The Forest Hills resident is the music director of The Church-in-the-Gardens and The Garden Players, as well as a Musica Reginae Productions board member. He is also an adjunct assistant professor at Queens College and LaGuardia Community College.
Shortly after New Year’s, Knable will present “East Meets West – Hokusai To Klee,” a new multimedia presentation featuring original compositions inspired by the artwork of Katsushika Hokusai and Paul Klee. It will take place on January 25 at 8 p.m., at Tenri Cultural Institute at 43A West 13th Street.
Performers will include pianist Natsuki Fukasawa, the Miolina Duo comprised of Mioi Takeda and Lynn Bechtold, percussionist Ingrid Gordon of the Queens-based Percussia ensemble, and Knable on piano and accordion.
“I wanted to have a showcase at Tenri for years,” said Knable. “The compositions will offer glimpses of Swiss, French, German, and Japanese cultures. The audience will experience music in combination with theatrical elements, visual images, and poetry.”
One work is “36 Views of Mount Fuji” based on the renowned series of woodblock landscape prints by Katsushika Hokusai. It consists of 36 pieces each lasting approximately 36 seconds.
“It was a challenge to compose a short work for each carving that sonically paints the imagery, but also works well in the overall flow of pieces,” Knable said. “There are mathematical constructions and operations in play, as well as what composers call ‘word painting,’ representing an idea through a musical gesture.”
The program will also include “Cartes Postales de la Suisse” and “Klee,” which is based on Paul Klee’s painting “Einst dem Grau der Nacht enttaucht.”
Knable was raised in Sacramento, California. He earned a Masters in Composition from Queens College and a PhD in Music Composition from Stony Brook University. He moved to Forest Hills in 2011.
“In 2006, my very first job interview was in Forest Hills,” he said. “I vividly remember walking from the train at night, not knowing where I was in relation to the rest of New York City, and being surprised by the beauty of the Gardens.
“We have a long and varied history for the arts, which is only getting richer every year,” he continued. “Every day I walk from my apartment to my position at the church, and I have to leave extra time since I know I will get into at least one, two, or three conversations. I've lived in a lot of places, and I have not felt that sense of community until settling here.”
Knable was born into a family of artists. His father is also a composer, his mother is a dancer, and he has an older brother who is a writer.
“My father taught me songs on piano at age five, I performed Bach at 10, wrote my first piano composition at 16, and heard the Sacramento Youth Symphony read my piece at 18,” he said.
He started piano instruction at age ten. At 12, he picked up the acoustic guitar and drumsticks at 15 before joining his school marching band and transitioning from a pit player to center snare.
“At 19, I played the organ for an Episcopal church, a skill that has supported me throughout every move in my life and is the basis of being music director at The Church-in-the-Gardens,” Knable said. “After meeting my soon-to-be wife, the Swiss-French vocalist Valentine Biollay, I bought an accordion and have been following her around New York playing in restaurants, bars, cafés, and private events.”
As a Musica Reginae Productions board member, he finds pleasure in many class acts that perform in Forest Hills, such as the world-renowned Kronos String Quartet, which he credits to the work of artistic director Barbara Podgurski.
This is also where “The Magic Fish,” his opera for young audiences, was performed with music and libretto by his brother Jim Knable.
“This was probably the hardest undertaking I ever had as a producer, performer, composer, and music director, but it made a huge splash in 2015,” Knable said.
As a teacher, Knable tries to give his students some perspective on being a professional musician.
“I try to instill a bit of the reality of being a working musician and relating their studies to their passions,” he said. “In education, there's not enough emphasis on music as something that can be fulfilling, as opposed to something that is a commodity or an aid to other more practical things such as the connection between music and math.
“If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, I would say, ‘you might not be famous, but that is okay, you will be happy,’” he added.