The composer and conductor Oliver Knussen has died

Gramophone Mon 9th July 2018

Born June 12, 1952; died July 9, 2018

The composer and conductor Oliver Knussen has died (photo: Maurice Foxall)

The composer and conductor Oliver Knussen has died (photo: Maurice Foxall)

Oliver Knussen has died; he was 66. A pupil of John Lambert and Gunther Schuller, Knussen made a vivid impression at a very early age; his First Symphony was written when he was just 15. Many of his works have achieved modern classic status, including his Third Symphony (1973-79), written for Michael Tilson Thomas, his Flourish with Fireworks (1988), his operas Where the Wild Things Are(1979-83) and Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1984-85, rev 1999) and his Violin Concerto (2001-02, written for Pinchas Zukerman). 

As a conductor he worked with many of the world’s great ensembles and held a number of high-profile posts including Artist in Association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (2009-14), Music Director of the London Sinfonietta (1998-2002), Head of Contemporary Music at the Tanglewood Music Center (1986-93) and Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival (1983-98). At the time of his death, he was Artist in Association with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, whose online tribute praises Knussen's exceptional gifts: 'He was, quite simply, a force of nature in the best possible way; always creative, always playful, but with the highest standards and the best musical ears.'

Knussen recorded extensively; among his many albums were Gramophone Award-winning discs of music by Takemitsu (DG, Contemporary category 1999), Robin Holloway (NMC, Contemporary 1994) and Britten’s The Prince of the Pagodas (Virgin Classics, Engineering, 1990). His most recent Gramophone Award, again in the Contemporary category, was for Julian Anderson's Alhambra Fantasy (Ondine, Contemporary category 2007), for which 'Knussen and his players dazzlingly evoked the composer's vivid, transfixing sound worlds'. 

A full appreciation will appear in the September issue of Gramophone.

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