The Academy’s Principal, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, said: ‘As we say farewell to Oliver Knussen, a composer, conductor, teacher and polymath, we are delighted to honour him by creating a brand-new Chair of Composition in his name, to be conferred on the great Danish composer, Hans Abrahamsen.
‘Ryan Wigglesworth will assume Olly’s former position as the next Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music, as performer and composer. Both figures enjoyed close personal and working connections with Olly and I know he would be completely thrilled that Hans and Ryan have joined the Academy family. Ryan’s celebration concert in December featuring Olly’s The Way to Castle Younger was a particularly moving and memorable tribute.
‘We look forward to continuing the legacy of a great musical creator through these new appointments.’
Hans Abrahamsen said: ‘I am very honoured to be appointed as the first Oliver Knussen Chair of Composition. Olly was a very good friend of mine and he was the first to bring my music to London when, in the early 80s, he conducted Winternachtwith the London Sinfonietta. Later in the decade, I remember Olly visiting Copenhagen several times to conduct, and once where he gave a seminar for the student composers at The Royal Danish Academy of Music about his Symphony No 3. It was so brilliant, clear and inspiring.
‘Besides being a great composer and conductor he was a wonderful teacher, and it is so sad that he is not in this world anymore. To follow him and to be in this new chair is a little frightening, but it brings me great joy.
‘I have visited the Academy a few times in recent years, and as well as teaching student composers, I have had the pleasure of meeting the incredible, dedicated players who have performed my music. For a composer it is always a gift to be at a place where composers and players work so closely together.’
Ryan Wigglesworth said: ‘I have a particularly treasured memory of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett – a day spent playing piano duets, interspersed with strong cocktails and lively gossip, at his apartment in New York. I feel truly privileged to be taking up this professorship in his name at the Royal Academy of Music – doubly so, since I inherit the position from my dearly missed friend and mentor, Oliver Knussen. Knowing how much the Academy and its students meant to both of these great musicians makes me determined to honour and emulate their strong beliefs, principles and legacies. A challenge, to say the least. But a challenge I’m relishing hugely.’
Sonya Knussen, Oliver Knussen’s daughter, said: ‘I am overwhelmed with gratitude by the gorgeous way in which my father is being remembered by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and the Royal Academy of Music. He loved his time at the Academy and it is wonderful to know that his kindness and versatility as a musician and mentor are being honored with the Oliver Knussen Professor of Composition appointment of Hans Abrahamsen and the Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music, named by Oliver, now being carried forward by Ryan Wigglesworth. On behalf of my family and those close to Oliver, thank you.’