In December the LA Philharmonic remembered Oliver Knussen in two programmes co-curated by the orchestra’s principal guest conductor Susanna Mälkki and violinist Leila Josefowicz. Five Knussen works were featured in total, with an orchestral concert featuring Flourish with Fireworks and the Violin Concerto complemented by a Green Umbrella concert which included Ophelia Dances and Knussen’s penultimate work Reflection for violin and piano. Writing in the LA Times, Mark Swed described Knussen as ‘the greatest British musician of his time’, singling out Reflection for special praise, calling it: ‘a small late masterpiece.’
‘When Knussen, a gentle and towering giant of British music, suddenly died at 66 last year, he was beloved. A year and a half later, he is already taking on the stature of a legend. The takeaway from the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s tribute to Knussen is that his legacy will inevitably continue to grow larger and larger… I am convinced that he was the greatest British musician of his time ...the biggest news of the tribute was Reflection... Watery figuration in the piano and trills in the violin set a contemplative tone that expands into supreme, stunning lyricism. It is a small, late masterpiece.’
LA Times (Mark Swed) 11 December 2019
As its name suggests, this enchanting 8-minute piece 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, the work’s opus number (31a) demonstrating a relationship to Knussen’s unfinished Cleveland Pictures: ‘The main melody began as a response to Gauguin’s painting of a Breton woman swimming’, Knussen wrote, ‘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.’
December also saw the Ensemble intercontemporain stage a Knussen tribute concert with Brad Lubman and soprano Clare Booth, with which included the French premiere of O Hototogisu! Asko|Schönberg have programmed their own homage to Knussen on 14 May 2020.