Douglas Knehans

Cincinnati-based composer Douglas Knehans may have come into the music game late in life (He wouldn’t be the only one as we’ve seen so far), but he has had quite a bit of experience thus far and is making the kind of music that media sources like The Washington Post and Miami Herald have been praising. Besides composing he is also the Norman Dinerstein Professor of Composition Scholar at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (My God, doesn’t that confuse people about his name??), and apparently he was once Jennifer Jolley‘s composition teacher (Hate that I forgot to ask him about working with her). Douglas’s last full CD of compositions titled Fractured Traces and the Pridonoff Duo’s current disc Virtuosity Squared (featuring Douglas’ piece titled Cascade) are both available on Ablaze, a label devoted to new and existing works by living composers.
Douglas had some time to speak to me.

CM: Can you take us back to your beginnings?

DK: I always wanted to be a composer, but I guess I felt I didn’t want to just be a paper composer, that I wanted to learn how to play an instrument and make music, therefore it was a little circuitous. I came to music late. I was in my last year of high school before I took up an instrument or learned to read music or anything like that. And then went straight from that into college-level music, and that was pretty scary because I was a little bit deficient in terms of my background–I had no music training in my childhood or anything like that. So, a lot of those undergraduate years were about just catching up and learning repertoire. But I also took lessons in composition at the same time that I took flute lessons and all the harmony and counterpoint stuff. I did kind of a double major then. Continue reading



Mason Bates performing Warehouse  Medicine with the YTSO April 2009

A remarkable experiment.

The YouTube Symphony Orchestra played again, this morning; 5 AM my time in the east in the US, but it was 8 PM Australian time (Last night or tonight, I’m not sure yet). And it was actually not the same orchestra, but another group of people that applied online and uploaded their videos as did the first group 2 years ago. They were, again, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, who also emceed the event as he did last time.

I have to say, my thoughts about these concerts are somewhat mixed. On paper (Or on laptop, if we must indulge), it looks like an incredible idea. I always liked the idea of auditioning all these people that never met each other, or played with each other, to become an orchestra. If I’m not mistaken, part of the objective of the YouTube Symphony was to get people that weren’t already performing in an orchestra.
I had the good fortune of seeing this presentation when it occurred on April 15th, 2009 at Carnegie Hall. The concert itself looked to me like a classical version of a Laserock event meant for The Hayden Planetarium being put on at the less-practically designed Carnegie Hall. This was designed to be a concert celebrating the technology that brought the musicians together as well as the music, but the music itself was varied. The concert had wonderful original pieces by Mason Bates and Tan Dun, and a very bizarre combo by John Cage (Renga and Aria) that featured soprano Measha Brueggergosman was another highlight.

My only problems were that the orchestra only had 3 days to prepare for this massive event. A regular orchestra usually gets a week to rehearse for a weekly concert (Correct me if I’m wrong), but if these folks had more time, they would have had spectacular readings of Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries” or Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4 (IV:Allegro con fuoco), and having the concert ending with the 85% baked Tchaikovsky (I’ll give it that much, but I liked the Wagner even less), and me walking out of Carnegie thinking “That was it? So what happens to the orchestra now?” left me with a cold feeling.
They only get one concert to prove themselves? What if they played for a month? Wouldn’t they turn out even better after a while longer?

I forgot to mention Yuja Wang was another highlight for me as well!

The Australian concert that was held this morning, our time, on the other hand, sounded much better prepared to me. Even though I was sleep-deprived and got up at 5 AM to watch it streaming live (Had I known YouTube would be streaming it in repeats all day, I would have watched it in the afternoon! That’s how they get you!), I have to say it felt and sounded much more like a concert than an event more-so than the 2009 concert did.
Mason Bates was back with a new piece called Mothership (Didn’t care for the electric guitar solo, it sounded like another concert was interrupting this one), Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to The Orchestra was a great highlight, and Alberto Ginastera’s 2 Movements from Estancia was a lovely treat.

Schubert’s ‘Hirtenmelodien’ from Rosamunde was performed as a beautiful postlude for the victims of the disasters in Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Visually, it was a feast for the eyes, even more than the floating screens that had the 2009 show looking like Fantasia 2000. The 3-D blue-lit graphics for organist Cameron Carpenter’s performance of the Bach Toccata in F were so nice on the laptop I had to shut the lights to fully enjoy it. The lady with the sand illustrations was impeccable.

I’d like to think I’m no longer a snob for redeeming the YouTube Orchestra on this occasion, but I feel as if I’m the one that needed to be redeemed.