Buffalo sisters show musical talent in Elizabethtown concert

Aria at the piano and Alisha on violin play a sonata for violin and piano by Franz Schubert as the closing number for the Piano by Nature concert at the Hand House on May 19. (Provided photo — Martha Allen)

ELIZABETHTOWN — Sisters Aria Knechtges and Alisha Govindaraj are accomplished musicians. Aria, a pianist, is 13 years old and Alisha, a violinist, is 12. They live in Buffalo, and both are world travelers.

The two were featured guests at the third annual CODA concert presented at the Hand House in Elizabethtown on Sunday, May 19 by Piano by Nature (PBN).

Questioned about her daughters’ talent — were they born with it? Did they inherit their musical gift from their parents? — their mother, Preethi Govindaraj, smiled.

“Yes,” she said, “they had perfect pitch when they were very little, but they have worked hard and continue to work very hard.” She said she learns with her girls.

What about their father, John Knechtges? Did they get their talent from his side of the family?

Shown here are Alisha Govindaraj, Preethi Govindaraj, Aria Knechtges and John Knechtges (back row). The family waits for the Piano by Nature concert to begin at the Hand House in Elizabethtown on May 19. (Provided photo — Martha Allen)

Oh, yes, he once had a jazz band when he was young, the girls confirmed, but now he tells them he can advise them only on volume.

“Dad’s good on soft and loud,” Alisha said. They laughed.

The family is a close one, with family members working together to support Alisha’s and Aria’s musical careers. Their father videotapes their performances, which they go over later. This is not to point out errors or to criticize, Preethi said, but so that they can listen and make changes or variations in the way they play.

As an example, Preethi explained, on piano, C sharp is simply C sharp. But on strings, up to 10 different C sharps may be possible because of variations in fingering. Alisha is able to do 3 or 4.

Both girls are home-schooled and take instruction at the Eastman Community Music School at the University of Rochester.

They also have private instructors. They attended public school until educators determined they learned more quickly in a home setting. During COVID, Preethi said, her daughters did not suffer from the isolation so many children went through because there are lots of kids in their neighborhood who all played together out of doors. The two continue to enjoy outdoor sports and other free-time activities.

An organization devoted to supporting local music in the North Country, PBN organized the concert to showcase exceptional music students from Boquet Valley Central School, Peru High, Plattsburgh High, Ticonderoga High, Saranac Lake High, Chazy Central Rural School and University of Massachusetts, Lowell, at the end of the school year. The CODA concert is a milestone marking the conclusion of the year’s effort and achievement and the beginning of a new chapter.

In a joint statement, PBN artistic Director Rose Chancler and Jennifer Moore, board of directors member and music teacher, stated that the one-day CODA concert was created as an “opportunity to recognize and celebrate our students’ passion and dedication to music, their countless hours of practice, and their willingness to remain open to critique from a variety of mentors along the way — dispositions that will serve them well no matter which paths they may choose to take in life.”

At the CODA concert, Aria and Alisha played works by Bach, Mozart and Schubert.

Unaccompanied, violinist Alisha played Partita in E Major, S. 1001, “Loure” and “Bourree,” by J. S. Bach. Pianist Aria played Piano Sonata No. 13 in B flat major, K. 333, movement 1, “Allegro,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The sisters also performed together, playing chamber music composed for violin and piano, Sonatina in D major, D. 384, by Franz Schubert.

While chamber music, which is collaborative, often gives precedence to one instrument over another, Schubert composed this piece for violin and piano equally, Preethi explained, making it a perfect choice for the sisters’ performance.

In the summer of 2022, 11-year-old Aria was invited to the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival to study. Based in Maiori, Italy, the festival features a month of concerts each summer.

Preethi described the Amalfi Coast as “one of the most scenic places in the world.” Musicians play, she said, “in some of the most interesting buildings and halls. For example, last time, Aria performed in the Palazzo Mezzacapo in Maiori.”

Then, a few weeks later, Aria attended the Gijon International Piano Festival in Spain for two weeks of master classes, recitals, and individual instruction with internationally renowned piano professors.

She was accompanied all summer by her mother, Preethi, her sister Alisha (then only 10), who brought her violin so she could practice, and her grandmother, Preethi’s mother, Jayanthi, who, as Preethi put it, “helped with food, laundry and fun.”

During the summer of 2023, Alisha attended Meadowmount School of Music in Lewis, a seven-week summer program for young violinists, violists and cellists from around the world. Aria was invited to the Palmetto International Piano Festival in South Carolina, after which she came to spend the remaining five weeks with her sister and mother in the Adirondacks, practicing on available pianos.

They received “immense help” from Meadowmount Administrative Director Muriel Kerr, “as well as local artist-educators, Jennifer Moore and Rose Chancler and the surrounding community, when we were living in the region,” Preethi said. They helped facilitate the use of pianos for Aria to practice on in various locations, including Elizabethtown, Keene Valley and Essex.

Settled into the rhythm of Adirondack life, mother and daughters shifted between Meadowmount, Essex and Elizabethtown to practice five to six hours a day, seven days a week, as well as attending lessons, studio classes and concerts. Moore and Chancler checked in with the family regularly to support the girls’ needs.

“The local community was so supportive of both kids, since young musicians need time and spaces to work daily,” Preethi said. Husband and father, John Knechtges, joined Preethi, Aria and Alisha for a week in July and again in August.

The sisters performed in Bangalore, India, two times within six months, and each time were shifting practice spaces based on available pianos. They found that their life in the Adirondacks, going from piano to piano last summer was good practice for that.

This summer Alisha is at Meadowmount; Aria will be at the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival, accompanied by her mother and grandmother, and both sisters will be at the Euro Arts Music Festival in Poland at the end of the summer.

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