The premiere of a new work by Oliver Knussen is always a major occasion, with each meticulously created statement the hard-won prize of a ceaseless creative perfectionism. The composer’s first work since Ophelia’s Last Dance in 2010, Reflection was unveiled by its dedicatees Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Huw Watkins on 3 October at Birmingham Town Hall.
This ravishing 8-minute work for violin and piano is made up of various kinds of musical reflection: melody reflected in its inversion; a six-note mode reflected in its complement; and the relationships between the three main parts of the piece, which are in a way varied reflections of each other.
There are some reflections in water, too, and the work’s opus number (31a) suggests a relationship to Knussen’s as yet unfinished Cleveland Pictures: ‘The main melody began as a response to Gauguin’s painting of a Breton woman swimming’, he says, ‘and there is also, perhaps, an echo of the lonely underwater world of an ondine, eventually breaking the surface at the end of the piece.’
Reflection was commissioned by Town Hall, Symphony Hall and the European Concert Hall Organisation in memory of Lyndon Jenkins. It is currently being toured to many of Europe’s most prestigious halls as part of the ECHO Rising Stars series.
‘This beautifully crafted work is made of tiny aural brushstrokes suggesting water: ripples mirroring each other and bursting out in expression and ecstatic high lines.’
The Observer (Fiona Maddocks), 27 February 2017
‘Much more substantial than its short duration might suggest… Knussen’s writing has a marvellous fluidity.’
The Daily Telegraph (John Alison), 22 February 2017
‘This short piece has it all… compelling concision.’
Die Welt, 1 February 2017
Reflection will also feature at the 2017 Aldeburgh Festival, which has also announced another new work by Knussen, O Hototogisu, which will be premiered by Claire Booth and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by the composer on 23 June. A tribute to Stephen and Jackie Newbould (the former directors and creative spirits behind BCMG), the work is a setting of haiku in the composer’s own translations for soprano, solo flute and ensemble. The work will receive its London premiere on 16 September at Milton Court.