Oliver Knussen’s 60th birthday celebrations continued in November with a wide retrospective of his distinguished oeuvre as part of the BBC and Barbican’s Oliver Knussen: Total Immersion Festival. Performances included a double bill of his celebrated ‘fantasy’ operas Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!, based on stories by the late Maurice Sendak, as well as concerts of Knussen’s chamber and orchestral works. From the audience’s rapturous applause, the critics’ chorus of praise, and the sheer number of composers present, it was clearer than ever that Knussen’s place is at the very heart of contemporary music.

‘Knussen's music sparkled’
‘As for his own music… it’s simply breath-taking’
‘without Knussen Britain’s musical landscape would have been infinitely poorer’
‘the Horn Concerto, [is] probably the most beautiful score that exists for the instrument’
‘… without Knussen Britain’s musical landscape would have been infinitely poorer… If ever there was a case for putting contemporary opera into commercial rep, this double-bill is it… it would be a hit. But that was only the appetiser. What followed, delivered by a plethora of excellent young singers and instrumentalists, and sometimes conducted by Knussen like a great bear casting spells… Knussen’s trademarks are a pellucid transparency, and a sense of the unerring rightness of every note in constructions of dazzling intricacy: of all the composers now working in Britain, his is the sound-world I would most happily inhabit.’
The Independent (Michael Church), 5 November 2012
‘What emerged was Knussen's joy in sonority, whether in the sparse, dark shades of Autumnal, played by Watkins and violinist Alexandra Wood; in the fizzle and pop of Flourish with Fireworks, the orchestral concert opener; or in the glinting harp, celesta and guitar offsetting the rich scoring of the Symphony No 3… the Horn Concerto, [is] probably the most beautiful score that exists for the instrument. Saturday brought Knussen's double bill of operas based on Maurice Sendak's stories… Netia Jones's staging mixes live action with the animation of Sendak's drawings to joyful effect… and Knussen's music sparkled. This production isn't currently touring, but it should be.’
The Guardian (Erica Jeal), 5 November 2012
‘If sheer native talent is our yardstick for ranking British musicians, Oliver Knussen must stand among the highest of any century. As a conductor he has a precision and coiled energy which can make an orchestra dance, and he’s the supreme advocate of British composers… As for his own music, at the level of craftsmanship it’s simply breath-taking… So much of the music we heard was in the form of brilliant musical jewel-boxes, packed full of perfectly heard bright sonorities. Memories of other music, equally prismatic, flitted across its surface; Ravel’s childhood fantasies, Stravinsky’s Russian fantasies… Later in the BBC Symphony Orchestra concert, ravishing orchestral sonorities, drenched in horn incandescence and tinkling celeste and harp were added to harmonic gorgeousness.’
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 6 November 2012
‘In his love of detail, playfulness and precision, Knussen shares the same aesthetic terrain as Mozart and Ravel. Knussen’s output is sparse, each piece entering the world with butterfly brilliance… Does this relative paucity matter? I suspect not. Knussen’s  Symphony No.3 is one of the most frequently performed worldwide… The Horn Concerto, too, is a contemporary classic… The cream of British composers across generations turned out to support the much loved “Olly”… This shows the breadth of Oliver Knussen’s influence. He has championed the new like no other.’
The Observer (Fiona Maddocks), 11 November 2012  
‘A Knussen work infallibly rings true… I have heard the ones in the Sunday concerts many times, but their freshness, their tactile, reasoned and intricate quality, remains indelible… Flourish with Fireworks is a display of fizzing orchestral virtuosity to rank with Stravinsky’s brief Fireworks evocation; Two Organa recast early medieval polyphony in dazzling metrical versions, inspired at once by a musical box and the textural multi-layerings of a Peter Maxwell Davies of Elliott Carter.’
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), 11 November 2012

‘If many of his works seemed familiar, this is because Knussen’s music remains continuously in use, with nearly all of it recorded. It’s a positive joy to watch him conduct it, too… The Horn Concerto remained and Martin Owen gave one of the most glowing and sophisticated performances I have heard of this wonder of Mahlerian night-music that is nonetheless quintessential Knussen in its wit, its myriad shapes of fantasy and in the challenges hurled out between solo and orchestral horns… finally, the youthful Third Symphony – a keen ear and a prodigiously daring imagination flaming forth into the future.’
The Times (Hilary Finch), 7 November
‘The presence of so many other British composers at Sunday’s 60th birthday tribute to Oliver Knussen was an indication of the esteem and affection in which he is held by his peers, many of whom he has helped as conductor and teacher. The BBC Symphony Orchestra’s homage was well deserved and brilliantly executed under Knussen’s baton… Like Ravel, whose music it sometimes echoes, Knussen’s output is small and perfectly formed… His finesse was exemplified by the Requiem – Songs for Sue, in a performance dedicated to the memory of Hans Werner Henze and radiantly sung by Claire Booth.’
Financial Times (Andrew Clark), 5 November 2012

'Dressed in a white wolf suit, soprano Claire Booth (a Knussen veteran) excelled as the very naughty, haughty and ultimately contrite Max. Her agile voice ably expressed the boy's mood swings and naïve innocence... But it is really the orchestra that has the second principal role in this opera. Under the controlled and attentive direction of Wigglesworth (another great fan of Knussen), the Britten Sinfonia blazed through the score, giving equal weight to its simple lyricism and colourful flourishes.'
Music OMH (John-Pierre Joyce), 4 November 2012