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Happy Holidays from the Sarasota Orchestra

Jeffrey Kahane, photo credit: Jamie Phan

After 20 Years, L.A. Chamber Orchestra's Beloved Music Director Says Goodbye

Article from
Thursday, May 18, 2016 at 8:32 AM
By Catherine Womack

Before a concert, members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra usually have four rehearsals. But this week, ahead of the final program of their season, they are meeting five times.

Jeffrey Kahane, the orchestra's outgoing music director, says that extra time with the orchestra is necessary to prepare Schubert's "huge and difficult" Ninth Symphony, which he'll conduct this Saturday evening at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and Sunday night at UCLA's Royce Hall. But nobody would blame him if he also just wanted to spend a little extra time with the musicians he has worked with so intimately for the past two decades.

Sitting in a wooden rocking chair in a comfortable, book-filled corner room of his Altadena home, Kahane describes his decision to leave LACO after this season –– his 20th as its music director –– as more of a gut move than a strategic one.

"It wasn't really a rational decision," he says. "And there are days when I don't even want to think about it because it's so profoundly bittersweet. The other night my wife said to me, 'Why did you do this again?' And I said I don't know. Things are going so well and my relationship with the orchestra is so positive. But change is good. Twenty is a good round number, and I'd rather do it too soon than too late."

Kahane's tenure at LACO was defined by ambitious programming of new works by contemporary composers and electric performances of the classics, compositions by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that are so well suited for a chamber orchestra. For his final season he was given free rein to program LACO's concerts, and he largely focused on those core elements.

But midway through the season, in January, Kahane and the orchestra also produced a bold, three-week festival focused on tolerance, compassion, cooperation, creativity and peace called Lift Every Voice. The festival was the realization of a longtime dream of Kahane's to spark social change through music.

At the center of that festival was an emotionally jolting dramatic performance of Kurt Weill's opera Lost In the Stars, presented at Royce Hall. A stellar cast and brilliant staging enhanced the powerful message of the story, which dealt with race relations in apartheid South Africa. Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and Donald Trump's inauguration, the musical drama resounded as powerfully as the voices on stage. There were few dry eyes in the house when the curtain closed.

"I'll cherish that performance perhaps among the two or three most important moments of my life as a musician, and as a human being, too," Kahane says. "Because what happened emotionally for the audience and for the performers was so profound."

LACO concertmaster Margaret Batjer says that Lost In the Stars and the entirety of the Lift Every Voice festival is a reflection of Kahane as a person and musician.

"I think if you spoke to musicians across the country, the one thing that everyone feels about Jeff is that he's perhaps the greatest collaborator of our era," she says. "And he has this human quality that he lives his life by that is just incredibly inspiring, not just as a musician, but as a human being."

Kahane is also brilliant. In addition to being one of the country's most highly respected pianists and conductors, he is fluent in German, French, Italian and Spanish. He also loves to read in Greek, Latin and Arabic.

"I was a real nerd. I still am a nerd," he says with a laugh, recalling his childhood growing up in West Los Angeles and gesturing to the shelves of Greek and Latin texts surrounding him. As a boy, he fell in love with playing classical music at the piano early, watching his older brother take lessons. He says he was no child prodigy, but he was determined to become a classical pianist, so he diligently put in the hours of practice necessary to compete on a professional level. 

"Many of us in the orchestra feel as though when he plays Mozart it is the closest we could ever get to the way that music was intended to sound by the composer."

Margaret Batjer

Two international piano competitions in the early 1980s launched Kahane's career. In 1981, he came in fourth place at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. Two years later he won the grand prize at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Israel. Looking back, Kahane credits the exposure he received during the Cliburn Competition, which aired on TV and was turned into a documentary, as his biggest break.

As a classical pianist, Kahane has performed with all the country's major orchestras, and made a name for himself as an interpreter of Mozart's music in particular.

"It's almost as if he channels Mozart when he plays," Batjer explains. "The spontaneity that he gives in his performances of Mozart is highly unusual. Many of us in the orchestra feel as though when he plays Mozart it is the closest we could ever get to the way that music was intended to sound by the composer."

Kahane met his wife, Martha, at summer camp when they were both just 10 years old. "I actually proposed when I was 13," he says with a smile. They married at 22 and had two children –– their son is a composer who lives in Brooklyn and their daughter is a poet/dancer who lives in Berkeley. Jeffrey and Martha, a clinical psychologist, share their Altadena home with a friendly rescue dog named Django. It's a cozy spot with a garage-turned-piano studio out back where Kahane practices on his Fazioli piano and studies scores.

Kahane was concertizing at the piano and teaching at a university on the East Coast in his early 30s when he realized he wanted something more. There were things he wanted to do to generate social change and engagement that he did not feel he could ever accomplish as "just a pianist." He also fell in love with orchestral music. So he made a change and began pursuing conducting.

Eventually he became the music director of the Santa Rosa and Colorado symphonies. When the opportunity to go back home to L.A. and lead LACO came up, he jumped at the chance.

"It was irresistible," he says. "The idea of being a music director of this orchestra in my hometown, an orchestra that I admired so much and had such a wonderful relationship with, it was just almost too good to be true."

Kahane says size is only part of what makes a chamber orchestra special. "I think people assume that the principle difference between a chamber orchestra and a full symphony orchestra is just numbers –– LACO employs around 40 musicians whereas the LA Philharmonic employs around 100 –– but it goes way beyond that. The most important difference is the kind of playing and communication that happens on stage between the musicians. In a chamber orchestra, musicians can see almost everyone in the ensemble in their line of sight. They're not relying so much on the conductor in the moment of performance. This creates a different style of playing, and I think a different experience for the audience too."

LACO concerts are consistently intimate and special. Whether it is the size of the group, Kahane's heartfelt, honest passion or the relationship between this orchestra and its conductor, there is something palpable and powerful in the air when they perform together.

Luckily for LACO fans, the end of Kahane's tenure does not mean the end of that relationship. He will continue to teach at USC and make his home in Altadena and plans to return to the LACO stage on occasion in the future as both a conductor and performer.

Still, Batjer predicts that this weekend's concerts will be emotional for everyone, given that they are the orchestra's last with Kahane as music director. The program features the world premiere of a new work by Christopher Cerrone, a piece that was commissioned in honor of Kahane's tenure and long-time commitment to performing works by living composers. That will be followed by Kahane playing and conducting (from the piano) Mozart's final concerto. Schubert's Ninth Symphony closes the program.

"For me, this program speaks to who Jeffrey is as a musician," Batjer says. "Schubert is a the great equalizer, the divider of great musicians and not-great musicians, and that repertoire has sort of been [Kahane's] bread and butter. And of course the Mozart, where he will do his thing so brilliantly at the piano. It is where, in my opinion, his greatest music making comes out."

Kahane sounds like a proud papa when he speaks about LACO: "What happens at LACO concerts is as good as anything you can experience in L.A.," he says. "It's very different from the Philharmonic, and I do love the Philharmonic, but although LACO doesn't always get the same amount of attention, I think in terms of quality, it's equal to anything that happens in this city."

After five intense rehearsals together this week, and playing the music they do best together, these farewell concerts are likely to crackle with energy and tug at heartstrings to the very last note.

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Jeffrey Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane named Music Director of Sarasota Music Festival

The Sarasota Orchestra today announced the appointment of Jeffrey Kahane to the position of Music Director for the Sarasota Music Festival. Kahane has agreed to a three-year contract and will officially begin his position as Music Director on August 1, 2016.

"Our Board is honored to be announcing the appointment of Jeffrey. We believe his international reputation as a conductor, pianist and educator is a perfect fit for the Festival and will help advance our aspirations for the Festival’s growth and evolution, as well as Sarasota’s reputation as a cultural destination,” said Anne Folsom-Smith, Board Chair of the Sarasota Orchestra.

Ani Kavafian has been a Sarasota Music Festival faculty member for more than 20 years and served on the search committee.

"I am thrilled that this wonderful festival, where I was once a student, will be led by someone who is at the top of everyone’s list as a musician, educator and performer. Jeffrey Kahane is truly brilliant but also a kind and thoughtful person who, I believe, will take this festival to even greater heights,” Kavafian said.

Kavafian is an acclaimed recitalist, soloist and chamber musician, and a professor at Yale University.

"David Steves, chair of the Search Committee and a Board member said: “Our search committee was comprised of Festival faculty, Board and staff members, as well as Sarasota Orchestra and community representation. We are excited to have found a new Music Director with the qualifications and passion worthy of furthering the legacy of the Festival built by Paul Wolfe and Robert Levin.”

Kahane is a renowned conductor and pianist who has appeared with many of the world’s great orchestras. He completes his tenure as Music Director of The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the end of the 16/17 season and is currently the Artistic Director of ChamberFest at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. His previous leadership posts include Music Director of the Colorado Symphony and the Santa Rosa Symphony.

Kahane has recorded extensively and is a recipient of ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming for his work with LACO and the Colorado Symphony. Beginning in the fall, he will be a Professor of Keyboard Studies at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. Earlier in his career he was a Van Cliburn Competition finalist, first prize winner of the Arthur Rubinstein Competition, and the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant.

"My first experience with the Sarasota Music Festival was as a piano faculty member in 2015. I was quite touched by the exceptional educational opportunities, the impressive faculty and the truly heartwarming reception by Sarasota audiences. There is no question that Sarasota is a special place with a vibrant arts community,” said Kahane of his appointment.

The 53rd Festival dates are June 5 -24, 2017.

Anu Tali, Music Director

Anu Tali Signs Three-Year Contract Renewal

The Sarasota Orchestra today announced that Anu Tali has signed a three-year contract renewal as Music Director of the Sarasota Orchestra.

Tali began her position as the fifth Music Director in the history of the Sarasota Orchestra on August 1, 2013, with the signing of her first three-year contract. Her second three-year contract takes effect on August 1, 2016.

"The Orchestra recognizes the artistic growth of our organization under Anu Tali’s leadership. We believe that during the coming three years, Anu will continue to lead the Sarasota Orchestra to an even higher level of musicianship,” commented Joseph McKenna, President and CEO.

Tali, a dynamic musical leader, is critically acclaimed and in demand worldwide as a guest conductor. In addition to her role as Music Director of the Sarasota Orchestra, Tali serves as Chief Conductor of the Nordic Symphony Orchestra, which she founded with her sister Kadri Tali in 1997.

“From our first meeting, I felt a musical connection with the Sarasota Orchestra. It has been a wonderful musical journey for me to share the stage with these talented musicians,” remarked Anu Tali. “Sarasota has become a second home to me, and I look forward to sharing more great music with the community I have come to love.”

Tali’s first performances under her new contract are November 4 – 6, 2016 with the opening Masterworks concert titled, ‘The Rite Music.’ Under the baton of Anu Tali, the program includes Concertmaster Daniel Jordan’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

“The Board of the Orchestra is confident that Anu will build on past successes and continue to enhance the artistic excellence of this organization.  During the coming seasons we are looking forward to advancing the Orchestra’s facility planning and exploring an orchestra tour,” said Anne Folsom Smith, Board Chair.

About the Sarasota Orchestra

Come as you are. Leave different. For more than six decades, the Sarasota Orchestra has been engaging music lovers from around the region, and visitors from around the world. The Orchestra performs more than 125 classical, Pops, education and community engagement concerts each year, and thrives as the oldest continuing orchestra in the state of Florida. 

Charles Wetherbee

Contrast and Color

Upon entering room 204 in the Sarasota Orchestra building, this year's Festival students can be seen tuning their instruments, practicing their piece of choice, and organizing sheet music. Once faculty artist Charles Wetherbee enters the practice room the sound of violins and rustling paper peters out. Everyone takes a seat and is ready to begin.

Charles Wetherbee is a highly esteemed violinist whose playing has taken him around the world. Wetherbee has performed in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Canada, Mexico, and the United States. He has taken part in a multitude of music festivals, including the Aspen Music festival, the Garth Newell Center, the Hidden Valley Festival, the Roycroft Chamber Festival, and the Sarasota Music Festival, to name a few.

Wetherbee brings with him a thoughtful and observant eye when it comes to teaching at the festival.

“Start with more color... expand on the context for a specific phrase.”

After a student performs their piece in class he deconstructs their playing, and points out places that worked, as well as moments for improvement. “We're not changing articulation, just dynamic and energy.”  In addition to verbal advice, Wetherbee takes his own violin and produces examples for the student to go by, giving them both auditory and visual feedback.

Diligently, the students absorb his critiques and try to translate his words into their playing. Keeping in mind his advice,

“there is room to find much more contrast and color”.

Give to the
Annual Fund

Gifts to the Annual Fund ensure that Sarasota Orchestra can continue to share the gift of music with our community through concerts, education and outreach programs. Please join us by making a donation today. Together, we can keep the music playing, now and always.

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Dinner Series
Six Dinners throughout the season

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Sunday, November 12, 2023

Celebrate 75 Concert and Gala
Thursday, February 15, 2024


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