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Father and Son on the Same Page – and the Same Stage

April 4, 2016

Father and Son on the Same Page – and the Same Stage

By Marc Shulgold

“Let’s not use that dreadful term crossover,” Jeffrey Kahane declares. And the former music director of the Colorado Symphony is right — the novelty of classical musicians crossing over into pop music is so yesterday. There are no boundaries anymore.

Just look at the orchestra’s program in Boettcher Concert Hall this weekend (April 15-17). It would be silly to describe the music as “classical” or “pops.” The offerings are simply exuberant, thoughtful, thoroughly American music.

Kahane returns to the Boettcher podium for these concerts, kicking things off with Fancy Free by Leonard Bernstein — a composer equally comfortable in the concert hall and the Broadway stage. He’ll then conclude with Gershwin’s jazzy Concerto in F, in which he’ll double as conductor and piano soloist.

In between, there’s Crane Palimpsest by his son Gabriel Kahane. Put those three pieces together on one program, the conductor says, “and you can see that each composer has a foot in both worlds.”

For the elder Kahane, straddling that musical fence comes naturally. “American music has been part of me since I was a kid. I played folk, jazz, and rock (guitar and banjo). I’m at home in the American vernacular. And Gabe grew up with both (classical and pop). It’s been fascinating to watch his career evolve.”

The title of his son’s piece, Kahane noted, refers to the peeling back of layers — in this case, peeling back Hart Crane’s poem, To Brooklyn Bridge, to reveal one of Gabriel’s poems. “It’s a very difficult piece,” the conductor says, “but quite touching.”

Appearing in Boettcher as singer and guitarist, the younger Kahane has deftly juggled folk with a growing interest in classical styles. Meanwhile, his father’s career continues to be built around the podium and the piano. He served as music director of the Colorado Symphony from 2005 to 2010, and continues as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (which played the premiere of Gabriel’s work in 2012).

These days, Kahane’s schedule keeps him busy playing and conducting – so it’s appropriate that the weekend concerts will end with the conductor doing both in the fiercely challenging Gershwin Concerto.

“It is a different order of difficulty,” he observes of his dual role. (Gershwin, it should be noted, premiered his Concerto in 1925 with Walter Damrosch on the podium.) “I’ve done it that way so many times, though, that I’ve figured out how to manage things. I know this orchestra can take care of their part. Not every orchestra can. The New York Philharmonic can manage it, and so can the Colorado Symphony. If the players know how to swing, it can be fun. But an orchestra faces a sense of danger.”

Expect some musical fireworks at Boettcher this weekend. Symphony-goers may recall a season-opening sampler concert by the Colorado Symphony a few years back, in which Kahane played and conducted the blistering final movement of the Concerto in F. With unstoppable energy, and sheer keyboard brilliance, he brought down the house. Gershwin would be impressed.