All of us here at Britten Sinfonia are deeply saddened to hear of Oliver Knussen’s death. We’ve got to know him well, particularly over the past 10 years, performing his music and collaborating with him as a conductor and compositional coach to young emerging composers. Many of our key musicians – Nicholas Daniel, Jacqueline Shave, Huw Watkins to name but a few – were very close to him and regarded him, like so many fellow musicians, composers, administrators around the world, as a towering and influential figure and yet often avuncular, uncompromising, magnetic and hilarious.
I have so many memories, not least his personal encouragement in the early days (over a pint or two of Adnams in Aldeburgh), and more recently in 2015 with two major portrait concerts he devised and conducted at the Barbican, with typically esoteric works by Berg, Stravinsky, Tippett and Mozart alongside his own glittering music – probably the finest performances I have heard the orchestra give. We will miss Olly terribly but treasure our time with him, and are comforted by knowing that his great musical influence and music will live on.
Oliver Knussen was quite simply the best and most unpretentious musician I have ever worked with. He had such a big heart and cared so much about music…always an inspiration and you always felt you were making it together. He really hated the stuffiness and snobbishness that can sometimes be found in the classical musical arena. I was fortunate enough have performed in what was probably his last concert in Aldeburgh a few weeks ago part of a small chamber group; we performed a premiere by Harrison Birtwistle and it was lovely to see them together, we all had a delicious supper afterwards with fantastic conversation. The sort of occasion you come away from thinking “yes…this is what it’s all about, this is why we do this”. We play his Oboe Quartet frequently in the Britten Oboe Quartet. It is a unique masterpiece, unlike anything else…such brave and personal writing.
I am so terribly sad he has gone. Thank you, dear Olly for everything you have left behind.