Oliver Knussen died yesterday.
No living British composer was untouched by his personality, his kindness and his work.
The son of a London orchestral player, Olly conducted his first symphony with the LSO at age 15. His second symphony was premiered at Tanglewood by Gunther Schuller. The third, and most successful, just 15 minutes long, was taken on diplomatic tours to Moscow and elsewhere.
Two children’s operas – Where the Wild Things Are and Higgledy Piggledy Pop – occupied his middle years.
A combination of persistent ill health and composer’s block caused him to fade from the front ranks of contemporary music. But his conducting ability and an unquenched interest in all new music made him a vital mentor to young composers in his own country and many abroad. He worked often with the Cleveland Orchestra and made recordings for Deutsche Grammophon.
Convivial, curious, charming, Olly will be very widely mourned.
UPDATE: Olly’s last accolade.
UPDATE: Dad wanted me to be a conductor.
WATCH: One of Olly’s last concerts.