The Orchestra as Toy Box

Splashing sounds all around.

Composer Oliver Knussen made his name as a child prodigy, conducting his own Symphony no. 1 at age 15 with the London Philharmonic. In some ways he's never grown up: Perhaps his best-known work is an opera based on Where the Wild Things Are, a setting of Maurice Sendak's own stage adaptation of his book. Then there's the orchestra-as-toy box approach of Knussen's 2002 Violin Concerto. In the outer movements, the scurrying solo line dashes and weaves among splashes of alluring color erupting all around, as if it were dodging sonic paintballs; while in the central "Aria," the violin becomes reflective, singing throatily a long but not-too-somber soliloquy in front of muted orchestral clouds. Knussen's own performance of the Concerto is available on disc, a live recording from 2007 with violinist Leila Josefowicz. The pair reunites this weekend to play the Concerto with the Seattle Symphony, whom Knussen will also guide through works by Luke Bedford (Outblaze the Sky, from 2007) and Benjamin Britten. 

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