Featured Composer: Michael Knopf

Source: Australian Music Centre

Source: Australian Music Centre

Born in Minnesota, USA (9 October 1955), Michael Knopf studied composition, music education, and jazz performance at Wichita State University. He immigrated to Australia in 1982. A composer and guitarist, his compositions range from jazz pieces and contemporary art music to sacred choral music, and include large choral and orchestral works, solo works and chamber music. His compositions have been performed in Australia, Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, China, and Switzerland.

Knopf received his Doctorate of Musical Arts in composition from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music Griffith University in 2011. His thesis was 'Style and genre synthesis in music composition', and his composition folio featured small and large-scale works demonstrating his unique approach to polystylism and polygenre composition. One of the outcomes of the study was an emergent taxonomy for composing cross-genre music.

His work is often inspired by, or conveys, a sense of the spiritual. This is evident in the choice of texts used in Sar Galu (for tenor soloist and double choir); the exploration of nature in Pandanus in Mist (for orchestra) and On the Beach at Night (for mezzo-soprano and cello); and in his works motivated by other art forms and science. Works include many new pieces for solo cello, student cello ensemble, guitar pieces, Songs of Death & Guitars (a suite of songs for soprano, cello and guitar, with poetry by F.G. Lorca) and new cross-genre compositions for his contemporary ensembles Acoustica and Centauri. Knopf also uses natural and poetic metaphors to generate idea and musical material.

In 2009 Michael Knopf composed Cantillations for choir and ensemble, commissioned and premiered by St Peter's Lutheran College under the direction of Graeme Morton. He has completed a new guitar concerto with small orchestra, entitled The New Earth. This work exemplifies Knopf's deep commitment to a new repertoire for the classical guitar which draws upon his eclectic experience as guitarist and composer.

Performing mainly on a 7-string classical guitar, Knopf has developed a unique style combining classical, jazz and flamenco performance techniques and idioms. He also explores musical worlds in what he calls 'spontaneous composition' - the act of improvising and developing themes to create musical forms in the moment, giving birth to pieces poetic in approach and keen in its musicality.

His composition and recording Esfahan performed by Knopf and his ensemble Zafron Road Project won first prize in the Allan Zavod Cassical Jazz Performer's Award from Monash University. His Guitar Concerto The New Earth was awarded the sister prize in composition from Melbourne University.

Michael Knopf's piece, Quasi Helio Sonic, was premiered in PLEXUS: Heliosonic on 27 October 2014 at the Lithuanian Club Theatre, North Melbourne.

Quasi Helio Sonic (2014)

This work was conceived following the composer’s encountering several filtered and transposed audio files prepared by scientists at Birmingham University using helioseismology. (BiSON – Birmingham Solar Oscillations Network: see http://bison.ph.bham.ac.uk/index.php?page=bison). The audio used in this performance is Michael's own mix of several of these filters prepared by Graham Verner and Brek Miller and others, which are themselves renditions of the actual frequency of our sun, though transposed 300,000 octaves upwards. Quasi Helio Sonic is subtitled 10 Forms of Change no. 1.  This is a set of concepts used in musical composition as generally presented by science/political fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson in his futuristic novel The Memory of Whiteness. The novel follows the development of Sol system’s premiere composer/performer using the 10 Forms in his work, realising that they are linked intrinsically with the fundamental reality  of our universe as a direct reflection of the underlying structure of reality. Thus, music is intrinsically connected with why the universe came into being. This is Michael's first  direct compositional undertaking using these as articulated strategies to direct compositional creativity.

© Michael Knopf 2014

Michael Knopf's piece, Good Weather, was premiered by PLEXUS at the Tallis Pavilion, Beleura House & Garden, on 10 February 2015.

This piece was initially conceived from a melody I found myself humming whilst driving home on an intensely blue-sky day. Because PLEXUS trio had asked me to write some music for them, I sat down and wrote out the melody with a very simple accompaniment and, over some weeks, I developed the piece into several sections. Good Weather is a lyrical and emotive piece and for me, has the character of certain types of film music used to emotionalise a scene. It acquired this character as I wrote for, and within a few days of commencing the work, I learned of the sudden passing of a colleague and friend. I suspect my thinking of this imbues the music with much of its character.” The work is inscribed with the dedication In Memoriam Faraz S.

© Michael Knopf 2015