The Compositional Journey of a New Sort of Visionary

by William Robin
This summer, composer, singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Kahane returns to Caramoor for his third appearance at the festival.

On each of his visits, the multifarious talent has brought with him new music that powerfully engages with classical tradition and popular song. In 2011, Kahane and acclaimed cellist Alisa Weilerstein premiered “Little Sleep’s Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight,” an intriguing fusion of song cycle and cello sonata. Kahane returned the next year with the Linden Quartet in tow, delivering quirky string quartets that also highlighted his elastic baritone.

Kahane arrives once more on July 30 to perform selections from “The Ambassador,” a typically manifold Kahane project: it began its life as a celebrated album on Sony Masterworks, toured across the country in rock clubs, and eventually received a fully staged theatrical production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In the Spanish Courtyard, selections from “The Ambassador” will be intimately recast, with Kahane accompanied by guitarist and violinist Rob Moose, a longtime collaborator.

At first glance, “The Ambassador” might appear merely a complex pop project, complete with clever lyrics and a rock-solid band. On further inspection, it emerges as a panoramic depiction of the history and culture of Los Angeles, with songs that investigate everything from the noir detective fiction of Raymond Chandler to the strange correlation between Hollywood villainy and contemporary architecture (“Why do villains always live in houses built by modernist masters?” Kahane muses on one song). Subsequent listens reveal “The Ambassador” as the next step in Kahane’s compositional journey and a natural successor to the ambitious projects he has presented at Caramoor in previous years.

Songs of Schubert, Britten, and Jerome Kern join Kahane’s own tunes in the Spanish Courtyard; he is an eminent interpreter of both German lieder and the American songbook, and an ideal visionary for Caramoor’s expansive purview.

William Robin is a Ph.D candidate at University of North Carolina, currently researching a dissertation focused on sociality, economics, and institutional development in U. S. contemporary classical music since 1980.  He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Bandcamp. Learn more.


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