The Northwestern University School of Music today announced that British composer Oliver Knussen is the 2006 winner of the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition.
The biennial award honors classical music composers of outstanding achievement who have significantly affected the field of composition. The inaugural winner in 2004 was John Adams.
Knussen was cited by the selection committee for "his uniquely focused, vibrantly varied music and his total embrace -- as a profoundly influential composer, conductor and educator -- of today's musical culture.
As winner of the 2006 Nemmers Prize, Knussen receives a cash award of $100,000 and a performance of one of his works by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the 2007-08 season. He also will serve a residency at Northwestern University's School of Music.
Oliver Knussen said, "I am thrilled to be named recipient of the second Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition, and would like to thank all concerned for this great and generous honor. I look forward particularly to developing a fruitful collaboration with the students and faculty of the Northwestern University School of Music, which I have visited in the past with pleasure, and to broadening my acquaintance with the extraordinary cultural resources of the Chicago area -- a place which was for many years, my maternal family's home."
Northwestern University School of Music Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery said, "Oliver Knussen has impacted the field of composition from almost every perspective. His compositional output shows the highest standards of imagination and creativity, and he has passionately championed the cause of new music as a mentor and conductor."
The anonymous, three-member Nemmers Prize committee that selected Knussen comprised individuals of widely recognized stature in the international music community.
The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition is made possible through a generous gift from the late Erwin E. Nemmers and Frederic E. Nemmers, who in 1994 enabled the creation of the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics and the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, leading awards in those fields.
Born in Glasgow in 1952, Oliver Knussen has lived most of his life near London, where his father was for many years the principal double bassist of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). It was with the LSO that Knussen made his conducting debut at age 16, leading his own "First Symphony" (1966-67).
He began composition lessons with John Lambert, later studying in the United States at Tanglewood Music Center in Boston with Gunther Schuller. It was during these early years that he composed a series of works which have been added to the repertory of ensembles all over the world: the Second Symphony (Margaret Grant Prize, Tanglewood 1971), "Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh," "Océan de Terre" and "Ophelia Dances, Book 1" (Koussevitzky centennial commission, 1975.)
He returned to the United Kingdom in 1975 and began producing a sequence of works that have placed him firmly in the forefront of contemporary British music: "Trumpets" (1975), the "Triptych" ("Autumnal," "Cantata" and "Sonya's Lullaby" 1975-77), "Coursing" (1979) and the "Third Symphony" (1973-79). The latter work has enjoyed more than 70 performances in Europe and America under conductors that have included Vladimir Ashkenazy, Andrew Davis, André Previn, Simon Rattle, Esa Pekka-Salonen, Gunther Schuller and the composer himself.
During the 1980s Knussen largely devoted himself to the operatic double-bill written in collaboration with children's book author Maurice Sendak and commissioned by Glyndebourne Festival Opera: "Where the Wild Things Are"(1979-83) and "Higglety Pigglety Pop!" (1984-90). "Wild Things" has enjoyed productions at Glyndebourne, in Amsterdam, Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, New York City Opera, Los Angeles Music Center, Nuremburg and Munich.
Knussen was appointed an artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1983 and from 1986 to 1998 also served as coordinator of contemporary music activities at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 1990-92 he held the Elise L. Stoeger Composer's Chair with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and in 1994 was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
The multi-talented Knussen also has appeared throughout the world as a guest conductor. In the United States he has led the Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestras, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood Music Center orchestras, the San Diego Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He has been heard in Europe with the Bayerisches Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra, the Asko Ensemble and Schoenberg Ensemble (Amsterdam), in Japan at the Music Today Festival, and Australia at the Melbourne Summer Music Festival. His conducting activities in Great Britain include serving as Conductor Laureate of the London Sinfonietta, appearances with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the BBC Symphony, and the City of Birmingham Orchestra and at the BBC Proms. In 1995 Knussen signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon to record as a conductor a variety of 20th century music, including his own works.