Home > Artists > Oliver Knussen


Artist in Association: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Artist in Association: BBC Symphony Orchestra
Associate Artist: Southbank Centre


One of the pre-eminent composer-conductors in the world today, Oliver Knussen (born in Glasgow in 1952) is presently Artist-in-Association with both the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The recipient of many awards, including the Nemmers Prize in 2006, he has been Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival (1983-98), Head of Contemporary Music at the Tanglewood Music Center (1986-93) and Music Director of the London Sinfonietta (1998-2002). Together with Colin Matthews he founded the Composition and Performance Courses at the Britten-Pears School in 1992.

Among his best-known compositions are three symphonies, concertos for horn and violin, several song cycles, works for ensembles and for solo piano, and the operas Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop! written in collaboration with the late Maurice Sendak.

His 60th birthday was celebrated with special events in Aldeburgh, Amsterdam, Birmingham, London and Tanglewood.

The short biography displayed on this page is for information only. For concert programmes and promotional materials please use the downloadable versions.


“Knussen's performance had plenty of panache, beauty and thrilling orchestral colours” (Tim Ashley, The Guardian, August 2013)

“Oliver Knussen draws out not only the pungency of Britten’s language but also its almost touchable beauty and Mediterranean warmth… it’s hard to imagine a more welcome addition to the Britten discography in his centenary year.” (Andrew Clark, Financial Times, January 2013)

“Knussen’s conducting is exemplary.” (Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times, February 2013)

 “If sheer native talent is our yardstick for ranking British musicians, Oliver Knussen must stand among the highest of any century. As a conductor he has a precision and coiled energy which can make an orchestra dance and he’s the supreme advocate of British composers.” (Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph, November 2012)

“It’s a positive joy to watch him conduct [his music], too: the precision of the baton and the lucid, spare gestures of the left hand are outward and visible signs of the clarity, aural finesse and coherence at the heart of his writing” (The Times, November 2012)

“Knussen’s trademarks are a pellucid transparency, and a sense of the unerring rightness of every note in constructions of dazzling intricacy” (The Independent, November 2012)

“Composer Oliver Knussen tends to get to the heart of things, writing with a knack for concision that borders on alchemy” (The Guardian, April 2012)

“Knussen’s brush was something else: elegant, fine-haired, perfect for capturing the subtlest motions of clouds and ocean or the glitter of the central torchlight parade.” (The Times, May 2012)

“He conducted it in the same characteristically fastidious, inspired way, embracing extremes of time and of feeling that underline a life-affirming humanity” (The Guardian, June 2012)

“Oliver Knussen and his players are expert interpreters.” (The Observer, March 2010)

“The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group was conducted by Carter’s champion, Oliver Knussen, whose own exhilarating Coursing began this Maltings programme, and who gave an alluring account of a new piece for 10 players by Helen Grime.” (The Sunday Times, June 2009)

“The force that is Oliver Knussen continues to make his presence felt at Birmingham, where he has been artist-in-association to the Contemporary Music Group since 2006. His authority and interpretative insight ensures performances of vibrant intensity. This programme, where he had paired two of his own compositions with two by Julian Anderson, and included Roberto Gerhard's 1969 score, Leo, by way of balance, was exactly that.” (The Guardian, March 2009)

“Knussen’s players ricocheted through the fray with typical guts and joy.” (The Times, January 2009)