Hans Abrahamsen named as the first Oliver Knussen Chair of Composition

Ryan Wigglesworth becomes Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music

The Royal Academy of Music is today announcing two major appointments. Ryan Wigglesworth becomes the new Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music, taking over from Oliver Knussen, who had held the post since 2014. Following Knussen’s death last year, the Academy is also announcing a new professorship in his honour, and is delighted to welcome Hans Abrahamsen as the first Oliver Knussen Chair of Composition.

As Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music, Wigglesworth will direct concerts, including with the Academy’s specialist new music group, the Manson Ensemble. Both Wigglesworth and Abrahamsen will be teaching Academy composers as well as leading group work, seminars and workshops throughout the year.

Wigglesworth and Abrahamsen join the Composition and Contemporary Music Department’s roster of full-time and visiting professors including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Philip Cashian, James Newton Howard, Edmund Finnis, Helen Grime, Tod Machover, Andrew Norman, David Sawer and Bent Sørensen.

Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen is one of the most original voices working today. His influences range from Bach, Ligeti, Nielsen and Schumann through to Schoenberg and Debussy, and he was taught by Per Nørgård, the eccentric late Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen and György Ligeti. His 2013 work let me tell you, written for and premiered by Barbara Hannigan, won the prestigious 2016 Grawemeyer Award. He has just finished his first opera, after Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, a continuation of many works over the years inspired by snow.

Composer, conductor and pianist Ryan Wigglesworth is one of the most important figures in British contemporary music. He has recently written works for the Royal Concertgebouw, Cleveland, and BBC Symphony orchestras, as well as his first opera, The Winter’s Tale, for English National Opera. A regular guest conductor of many major international orchestras, he was Principal Guest Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra from 2015-2018.

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 Winternacht with 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 honoured 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.’


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