Oliver Knussen
Conductor / Composer

“No figure in British contemporary music is more respected than composer-conductor Oliver Knussen” (The Guardian)

Contacts

Jane Brown +44 (0)20 3725 9129
Alexandra Aimard +44 (0)20 3725 9139

Biography

Artist in Association: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group

 

One of the pre-eminent composer-conductors in the world today, Oliver Knussen CBE was born in Glasgow in 1952, grew up near London (where his father was principal Doublebass of the London Symphony Orchestra) and now lives in Suffolk. He is presently Artist-in-Association with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music at the Royal Academy of Music.

The recipient of many honours and awards, including the Nemmers Prize in 2006 and the RPS Conductor Award in 2009, he has served as Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival (1983-98), Head of Contemporary Music at the Tanglewood Music Center (1986-93), Principal Guest Conductor of the Hague Residentie Orchestra (1993-97), Music Director of the London Sinfonietta (1998-2002), and Artist-in-Association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (2009-2014). 

Artist in Association: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group

 

One of the pre-eminent composer-conductors in the world today, Oliver Knussen CBE was born in Glasgow in 1952, grew up near London (where his father was principal Doublebass of the London Symphony Orchestra) and now lives in Suffolk. He is presently Artist-in-Association with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music at the Royal Academy of Music.

The recipient of many honours and awards, including the Nemmers Prize in 2006 and the RPS Conductor Award in 2009, he has served as Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival (1983-98), Head of Contemporary Music at the Tanglewood Music Center (1986-93), Principal Guest Conductor of the Hague Residentie Orchestra (1993-97), Music Director of the London Sinfonietta (1998-2002), and Artist-in-Association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (2009-2014). 

Together with Colin Matthews he founded the Composition and Performance Courses at the Britten-Pears School in 1992 and in recent years has been invited for residencies at the Royal Academy of Music, the New England Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, and the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Among his best-known works are the operas Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!, written in collaboration with the late Maurice Sendak, as well as three symphonies, concertos for horn and violin,  and smaller-scale works including Ophelia Dances, Coursing, Songs without Voices, Two Organa and Songs for Sue. 

His 60th birthday was celebrated with special events in Aldeburgh, Amsterdam, Birmingham, London and Tanglewood and he has recorded more than 50 CDs for labels including Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Virgin and NMC.

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Contacts

Jane Brown +44 (0)20 3725 9129
Alexandra Aimard +44 (0)20 3725 9139

Reviews

“Oliver Knussen writes music that is luminous, honed and full of fine detail; the same applies to the way he conducts.  In his programmes with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, he always puts light between musical elements – as if he wants us to marvel at each ingredient on its own and then appreciate how it all fits together.” (Guardian, April 2016)

“the clarity, buoyancy and sheer lucidity of his performances are like shooting stars.” (The Scotsman, Ken Walton, April 2016)

“Concerts always have a charmed perfection under Oliver Knussen’s magic wand. … Knussen’s conducting was wonderfully clean and detailed throughout.” (The Independent, March 2016)

“Oliver Knussen writes music that is luminous, honed and full of fine detail; the same applies to the way he conducts.  In his programmes with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, he always puts light between musical elements – as if he wants us to marvel at each ingredient on its own and then appreciate how it all fits together.” (Guardian, April 2016)

“the clarity, buoyancy and sheer lucidity of his performances are like shooting stars.” (The Scotsman, Ken Walton, April 2016)

“Concerts always have a charmed perfection under Oliver Knussen’s magic wand. … Knussen’s conducting was wonderfully clean and detailed throughout.” (The Independent, March 2016)

“With the grace and precision that is Knussen’s vast gift, clearly owing much to Schuller’s example, the work emerged with impeccable style and wit.” (Rian Evans, The Guardian, June 2015)

“The native element came from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Edinburgh Festival Chorus, both of them inspired to a rare degree of agility and belief by the unfussy Oliver Knussen. None of the three works – Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Scriabin’s Prometheus, the Poem of Fire and Debussy’s Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien – is easy to pull off, but Knussen made each sound convincing on its own quirky terms.” (Andrew Clark, The Financial Times, August 2014)

“Knussen brought out the tender heart of the score with a gentle, lilting third movement (Colours), but he also honed in on the dank smudge that ends the work, that final chord so unnervingly inconclusive ... Knussen kept a long view, too, saving the real blaze for a thrilling outburst from the Festival Chorus at the end.” (Kate Molleson, The Guardian, August 2014)

“Too much excess for one evening? Maybe, but Oliver Knussen is the ideal conductor for it, concentrating on precision, blend and other musical values, rather than wallowing in the swirling emotions. He encouraged excellent performances from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, the assured soprano Claire Booth and the virtuoso pianist Kirill Gerstein.” (Richard Morrison, The Times, August 2014)

“Knussen made the slippery sense of key-centres somehow perfectly logical and lethally emotional” (Michael Coveney, The Independent, August 2014)

“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)