Who was Olly? - a portrait of a friend


"Who was Olly" is a collection of pieces for cello written to celebrate the memory of Oliver Knussen (1952-2018). The 17 pieces are written by Olly's composer friends for his close friend Anssi Karttunen. While they are independent pieces, together they paint a portrait in music of Olly. It is well known that Olly had a insatiable appetite for very surprising variety of music as well as very eclectic selection of friends. He was totally committed to both.

This concert helps audiences to get a look inside the multiple sides of Olly; the composer, the conductor, the teacher, the programmer and the friend. The first peformance of the cycle was - appropriately - at the Aldeburgh Festival in June 2022 as part of their Oliver Knussen day. The first complete Who was Olly? -recital one was at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam October 5th, 2023.

Olly passed away suddenly in 2018 leaving his friends with a huge space to fill in our hearts. Now that few years have passed it is possible to remember the musician, magician, librarian - in essence, the worlds largest little boy.

This collection of pieces started spontaneously when Kaija Saariaho finished her Lullaby for Olly. Several other friends asked to join in with homages and before we knew around twenty of his best friends had joined to create an impressive cycle of solo cello pieces to celebrate one of the most immense musicians of our time.


Who was Olly:

Julian Anderson                 Maisema (2020)

Charlotte Bray                     From the Innermost Places (2022)

Philip Cashian                     The Art of Memory (2021)

Tansy Davies                      gem (2022)

Detlev Glanert                     Little Letter for Olly (2021)

Jo Kondo                             A Song for the Owl (2021)

Brad Lubman                      For Anssi for OK (2021)

Zoe Martlew                         O-lude (2022)

Colin Matthews                   Three Fragments (2020)

Augusta Read Thomas       Riddle (2022)and Dream Catcher (2022)

Poul Ruders                         Last Post  - a tune for Olly (2021)

Kaija Saariaho                     Lullaby (2020)

Esa-Pekka Salonen             Arabesques for Olly (2022)

Sean Shepherd                    familiar (2022)

Mark-Anthony Turnage       Song for Big Owl (2020)

Ryan Wigglesworth             Barcarolly (2022)

Rob Zuidam                         F'olly (2022)

Here you can listen to all the Who was Olly pieces:

Librarian Olly

Equilibrist Olly

Policeman Olly

Doctor Olly, CBE

Respectful Olly with a friend paying respects to old Igor

One's best friend Olly

Watch interviews of five friends of Olly talking about him as composer, teacher, programmer, conductor and friend: