The following story appeared in the Park Labrea News and Beverly Press 70th Anniversary issue, published April 21. To view the entire issue, click here.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s (LACO) director Jeffrey Kahane is a musical genius who takes the orchestra in new directions, making 200-year-old classical pieces fresh and exciting.
Kahane, with help from LACO musicians, explains the essence of the music performed and how it is interpreted by different orchestras, and he hopes it is music to audience members’ ears. LACO focuses on classical and baroque music from the late 18th century and early 19th century. The chamber orchestra is half the size of the LA Phil, givng classical music lovers a more intimate experience.
“A chamber orchestra is different than a large symphony orchestra. Symphonies have 80 to 110 musicians, and a chamber orchestra has around 40 musicians,” Kahane said. “It’s a different style of player. It’s a more intimate and personal kind of experience than one gets with a large orchestra. The Los Angeles Chamber orchestra is one of a half-dozen of the finest chamber orchestras in America, and it’s in the top 10 in the world.”
Kahane has served as LACO music director and its conductor since 1997, but he is also an accomplished pianist who began taking lessons as a boy. He grew up just south of Beverly Hills near Olympic Boulevard and Cañon Drive, and his parents were music lovers who encouraged Kahane to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional musician. They took him to classical concerts at UCLA, where he experienced the power and eloquence of classical music first hand. The experiences set him on a path that would lead him to some of the finest concert halls in the world.
“I loved music from the time I was a small child. My parents were not musicians but they played recordings of all different types,” Kahane said. “I started studying music and taking lessons when I was five years old. I already wanted to be a musician when I was a small child, which is common for most people in the world of classical music. It was certainly the case [and] hearing a lot of great artists was a tremendous inspiration.”
After attending Beverly Hills High School, Kahane left at 16 to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He also studied music at the Juilliard School in New York for a year.
Kahane said “one of the biggest things” in his early music career occurred in 1981 when he was 24. The pianist was a finalist in the prestigious Van Cliburn Competition, which caught the attention of professionals in the music field. He hired a manager and launched an international music career. In 1983, he placed first in the Arthur Rubenstein Competition in Tel Aviv, which brought more acclaim and attention. The same year, he made his Carnegie Hall debut.
“It was a tremendous experience for me. I have been very fortunate to have played at Carnegie Hall a number of times, but the first time was a great thrill,” Kahane said. “It’s one of the most beautiful and historically important concert halls in the world.”
Kahane was music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony when he was approached by LACO for their music director position. He became director of LACO in 1997 and simultaneously held both positions until 2004. LACO currently performs 10 to 12 times a year in different venues throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding area.
“One of the things that sets the orchestra apart is its incredible versatility and range of styles,” Kahane said. “I make it a point talk to the audience about the music we are going to play. It gives the audience an introduction into the music and makes it a much more human experience. Every year, we do the Discover Program where I spend an entire evening focusing on an extended piece. I give some examples of the recorded piece, we perform it and the audience interacts with the musicians. It’s makes it much more personal.”
LACO’s Baroque Conversations and Westside Connections series also engage audiences. In Baroque Conversations, Kahane focuses on pieces of music that explore the genesis of orchestral repertoire, opening audiences to new selections from the pre-classical period. He also cited LACO’s recent “Music and the Mind” performance which was part of the Westside Connections series. It paired the classics of Mendelssohn and Mozart with a discussion by a neuroscience professor on the effect of music on the human brain.
Kahane will conduct the orchestra in performances of works by Aucoin, Mozart and Schumann on May 14 at the Alex Theater in Glendale and May 15 in UCLA’s Royce Hall. Aucoin’s work was commissioned by LACO as part of its Sound Investment program, initiated by Kahane 15 years ago to bring contemporary works to LACO audiences.
Kahane lives in Santa Rosa and also travels the world performing with other orchestras and symphonies. He appears as a soloist with the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, as well as at summer classical festivals.
He travels to Los Angeles almost monthly for his commitments with LACO.
“One of the things I can say about Los Angeles is it’s one of very few cities that transformed so radically and so dramatically in such a short period of time. One hundred years ago, Los Angeles was a small and provincial city without a lot of cultural offerings,” he said. “Los Angeles has become one of the greatest cultural capitals of the world. The shift began to happen about 25 to 30 years ago, and Los Angeles has taken its rightful place. It’s a tremendous honor and every time I come to Los Angeles to work it’s very exciting and different. I am very proud of what we have accomplished in the last 20 years.”
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