As Oliver Knussen’s 60th birthday celebrations continue, praise and tributes have poured in for this most talented composer/conductor.
On 8 and 10 June Knussen’s operatic double bill Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop! played to packed audiences at the Aldeburgh Festival. Critics praised these ‘timeless classics’ and renewed the call for Knussen’s works to be regarded as one of the pinnacles of contemporary opera – there have been over 250 performances across the world. The new production with captivating and magical animation by director/designer Netia Jones also won the critics over, and opens up many new performance opportunities. The production will travel to LA for performances with the LA Philharmonic in October and then on to London in November as part of the BBC’s Total Immersion festival dedicated to Knussen.
As well as operatic success in Aldeburgh, the same weekend  the Critics Circle bestowed an ‘Outstanding Musician Award’ on Oliver Knussen, announcing that the award was ‘not merely in acknowledgement of his work as a composer, but also about his championship of contemporary music as a conductor and lucid communicator, and about the potent influence he has had in encouraging and guiding composers of the younger generation.’
‘timeless classics’
‘not a note out of place’
‘an exceptional and still underrated talent’
‘at last he may be getting his due’
‘…in his operatic settings of Maurice Sendak’s children’s fantasies Where the Wild Things Are (1983) and its semi-sequel Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1985) he created timeless classics… There are differences between these scores, but what they share is a playfully allusive wit and a bright translucence as the musical ideas morph intricately: Knussen’s highly-coloured sound-world is an invigorating place to be. And to see this great bear-like figure go on to conduct the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in works by Ives, Berg, Stravinsky, and Goehr – composers he has long championed - before receiving the Outstanding Musician award from the Critics’ Circle, was to realise that at last he may be getting his due.’
The Independent (Michael Church), 11 June 2012
'The main attraction was a new production of Knussen’s operatic double-bill based on children’s books by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop! ...director, Netia Jones, has delivered her masterstroke. Taking the original illustrations, she has turned them into animated projections – easy perhaps to imagine, but not to bring off as triumphantly as she has …the operas rouse our grown-up intellect as much as they tickle our sense of childish whimsy. The Aldeburgh casts, led by Claire Booth and Lucy Schaufer, were first-rate, and the conductor, Ryan Wigglesworth, led the excellent Britten Sinfonia on aural flights of fancy.'
Financial Times (Richard Fairman), 11 June 2012
'But what emerges so forcefully in hearing these one-acters again is the formal elegance of both works – Wild Things is a through-composed work; the more varied, psychologically complex Higglety a number opera divided into set-piece arias and ensembles – and the dazzling imagination of Knussen's sound world. With its vast range of stylistic references, there is not a note out of place. The performances are outstanding…'
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 10 June 2012
'…it’s a delight, with gorgeously sensual and richly textured music embodying a plot that illustrates the need that infants have for imaginative freedom as well as domestic security… Ryan Wigglesworth conducts the Britten Sinfonia in an exuberant account of the multi – coloured score, and the staging is imaginative… He has an exceptional and still underrated talent…'
The Telegraph (Rupert Christiansen), 11 June 2012