Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Oliver Knussen / Phillip George

Oliver Knussen's (June 12, 1952, Glasgow, UK) father, Stuart, was principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra, and participated in premieres of Benjamin Britten's music.  Oliver began composing at about six and studied composition with John Lambert (1963 and 1969), receiving encouragement from Britten.  The commercial public service network ITV's program about Stuart's his work with the London Symphony Orchestra, prompted a commissioning for Oliver's Symphony No. 1 in the 1966–1967 season.

At 15, Knussen stepped in to conduct the work's première at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on April 7, 1968 after István Kertész fell ill.  After this, Daniel Barenboim asked him to conduct the symphony's first two movements in New York a week later.  In this piece and his Concerto for Orchestra (1970), Knussen had absorbed the influences of Berg and c Britten, as well as many mid-century American composers.  As early as the Symphony No. 2 (1971), Knussen's mature compositional personality seemed set.

The young composer spent summers studying with Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood, MA and Boston.  He was the Aldeburgh Festival's co-Artistic Director (1983-1998) and later became Tanglewood's Head of Contemporary Music Activities (1986-1993), marrying his wife Sue, a US-born music producer and director for BBC television and Channel 4.

Among his major works from the 1980's are two children's operas, Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!, both with libretti by Maurice Sendak, after the author's eponymous books. Where the Wild Things Are received its New York premiere by New York City Opera in November 1987

Knussen has also been Principal Guest Conductor of The Hague's Het ResidentieOrchestra (1992-1996), and the London Sinfonietta's Music Director (1998- 2002), now the latter's Conductor Laureate.  Knussen's wife died of a blood infection in London in 2003.  The Sue Knussen Composers Fund (originally the Commissioning Fund) honors her memory.  In 2005 Knussen was the Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival.

Songs for Sue, a setting of four poems for soprano and 15-piece ensemble, was written as a memorial tribute to Knussen's wife, the music receiving its world première in Chicago in 2006.

Since September of that year, the composer has been Artist-in-Association to the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and, from 2009, has held a like position with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

New York City Opera presented a concert version of Where the Wild Things Are in April of 2011.

In the fall of 2012, Knussen began a Symphonic Adagio for the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Knussen lives in Snape, Britten's base for the Aldeburgh Festival.

Works List

Symphony No. 1, Op. 1 (1968), for orchestra (withdrawn)
Processionals, Op. 2 (1968/78), for chamber ensemble
Masks, Op. 3 (1969), for solo flute and glass chimes 'ad lib.'
Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 4 (1969)
Symphony in One Movement, Op. 5 (1969/2002), for orchestra
     (revised version of Concerto for Orchestra)
Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh, Op. 6 (1970/1983),
     for soprano solo, flute, cor anglais, clarinet, percussion, and cello
Three Little Fantasies, Op. 6a (1970/1983), for wind quintet
Symphony No. 2, Op. 7 (1971), for high soprano and chamber orchestra
Choral, Op. 8 (1972), for wind, percussion, and double basses
Rosary Songs, Op. 9 (1972), for soprano solo, clarinet, piano, and viola
Océan de Terre, Op. 10 (1972-73/1976), for soprano & chamber ensemble
Music for a Puppet Court (after John Lloyd), Op. 11 (1973/1983),
     "puzzle pieces" for two chamber orchestras
Trumpets, Op. 12 (1975), for soprano and three clarinets
Ophelia Dances, Op. 13 (1975),
     for flute, cor anglais, clarinet, horn, piano, celesta, and string trio
Autumnal, Op. 14 (1977), for violin and piano
Cantata, Op. 15 (1977), for oboe and string trio
Sonya's Lullaby, Op. 16 (1978–79), for piano solo
Scriabin Settings (1978)
Coursing, Op. 17 (1979), for large chamber ensemble
Symphony No. 3, Op. 18 (1979), for orchestra
Frammenti da Chiara, Op.19a (1975/1986), for two antiphonal a cappella female choirs
Where the Wild Things Are, Op. 20 (1979–83), fantasy opera, libretto by Maurice Sendak
Songs and a Sea Interlude, Op. 20a (1979–81), for soprano & orchestra
The Wild Rumpus, Op. 20b (1983), for orchestra
Higglety Pigglety Pop!, Op. 21 (1985, revised 1999),
     fantasy opera, libretto by Maurice Sendak
Fanfares for Tanglewood (1986), for thirteen brass & three groups of percussion
The Way to Castle Yonder, Op. 21a (1990), for orchestra
Flourish with Fireworks, Op. 22 (1988 revised 1993), for orchestra
Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rilke, Op. 23 (1988), for solo soprano
Variations, Op. 24 (1989), for piano solo
Secret Psalm (1990), for violin solo
Whitman Settings, Op. 25 (1991), for soprano and piano
Whitman Settings, Op. 25a (1992), for soprano and orchestra
Songs without Voices, Op. 26 (1992),
     for flute, cor anglais, clarinet, horn, piano, and string trio
Elegiac Arabesques (in memory of Andrzej Panufnik), Op. 26a (1991),
     for cor anglais and clarinet
Two Organa, Op. 27 (1994), for large chamber ensemble
Horn Concerto, Op. 28 (1994), for horn solo and orchestra
"...upon one note" (fantasia after Purcell) (1995), for clarinet, piano, and string trio
Prayer Bell Sketch (in memory of Tōru Takemitsu), Op. 29 (1997), for piano solo
Eccentric Melody (for Elliott Carter's 90th birthday) (1998), for cello solo
Violin Concerto, Op. 30 (2002), for violin solo & orchestra
Ophelia's Last Dance, Op. 32 (2004/2009-10), for piano solo
Requiem: Songs for Sue, Op. 33 (2005-6), for soprano & chamber ensemble