Critic’s Choice

April 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm

By David Wright

Oliver Knussen

How do you take your Oliver Knussen—cream and sugar, or black?

Although he turned 60 only last year, the Glasgow-born composer and conductor has been a large presence in the Anglo-American music world for over 40 years, since the premiere of his Symphony No. 2 in 1971.  A composition pupil of Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood, Knussen went on to direct contemporary music activities there and at Britain’s Aldeburgh Festival.

Boston celebrates the composer and his colorful music this weekend with a free concert (reservations required) Sunday night at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, beginning with a ceremony at which Knussen will receive an honorary doctorate from NEC.

Then the conductor Gil Rose will lead the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in performances of the honoree’s Music for a Puppet Court (a modern “solution” to a musical puzzle by Henry VIII’s court composer John Lloyd) and Symphony No. 2 (with soprano Sonja Tengblad), as well as the local premiere of NEC faculty member Michael Gandolfi’s The Nature of Light and Ginastera’s Harp Concerto (with harpist and NEC concerto competition winner Krysten Keches).

If you prefer your Knussen with nothing added, catch the man himself conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Friday and Saturday in his Violin Concerto and Whitman Songs, with violinist Pinchas Zukerman (for whom the concerto was written) and English soprano Claire Booth (making her BSO debut).

Two “old is new” Russian items fill out the BSO bill: Miaskovsky’s late-Romantic Symphony No. 10 of 1927, and Mussorgsky’s familiar Pictures at an Exhibition in an unfamiliar orchestration by Leopold Stokowski.  Knussen’s world is a vivid and fantastic place, and this weekend we can live in it.

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project performance takes place 8 p.m. Sunday at Jordan Hall; admission is free, ticket required. bmop.org; (781) 234-0396. Boston Symphony Orchestra performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Symphony Hall. bso.org; (617) 266-1200.

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