Gabriel Kahane performs in Aspen
ASPEN – In his solo performance Thursday at Belly Up Aspen, Gabriel Kahane plans to perform what he calls a “survey of songs” – tunes by the 18th-century Viennese composer Franz Schubert and the current rapper Cee Lo Green, by the early 20th-century Broadway writer Jerome Kern and the current producer and songwriter Van Dyke Parks, whose list of collaborators includes the Beach Boys, Fiona Apple and Bonnie Raitt. Kahane isn’t out to prove how wide-ranging his tastes and talents are, but something like the opposite; he intends to illuminate connections among the composers of different times and places.”It’s almost like a live mix tape at the piano, to demonstrate how these songs relate to one another, whether they were written in Austria in the 1820s or in 1972 in Los Angeles. It’s as diverse a repertoire as possible and seeing how these go together,” Kahane said. Last summer, when he performed in Harris Hall as part of the Aspen Music Festival, Kahane’s concert featured his 2006 song cycle “Craigslistlieder,” with text taken from ads on Craig’s List; songs he had written more in a singer-songwriter style; and “Dichterliebe,” the prominent song cycle by Schumann. At the time, Kahane said something similar about wanting to highlight the comonalities between music of different eras. “I think you connect right from ‘Dichterliebe’ to Bright Eyes,” he said, referencing the contemporary indie rock band led by singer-songwriter Conor Oberst.Of course Kahane would see links among all forms of music; a huge range of sounds and styles coexist within him. When Kahane talks about his projects, it’s hard to remember that they are all coming from the same biography. Kahane was speaking from Vail, where he was set to perform at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. The festival had commissioned him to compose a song cycle, “Come on All You Ghosts,” which he debuted last year and was performing again this summer as singer and pianist. Kahane was set to perform the piece in the Donovan Pavilion, on a bill with a string quartet and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, the artistic director of the classical-music festival. The following day, he was scheduled to head to Aspen for the nightclub gig at Belly Up, where he will continue experimenting with looping his guitar, a technique that is among his new interests. From Aspen, Kahane heads to California for the La Jolla Music Society, where his concert includes Brahms piano music and his own “Last Dance,” for voice, guitar and loops. (Joining him on the La Jolla date is his father, Jeffrey, who played piano and conducted two weeks ago at the Aspen Music Festival.)In May, “February House,” a musical about a Bohemian commune in 1940s Brooklyn, had a seven-week run at New York’s Public Theatre. Kahane wrote the songs – lyrics as well as music – and went heavy on the banjo. September saw the release of “Where Are the Arms,” an album of original songs that, despite the use of horns, strings and clarinet, falls easily into the pop category. The album is reminiscent, at various times, of the modern string band Punch Brothers (several of whose members contribute to the recording), of folkish groups old (Simon & Garfunkel) and young (Bon Iver) and, on “Calabash & Catamaran,” of the jam band Phish, from the groove to the electric guitar.Kahane wrote a piece, “The Red Book,” years ago for the edgy Kronos Quartet; it finally premiered last fall. “Little Sleep’s Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight,” a work for cello, piano and voice, was debuted by Kahane and cellist Alisa Weilerstein (who appears as soloist with the Aspen Festival Orchestra on Sunday). Earlier this year, his song cycle “Orinoco Sketches” was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Among his collaborators have been Chris Thile, the mandolinist from Punch Brothers, and jazz pianist Brad Mehldau.Yet another song cycle, “Crane Palimpsest,” was debuted last year by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The cycle was based on a poem by Hart Crane, “The Bridge,” and Kahane has explained that the piece was meant to explore the bridge between pop and classical languages.Kahane says he feels blessed to have the kind of career he’s developed. “It takes my inherent ADD – I think I thrive on different things, variety,” the 31-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., resident said. But having spent the bulk of the past two years on commissions, he has found himself antsy to write songs to perform himself.”To shut myself up in a room and write some songs, it feels like such a distilled thing,” he said. “And I hope that when I go back to writing songs, all that information” – from the commissioned work – “will inform what I do and make me a better songwriter.”In that quest, Kahane seems destined to draw from the deepest pool of influences. Recently, he has been listening to and performing songs by Charles Ives, which remind him of the worldly Brooklyn rock band Dirty Projectors and of Van Dyke Parks.”Ives was a proto-folkie, proto-Dirty Projectors,” Kahane said. “It’s just voracious music in terms of what he was thinking about. It just seems like adventurous folk music.”Ives also reminds him of Parks, and Parks’ eclectic 1968 album, “Song Cycle” – “this crazy, sprawling, hallucinatory, pop Baroque fantasy with tons of reverb and delay,” Kahane said. “It was a commercial failure, of course. But there’s some similarities between how he was writing in the late ’60s and Ives. Both have this collage thing.”email@example.com
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