For the Polish-born double bassist, composer, and educator being a musician in New York City is about the enormous variety of endeavors he is constantly engaged in. Each of them informs the other and together they transpire into his mission of music making at the highest level.
For the past sixteen years, the Manhattan School of Music graduate became a devoted member of Orchestra of St. Luke’s, which grew from a virtuoso group of musicians performing chamber music concerts at the Greenwich Village’s Church of St. Luke in the Fields in 1974, to a full-fledged orchestral organization. With a subscription series at Carnegie Hall, an annual summer residency at the Caramoor Center, and diverse symphonic and chamber music programs in venues throughout New York City, musicians are engaged according to the varying repertoire and size of ensemble. With Grammy winning recordings, being a part of innovative festivals like NY Phil Biennial or White Light Festival, and a broad presence that includes free outreach concerts and educational programs, OSL has grown into one of New York’s foremost music institutions, at the same time offering its musicians a varied schedule. In 2018 internationally celebrated expert in Baroque and Classical repertoire Bernard Labadie became OSL’s Principal Conductor, continuing the orchestra’s long tradition of working with proponents of historical performance practice; but the group has also made its name for commissions of new works and their premieres. Knapik remembers: “I was lucky to be able to join the Orchestra of St. Lukes, as I always loved their sound. I was already familiar with the concept when I came here from Poland, where I performed for several years with the Leopoldinum Chamber Orchestra, which is based on a similar premise.”
For Knapik, in being a musician everything centers on organic communication and even updating a personal website seems too incidental and less efficient than an immediate social media presence, personal connections, and his YouTube channel, which link his latest musical output with a word of mouth networking.
But as the nature of his instrument, and its limited solo repertoire, lends itself to many different collaborations, Knapik’s output has covered numerous musical genres; he has worked with pop icons Sir Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, and even Miley Cyrus, portrayed an orchestral player in the Amazon TV series Mozart in the Jungle, and a feature movie The Greatest Showman. He has been performing in massive life performances of video game shows; symphonic music orchestrated in Japan to capture a new life music experience of the video game generation. The Greatest Showman included Knapik playing in real life, while he was also involved in the actual sound track recording for the film; one of multiple recordings he participated in, including The Girl on the Train and Mother!.
But while showbiz seems only a heartbeat away, serious outreach programs and pedagogy are an important facet of being a musician for Knapik and help define his role in society. Many of the outreach programs he partakes in regularily are offered through the Orchestra of St. Lukes multifaceted activities – including schools, hospitals, halfway houses and the Police Athletic League. He maintains a private teaching studio in Manhattan and on occasion he also adjudicates for music competitions and international orchestral auditions.
When we meet in his neighborhood, the rapidly evolving Hudson Yards, he just returned from teaching chamber music and double bass as a faculty member at the SummerStrings@NYU program, a three-week long program for students from all over the world, combining the study of classical string instruments and chamber ensembles.
Knapik has a great appreciation for the old tradition of fine instruments. Being partial to string instruments and bows, he likes to follow exhibits, trade events, and auctions to admire their historic pedigree, beauty of construction, and different tonal qualities.
His main instrument is an Oreste Martini Master double bass from Mantova, Italy, crafted in 1934. He loves its rich and deep sonority, with a strong sound and clarity. For musical inspiration he likes to look outside the box of the double bass world; admiring the old masters, like Jascha Heifetz or Pablo Casals, but also string players of his own generation, for example Gil Shaham. “There is a strong connection if the performer is your peer,” he says. “You relate on a different level and it’s special to perform together on one stage.”
Of his Polish heritage he says:” In Poland the culture is ingrained in the history and it’s a part of our psyche; it’s who you are, a natural intrinsic response.” His tribute to the old country is his original composition “Wrocław” Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra, completed in late 2001. It is based on the original version of his work from 1993 and named after his hometown. In 2001, the Concerto was awarded with a Composition Grant by the prestigious New York City based Arthur Foundation, and Knapik premiered it at the Carnegie Hall in 2005.
An archival release of the World Premiere of the full orchestral version of my original “WROCLAW” CONCERTO for DOUBLE BASS and ORCHESTRA (1993/2001). Performers: PAWEL KNAPIK, Double Bassist JEAN-PIERRE SCHMITT, Conductor ORCHESTRA 54 Recorded at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York City, May 24, 2012.
While working with his students and younger musicians in general, and understanding the demanding climb to excellence in solo, chamber and orchestral performance, Knapik likes to emphasize: ”One can make something special out of every opportunity, while at the same time one needs to remain true to one’s mission and stay wary of being taken advantage of. As in any field, there are people that will exploit the passion of a musician for their personal profit, so always remind yourself of who you are, be aware of unscrupulous employers, and don’t let them get in the way of the beautiful life that music is supposed to bring!”
Pawel Knapik is looking forward to sharing yet another exciting 2019-2020 Season with audiences across New York City and beyond!