Knussen Celebration


I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grander, more distinguished new music gathering than the one that packed in to the RAM’s elegant Susie Sainsbury Theatre to celebrate Olly Knussen’s life and work. Onstage (in performances of five of his pieces) and in the house, eminent musicians and composers were thronging. But as you’d expect of an evening which was 100% about OK, the atmosphere was genial and warmly affectionate, loving in fact. Spoken tributes live and on film achieved what non-musicians confusingly call “perfect pitch” (but we know what they mean.) An onscreen message from Michael Tilson Thomas has stayed in my mind, a wondering, slightly sad smile on his face, recalling his old friend’s insistence on getting a harp arpeggiation in a very long overdue composition just the way he thought it should be, while the remaining hours and days before the premiere ticked away. Listening to the perfectly refined compositions Knussen has left us with, it seems he was right to insist.

Picture: We were reminded, in a wonderful concluding address by Zoe Martlew, of Olly’s propensity for things Japanese (strongly reciprocated by his many listeners in Japan) which was amply illustrated by the evening's fabulous closing music O Hototogisu ! OK's last work. Hoping to snap something Japanese to accompany this post, I noticed this little garden with ceramic urns just behind King’s College Cambridge. But now I’ve learned that this is “the first Chinese garden in a Cambridge College, planted in memory of the poet Xu Zhimo”. Humble apologies !

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020