On 26 January the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst give the US premiere of Oliver Knussen’s Cleveland Pictures (2003-9) as part of their annual Florida residency. It was in Florida that Knussen conducted the New World Symphony in a private read-through of the extant material in 2008, having begun intensive work on the piece in 2003, which is partly modelled on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It remained incomplete at the time of his death in 2018.

The Cleveland Orchestra originally commissioned the work from Knussen, each movement of which translates a different item from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art into sound. Knussen worked extensively with the Cleveland Orchestra during his career – the orchestra gave numerous performances of his works, including Flourish with Fireworks ­­­­– his conducting debut with the group in 1993 - Symphony No.3, the Horn Concerto, his operatic double-bill bill after Maurice Sendak, and the Violin Concerto. Knussen also recorded Stokowski’s orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition with the orchestra – a figure he revered, and whose version of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain was programmed alongside Cleveland Pictures at Snape Maltings in 2022.

Each movement of Cleveland Pictures is dedicated to one of Knussen’s composer colleagues: George Benjamin, Alexander Goehr, Augusta Read Thomas, Colin Matthews, Mark-Anthony Turnage, and Magnus Lindberg. Even in its incomplete form, at 15 ½ minutes the work ranks as one of Knussen’s most extensive orchestral statements. Of seven projected movements, four exist complete, two exist as fully-orchestrated fragments, and one exists only as a sketches:

I. Portail avec Penseur (Façades and lake with Rodin)     
II. Calabazas (Velásquez)
III. Dans les vagues (Gauguin) [a fragment]
IV. Two Clocks (Tiffany/Fabergé)
V. St. Ambrose (Goya)
VI. Don Quixote (Masson) [sketches only – not performed]
VII. The Burning of the Houses of Parliament (Turner) [a fragment]       

The long-awaited first public performance of Cleveland Pictures was given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Ryan Wigglesworth in June 2022 at the Aldeburgh Festival, as part of a day of concerts dedicated to the composer.

Further performances of Cleveland Pictures follow its US debut from Ludovic Morlot at L’Auditori with the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya, who give its Spanish premiere on 2 February. The BBC Symphony Orchestra will give a further UK performance of the piece with Sakari Oramo at the Barbican on 24 May.

Cleveland Pictures hinted at an expansive new sound world for a composer usually celebrated for the intimacy of his music.

The Guardian (Fiona Maddocks) 2 July 2022