On 24 June Oliver Knussen’s unfinished Cleveland Pictures for orchestra receives a long-awaited premiere as part of the Aldeburgh Festival. The work will be performed twice by Knussen’s regular collaborators the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Ryan Wigglesworth. It will crown a special day devoted to Knussen’s music, which includes specially-composed tributes from his composer colleagues and Knussen masterpieces like his 1994 Horn Concerto (performed by Martin Owen) and his Whitman Settings.
From Rodin and Fabergé to Goya and Turner, each movement of the Cleveland Pictures brilliantly translates a different item from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art into sound. Even in its incomplete form, at 15 ½ minutes the work ranks as one of Knussen’s most extensive orchestral statements. Of seven projected movements, four exist complete, two exist as fully-orchestrated fragments, and one exists only as a 10-bar sketch in short score:
I. Portail avec Penseur (Rodin)
II. Calabazas (Velásquez)
III. Dans les vagues (Gauguin) [a fragment]
IV. Two Clocks (Tiffany/Fabergé)
V. St. Ambrose (Goya)
VI. Don Quixote (Masson) [sketch only]
VII. The Burning of the Houses of Parliament (Turner) [a fragment]
While the origins of the project stretch back into the 1990s, Knussen began intensive work on the pieces in 2003, finally conducting the New World Symphony in a private read-through of the extant material in 2008.
Sam Wigglesworth, Director of Performance Music, has said of Cleveland Pictures:
“It is a huge privilege to be publishing Knussen’s Cleveland Pictures…Sonya Knussen and I have always been united in our belief that every note of these extraordinarily vivid orchestral pieces must be presented exactly as Knussen left them – with no interventions or attempts at completion. Knussen’s music, in all its meticulous artistry and dazzling invention, speaks for itself. We are so grateful to Roger Wright at Britten Pears Arts for creating the special context needed for the first public performance, and we are very excited to share this important work with listeners.”
Cleveland Pictures was originally commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra, and have been gracious in allowing this first public performance at Snape Maltings; they are scheduling the US premiere of the piece.