the most important figure in modern British music’
'The number of composers in the audience for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's concert to mark Oliver Knussen's 60th birthday was its own tribute to a pivotal figure in British contemporary music… This [sequence of his own pieces ] consisted of the wonderfully supple ensemble Ophelia Dances, the violin-and-piano Autumnal, and Ophelia's Last Dance – Knussen's recent reworking of 1970s material into a gorgeous, nostalgia-drenched, Scriabin-like waltz…'
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 28 May 2012
'There was a reminiscing post-concert chat, with much laughter, and a birthday cake. Before that we’d heard three of Knussen’s own chamber pieces, two of them dating from the 1970s. They were a reminder of how vast his musical culture already was in his twenties, and how subtly he could allude to his favourite things: Ravel, Debussy, Schumann.'
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 28 May 2012
'Ask any young composer in this country who is the most important figure in modern British music, and the answer is likely to come back quick and sharp: Oliver Knussen… Knussen has also for years been a kind of guru figure to generations of young and not-so-young composers, sacrificing his own creative time and energy in their interests, advising, promoting, performing.'
The Arts Desk (Stephen Walsh), 26 May 2012
‘a man made of music’
‘The best composer, the best conductor, the best ears in the business…’
'The best composer, the best conductor, the best ears in the business, the best friend... That’s just for starters. Happy birthday from your former pupil and present pupil.'
'Thanks for exquisite music and musicianship, for lovely afternoons at your place, and for continuous support for young composers and musicians, especially the behind-the-scenes kind, that we don’t often get to hear about.'
'…a man who knows more about music than anyone I know, always showing a limitless generosity as a friend and colleague, a great person - a man made of music.'
'….few composers since Ravel have had the same ear for the essential rightness of the next note, the exact colour, the precise balance between all the elements of a work…'
'…he has been a constant source of wisdom, knowledge, delight and (perhaps above all) humour throughout. I adore his meticulous, radiant and effervescent music as much as I esteem his unparalleled brilliance and authority as a conductor…'
'To be in the audience for an Olly concert is to be present, in a very real sense, at the making of music.'