Playing Catch-Up With Hamburger Pianist Sebastian Knauer
Interview: Alexis Munier
German pianist Sebastian Knauer is a familiar face at the Menuhin Festival. Following his recital on August 14th, he was kind enough to sit for an interview with GSTAADLIFE.
GSTAADLIFE: After more than a decade of concerts at the Menuhin Festival, what keeps you coming back year after year?
Sebastian Knauer: I’m fortunate enough to be invited back! The first several years I played in chamber ensembles, but it’s now my third year playing solo piano recitals at the festival. Old friends and fans always greet me warmly, and I feel quite at home here.
GL: Where do you stay while you’re in town and are you able to enjoy any holidays here your performances?
SK: I stayed two days at Le Grand Chalet and three days at the Grand Hotel Park – it’s quite luxurious compared to my usual choice of hotel, and a rare treat. I know the Saanenland well, as I spent a good deal of time in my family’s chalet in the mountains near Vevey as a boy. In winter I’m an avid skier and often came to Gstaad for the excellent slopes.
GL: How do you feel about performing in the church of Lauenen?
SK: Playing in churches can be a bit tricky; the acoustics are sometimes too strong. But this church, with its warm and inviting atmosphere, is an exception to the rule. With around 300 seats, it’s just big enough. Not to mention that it’s exceptionally beautiful and playing in such a holy place has special meaning.
GL: You’re mostly dedicated to chamber music … why?
SK: If by chamber music then you mean performing with other musicians, then yes, I am. It is always a pleasure to be on stage with friends and colleagues. Of course I also play many solo recitals and have branched out into other hybrid projects as well; I often perform with actors who give dramatic readings woven between pieces of music, which is a change from the standard repertoire.
I’d like to invite the audience, and GSTAADLIFE readers, to hear me August 31st to September 14th in Augsburg, Germany. There I serve as Artistic Director of the -Mozart @ Augsburg festival (www.mozartaugsburg.com) , where I’ll perform, among many other concerts, with violinist Daniel Hope and actor Klaus Maria Brandauer in a programme featuring readings of Mozart letters.
GL: You’re clearly a Mendelssohn buff, and played his Lied ohne Worte op. 85, 4 as one of your encores. What attracts you to his music?
SK: Don’t forget that Mendelssohn is from Hamburg, like me! No, seriously, Mendelssohn’s piano music is not as famous as his violin concerto, for example, but there are many fantastic works just waiting to be discovered. His music has a reputation of being pleasant and perfunctory, but I believe it has great depth and soul. His melodies are very singable, while his unusual harmonies are anything but ’just nice’.
GL: Your programme tonight included only the most well-known pieces for piano. Why, and why the theme Alla Turca?
SK: You’re right … I just heard one of the Schubert Impromptu’s in an elevator. While I am a fan of promoting lesser-known music to audiences and expanding their musical horizons, there is something nice about playing music everyone knows and loves.
Remember these pieces have stood the test of time for a very good reason. The theme Alla Turca was chosen as it’s the last movement of the first piece on the programme, Mozart’s Sonata KV 331, and one that is instantly recognizable.
GL: What do you bring to these pieces personally, and as an artist?
SK: I like to say I’m an ’honest’ musician – for me, the composer is king. I am not on stage as Sebatian Knauer, artist, but rather Sebastian Knauer, interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Above all, the music is the star here – I simply try my best to present the music in a way that would make the composer proud.