28.06.2024 | Artist

Alexander Knaifel (1943-2024)

“In this age and in this world, I am a stranger” – Alexander Knaifel, 1980

Composer Alexander Knaifel has died, aged 80.  Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1943, Knaifel grew up in St Petersburg.  Setting out, initially, to be a cellist, he studied with Mstislav Rostropovich at the Moscow Conservatory in the early 1960s.  As a composer he was soon allied with an emerging Soviet avant-garde, a network of friends that included Schnittke, Pärt, Gubaidulina and Silvestrov. Like each of those composers, he subsequently found his way to a more personal idiom. His own compositions are often slowly moving and evolving pieces: “quiet giants” was his own term for these works, whose quest for beauty often has a spiritual or metaphysical dimension.

Lux Aeterna for two cellists as “psalm singers”, was the first work of Knaifel’s to be heard on ECM, as the 23-minute tittle piece of a recital disc with Patrick and Thomas Demenga, recorded in St Gerold in 1998.  Next was an album devoted entirely to  Knaifel’s music,  Svete Tikhiy, with the rarefied piano quintet In Air Clear and Unseen, featuring Oleg Malov and the Keller Quartet and the extraordinary Svete Tikhiy/O Gladsome Light  in which the voice of  Tatiana Melentieva was processed by Andrei Siegle. Reviewers heard correspondences with the atmospheres of Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

Amicta Sole included a reunion with Rostropovich on Psalm 51 (50), Knaifel convinced that only the master cellist could ‘articulate’ the words embedded in the score.  With Blazhenstva a central role was assigned to Ivan Monighetti, heard as solo cellist , pianist and conductor.

Lukumoriye, recorded in St Perersburg and released in 2018,  was among the most far ranging of Knaifel’s albums with inspirations ranging from Pushkin to Lewis Carol and the Gospel of St Luke.  By this point Knaifel’s listenership had long since expanded beyond the world of new composition and the music was being heard across genres.  Pop group the Pet Shop Boys sampled Svete Tikhiy in their song “Psychological”. And four of Knaifel’s pieces were enthusiastically remixed and reworked into new ‘sound-structures’ by electronic artists Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbaurer on their Re: ECM anthology.

A recording of Alexander Knaifel’s Chapter Eight with Patrick Demenga and three choirs – the  Latvian State Academic Choir, Youth Choir Kamēr, and Riga Cathedral Boys Choir – awaits release on ECM New Series.

 

 

 

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