The British Oliver Knussen was one of the greatest and most performed composers of his generation and a celebrated conductor who championed modern music. He was born in 1952 in Glasgow, as the son of a London Symphony Orchestra player. He started composing from a young age and conducted his first symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra at the age of fifteen. The performance brought him a great deal of press attention and a commission from Benjamin Britten.
Knussen composed two more symphonies, the last of which has become the most successful. Other well-known works are his horn concerto and violin concerto, which were performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra last year, and his children operas Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!, based on the books by Maurice Sendak. The oeuvre of Knussen has remained relatively small, since he was highly critical of his own works.
A combination of persistent ill health and composer’s block caused him to stop composing and start focusing on conducting. Between 1992 and 1996, he was principal guest conductor of The Hague Philharmonic and he was conductor of London Sinfonietta between 1998 and 2002 and Conductor Laureate afterwards. From september 2006, Knussen was Artist-in-Assocation of the Birgmingham Contemporary Music Group. As a conductor, he advocated modern music and he was a mentor to young composers like Mark-Anthony Turnage and Ryan Wigglesworth.
Knussen lived in Snape in Suffolk, in the house of Benjamin Britten.