In my youth I really wanted to use something to communicate the deeper aspects of life and living, to cut through social niceties and communicate with people in a more genuine and immediate way. I tried art, religion, graphic art and finally music—music with its visceral immediacy seemed to really resonate with me.
Though born and raised in St. Louis, we immigrated to Australia when I was thirteen. I learned the flute, progressed quickly and attended the prestigious Australian National University’s Canberra School of Music, where I also studied composition. After years of free-lancing as a professional flutist and simultaneously writing music I gradually transitioned to living off of commissions as a composer in Melbourne. After years of working pretty steadily on commissions I needed some time to reflect on the direction of my work and went to the MacDowell Colony for such a period of quieter work. I had decided to seek a masters and doctorate so that I might land a teaching position. During this time I was recruited by Queens College to undertake a Masters degree studying with renown Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave. After graduating from Queens I went to Yale where I worked with Pulitzer Prize winning composer Jacob Druckman.
After graduating from Yale I went directly into my first job as a Professor and Head of Composition, Theory and Electronic Music at the University of Alabama. I also published my first music on CD while there on the CRI label. My music during this time was thorny and kind of academic. I needed to leave this environment and so went back to Australia to take up a position at the University of Tasmania, as the Director and Head of School of the Conservatorium of Music. Here I was freer to be myself, evolve stylistically to a simpler, more approachable language and express myself more genuinely. My music started to be known internationally since my position afforded me the opportunity to travel more freely and meet new colleagues. This resulted in performances at the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. and in concert halls in Kiev, Krakow, and Prague.
After some years in Tasmania I took the position as Dean of the famed College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where I led the institution until stepping into my current position as the Norman Dinerstein Professor of Composition Scholar. Since coming to Cincinnati, I have been fortunate to work with a variety of fine musicians, including James Tocco, Awadagin Pratt, the Brno Philharmonic and many others. My music has travelled to Steinway Hall and Carnegie Hall, to other New York venues, and to festivals in Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Austria, the US and Australia.
My music is about immediacy, drama, power, playfulness, architecture, and melodic expressiveness. The one thing I really want is simple—direct emotional communication and I have been blessed that critics have seen it that way. The Washington Post said that my music “tells an exciting story, ever-intensifying in color, thematic ideas, texture and tempo.” To The Australian it was “brilliantly catchy and eerily bright,” and for the Miami Herald its immediate emotionalism was “wildly inventive...like a Hitchcock soundtrack gone truly psycho.” “This is music of tremendous imagination.” said Fanfare. “Knehans scores with a masterly hand, his sound paintbrush unerringly hitting the mark.”
I currently live and work in Cincinnati Ohio with my wife Josephine and our two children Katarina and Joshua, as well as the furry director of our household, our small dog Honey. I am a vegan and committed to animal rights and enjoy cooking, art, architecture and travel.