Stuart Oliver Knussen CBE (12 June 1952, Glasgow, Scotland – 8 July 2018, Snape, Suffolk, England) was a British composer and conductor.
Oliver Knussen's father, Stuart Knussen, was principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra, and also participated in a number of premieres of Benjamin Britten's music. Oliver Knussen studied composition with John Lambert between 1963 and 1969, and also received encouragement from Britten. He spent several summers studying with Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood in Massachusetts and in Boston.
Knussen began composing at about the age of six; an ITV programme about his father's work with the London Symphony Orchestra prompted the commissioning for his first symphony (1966–1967). Aged 15, Knussen stepped in to conduct his symphony's première at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 7 April 1968, after István Kertész fell ill. After his debut, Daniel Barenboim asked him to conduct the work's first two movements in New York a week later. In this work and his Concerto for Orchestra (1968–1970), he had quickly and fluently absorbed the influences of modernist composers Britten and Berg as well as many mid-century (largely American) symphonists, while displaying an unusual flair for pacing and orchestration.
It was as early as the Second Symphony (1970–1971), in the words of Julian Anderson, that "Knussen's compositional personality abruptly appeared, fully formed".
His major works from the 1980s were his two children's operas, Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!, both libretti by Maurice Sendak – and based on Sendak's own eponymous children's books. A much-admired orchestral work from 1994 is his Horn Concerto written for Barry Tuckwell, which "combines the colorful sound world of early 20th century music with a contemporary approach to time and melody". Knussen’s ebullient concert opener Flourish with Fireworks (1988) quickly entered standard orchestral repertoire, as did his concertos for horn and violin. The latter, written in 2002 for Pinchas Zukerman and the Pittsburgh Symphony, has received close to 100 performances worldwide.
Knussen was principal guest conductor of The Hague's Het Residentie Orkest (Residentie Orchestra) between 1992 and 1996, the Aldeburgh Festival's co-artistic director between 1983 and 1998 and the London Sinfonietta's music director between 1998 and 2002 – and became that ensemble's conductor laureate. He was the head of contemporary music activities at Tanglewood between 1986 and 1993. In 2005, Knussen was the music director of the Ojai Music Festival. From September 2006, Knussen was artist-in-association to the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and from 2009 to the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 2014 he became the inaugural Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music at the Royal Academy of Music, London.
Other accolades included the Ivor Novello Award for Classical Music, the ISM Distinguished Musician Award, and the 2015 Queen’s Medal for Music. He was awarded CBE in the 1994 Birthday Honours.
As one of the foremost composer-conductors in the world, Knussen was renowned for his unfailing advocacy across a wide range of contemporary music. He recorded prolifically and presided over numerous premieres, including important works by Carter, Henze, and Anderson.
Works for Winds
- Choral (1972/1975/1986)
- Fanfares for Tanglewood (1986)
- Three Little Fantasies(1970/83)
- " CHORAL Op. 8 for wind orchestra, percussion, and bass by Oliver Knussen (GB, 1952-2018)." WASBE. Web. (Featured as WASBE’s Composition of the Week, 28 March 2022). Accessed 7 January 2023
- Oliver Nussen. Wikipedia. Accessed 7 January 2023