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MUSSORGSKIAN GIANT

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RODERIC DUNNETT on the massive talents of the
English composer and conductor Oliver Knussen

 

Oliver Knussen quotes from Boris Godunov in his children's opera Where the Wild Things Are. You could be forgiven for thinking Oliver Knussen is Boris himself : a gentle Mussorgskian giant, he seems, at a casual glance, to embody many of the characteristics, not so much of the opera's bullish, precocious hero as of the shy, rumpled, peace-loving wild creatures themselves, stirring from their amiable slumber.

Oliver Knussen. Photo: Mykel Nicolaou

Together with its fellow, Higglety Pigglety Pop!, Wild Things has travelled the globe, like its creator, who is wildly in demand as a conductor -- especially in America, where Cleveland, San Francisco and Pittsburgh treat him almost like an adopted mascot. Wild Things was, he says, 'a kind of big "thank you" to the music I liked to listen to as a child; while Higglety (commissioned by Glyndebourne) is an evocation of the music I wanted to write at that age but didn't know how.'

Higglety Pigglety Pop! and Where the Wild Things Are (c) DG

Knussen never talks himself up, but at not quite yet fifty (he celebrates his fiftieth next year) he surely belongs among the greats, with the likes of Henze, Birtwistle and his idol, Elliott Carter. Formerly Artistic co-Director of the Aldeburgh Festival, Head of Contemporary Music Activities at Tanglewood and principal guest conductor of the Residentie Orchestra, The Hague, he is best known as the superbly creative, and enabling, current Music Director of the London Sinfonietta. For one man to build so successfully on the pioneering legacies of both Britten and the late Michael Vyner is a remarkable achievement.

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Copyright © 17 November 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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KNUSSEN AND THE LONDON SINFONIETTA

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