Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kahane Duo Dazzles Denver

“Crossover” concerts usually fail, but Friday night’s blended genre concert at Denver’s Newman Center was a resounding success, a convincing presentation of indie pop and standard classical. That the two performers were father and son warmly enriched the evening.

While local audiences are familiar with the fine pianist and conductor Jeffery Kahane (who was Music Director of the Colorado Symphony for years), I suspect the big discovery of the night was his multi-talented son Gabriel.

Gabriel and Jeffrey opened with Bach effectively arranged by György Kurtág for two-pianos, which easily segued into a Gabriel composition.

Gabriel next discussed “Chuck” Ives, seeing him as a “father of avant-garde” and one of the earliest creators of mashups. He touchingly sang two Ives songs during the concert, along with Samuel Barber’s charming “Pangur” song from his Hermit Cycle.

The longest set of the intermission-less concert was prefaced by Jeffrey recalling the original Schubertiade events, where the gang gathered to play a potpourri of Schubert's music, along with other music, poetry readings, dancing, etc. Whereupon father and son performed their own such mini event. Jeffery alternated Schubert Impromptus with Gabriel performing his own engaging songs (accompanying himself on both piano and guitar), including “Durrants,” “North Adams” (about a father and son walking in the woods) from his eponymous 2008 debut CD, as well as “LA.”

Jeffrey then performed the meaty, engaging Django: Tiny Variations on a Big Dog, written by Gabriel for him and premiered at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, described by The New York Times as “most striking, if only for the virtuosity and varied stylistic sensibility it demanded.”

Gabriel also performed a song from his Craigslist Lieder collection, which initially brought him recognition as an emerging talent. This tag-team concluded the concert with an arrangement of a traditional tune by Benjamin Britten, whom apparently they both revere.

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This first-ever such concert was conjured up by mastermind Steve Seifert, the imaginative, adventurous Executive Director of Newman Center Presents.

I don’t recall ever experiencing a concert with this type of diversified richness, merging sophisticated pop with classical, featuring an abundantly talented father and son duo. Some comments from Gabriel in the program notes help explain his evolution, remarking that he grew up “amidst snippets of Brahms 2nd Piano Concert and Mozart K. 482, Paul Simon's Graceland and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.” It all comes together because of certain intrinsic values that transcend genre, such as “attention to solid architecture, quality of sound, and above all, emotional integrity.”

Even more impressive is that we really only saw the indie pop side of Gabriel, who also composes “serious” new music. The Kronos Quartet commissioned a string quartet which will debut in May, and that same month, a work commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic will also debut, to be conducted by John Adams.

Along the way, Gabriel has also performed with bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, as well as pianist Jeremy Denk and bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff. And he is much in demand as a music theater composer.

I sure hope he can successfully juggle all the above.

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