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Interview: Beatles are today's classical music, pianist says

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Concert pianist Hyperion Knight, who will star in a PBS special scheduled to air in June, says he believes the Beatles are today's Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.

Knight says his mother loved rock and roll, especially the Beatles, and his father loved the classics. Knight says that gave him a special understanding of the broad range of musical compositions. He also says the excitement that surrounded the Beatles at the height of Beatlemania could be compared to that experienced by Franz Liszt.

“Liszt was a sensation. For decades women would fight for possession of anything he touched – used napkins, cigar butts, or even his leftover tea. They would often try to get close to him and steal a hair from his head as a souvenir.”

And he says Chopin Chopin was known for composing pieces as love letters to the women he was courting. Knight says a German critic read all sorts of hidden meanings into his music. Chopin just laughed it off.

Knight says playing the Beatles on the piano is complicated. “Some of their more psychedelic songs like 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,' 'Eleanor Rigby,' 'Norwegian Wood' and 'Dear Prudence' are a real challenge to play on the piano alone. So I basically had to turn the piano into an 88 string guitar.” So he lifts the piano lid and plucking the strings of the piano with his right hand while he plays the keys with his left hand. The sound becomes like a duet between a virtual guitar and an actual piano.

He says it’s not only the music of the Beatles that should qualify as today’s classical music. Part of his concert repertoire includes Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which he calls “a miniature opera with excessive emotions and a confusing plot!”

Knight will star in a 90-minute PBS special, “Hyperion Plays Piano: The Great Keyboard Classics.” scheduled to air in June. (You can see an 11-minute preview here with Knight playing "Dear Prudence" and other songs.)

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