Nothing but Knussen | 3 to 16 November 201211:22, 3rd November 2012
As part of the celebrations surrounding Oliver Knussen’s sixtieth birthday this year, the composer is being given the Total Immersion treatment by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican over the weekend 3-4 November. All the pieces being played have been chosen by Knussen himself.
‘He hasn’t written a lot but what he has written is exquisite,’ says Ann McKay, the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s chief producer. ‘He’s a seminal figure and his influence on the next generation of composers, let alone his colleagues, is huge, both as a composer and teacher, and as a conductor. He has also set standards. In rehearsal he’s rigorous. He knows when something’s right or wrong whatever music he’s conducting.’
The Knussen weekend starts with rare performances of his two children’s operas, Higglety Piggelty Pop! and Where the Wild Things Are. Both have high-powered casts and are conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth.
The following day begins with a lunchtime concert given by the Guildhall New Music Ensemble and some of the Guildhall’s star performers, in which some of Knussen’s lesser-known compositions are given an outing alongside some of the more well-known pieces.
The Sunday evening concert, conducted by Knussen, includes his third symphony and the Whitman Settings, both of which the BBCSO premiered. The orchestra, which has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Knussen, also gave the UK premiere of his violin concerto which is being played by Leila Josefowicz, one of the many young artists Knussen has championed.
‘Olly absolutely supports the next generation,’ comments McKay. ‘He sees how important it is that young people take on new music, make it their own, travel with it and become champions of it. That’s very much the ethos the orchestra has in its work with the Guildhall. It’s about the next generation. I’m just amazed at how these young people at the Guildhall take to this music and give such fantastic performances.’
Knussen’s selections for his Total Immersion demonstrate his development as a composer and range from early pieces such as Choral (written when he was a teenager and pronounced chorale but spelt the way it is because he forgot the e), to more recent works such as Requiem – Songs for Sue, written in memory of his first wife.
A programme of piano and violin pieces is being performed later in the afternoon by Huw Watkins, Ryan Wigglesworth and Alexandra Wood, while at 3pm there’s a chance to see Barrie Gavin’s film portrait of the composer, followed by a discussion on Knussen’s importance to British music, chaired by Julian Anderson.
Though none of the Total Immersion weekend is being broadcast live, it is being recorded for future transmission on Radio 3. The first date to look out for is 19 November when throughout that week Afternoon on 3 will be featuring pieces from the Guildhall’s lunchtime concert, together with the concert of violin and piano music. The evening concert can be heard in Hear and Now next February.
‘Given that Olly’s repertoire does not contain huge amounts of music,’ McKay notes, ‘he’s very carefully chosen programmes of contrasts. Anybody who comes to any of these concerts at the Barbican, or listens to them later on Radio 3, will find themselves loving it, it is so beautiful. And it’s not often you can use that word about contemporary music.’