According to some critics, the classical concert hall has come to resemble a church or museum, a glass-case sanctuary for the ritualization of yesterday’s revelations. According to composer, vocalist, and songwriter Gabriel Kahane, though, this is all a passing phase, an anomaly in the timeline of Western music. “It’s a dark moment much like the high modernism of the 1950s, where the academy kind of strangled populism,” he explained by phone last week. “If you take that aberration out of the narrative, there’s always been a connection between the vernacular and what’s in the concert hall.”
Connection is what Kahane is all about. With his broad association between genres, artists, and styles, he represents a new breed of classically trained composers who are jumping ship, taking advantage of breakthroughs in the categorical hull by older daring crossover artists, and navigating entirely new vessels and routes. The son of concert pianist and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Music Director Jeffrey Kahane, Gabriel has worked on a mélange of projects, including orchestral and chamber compositions, pop songs, and musical theater. A pianist, guitarist, and banjo player, he gained a kind of cult status for his witty song cycle Craigslistlieder, which set actual texts from the eponymous classified ad website. At the same time, his compositional prowess has earned him commissions from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Kronos Quartet. Last seen in Santa Barbara at Hahn Hall in 2011 with premier cellist Alisa Weilerstein, Kahane returns, again courtesy of UCSB Arts & Lectures, this time to rock SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Wednesday, February 12, at 8 p.m. with like-minded chamber group yMusic. For tickets and information, call (805) 962-7776, or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.
You are releasing your third album this year. Will we hear some of it at SOhO? We’re actually going to be doing primarily a preview of the music from this record, called The Ambassador, which is all centered [on] songs about Los Angeles architecture. This is going to be one of the first opportunities to play that music live. I’m really excited for its release. It’s going to be my first major-label record with Sony Masterworks. After five or six years of doing the DIY thing, I’m sort of ready to be — I wouldn’t necessarily say “pampered” — but I’m ready to have folks who really know what they are doing looking after the release.
I’ve always thought that Sony Masterworks is fairly buttoned-up classical. We’re living in this kind of genre-less moment where we hear Steve Mackey play an electric guitar concerto with the L.A. Philharmonic, or we hear string quartets playing in bars. The notion that Masterworks is running with is that they want to present work that is masterful, regardless of genre. I’m sort of honored and humbled to be part of that new mission.
How does your humanities background affect your art? I’ve been able to find a place for myself in the cultural sphere maybe because I’m trying to look at the world in a broad, empathetic way, and refracting my experience into the work that I do.