The biennial award (which John Adams won in 2004) honors composers "who have significantly affected the field of composition." Knussen was praised by the anonymous, three-member selection committee for his "uniquely focused, vibrantly varied music and his total embrace—as a profoundly influential composer, conductor, and educator—of today's musical culture."
One of Knussen's works will be performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the 2007-08 season; he will also visit Chicago for a residency at Northwestern's School of Music.
Knussen was born in Glasgow in 1952. His father was principal double bassist of the London Symphony Orchestra, with which Knussen made his conducting debut at age 16, leading his own First Symphony. He studied composition with John Lambert, and later at Tanglewood Music Center with Gunther Schuller. His talent was recognized early in such youthful works as the Second Symphony, awarded the Margaret Grant Prize in 1971, and Ophelia Dances, Book 1, the 1975 Koussevitzky centennial commission.
Works composed after returning to the U.K. in 1975 include the Third Symphony, which has been led by conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Andr_ Previn, Simon Rattle, Esa Pekka-Salonen, and the composer himself. During the 1980s, Knussen collaborated with children's-book author Maurice Sendak on the operas Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop.
Knussen is a frequent guest conductor, appearing with the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. In the U.K., he served as conductor laureate of the London Sinfonietta, and has led the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the London Philharmonia, the BBC Symphony, and the City of Birmingham Orchestra.
In 1995 Knussen signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon to conduct 20th-century music, including his own works.