About Jeffrey

Jeffrey Kahane – Bio

Pianist, conductor, and scholar Jeffrey Kahane is now in the fifth decade of an expansive and eclectic career — one that has ranged from concertos with the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphonies, to recitals with Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell, to European tours with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under his baton, to lecture/performances of Beethoven symphonies informed by his immersion in ancient literature, to collaborations with the Emerson, Miró, Dover, Attacca and Calidore String Quartets.

His 2023-2024 season includes conducting the opening concerts of the San Antonio Philharmonic, returning to the Colorado Symphony as guest conductor and soloist, appearing with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Gabriel Kahane’s “Heirloom”, conducted by the composer, and performing that same concerto again at Carnegie Hall with The Knights under the direction of Eric Jacobsen.

His earliest piano studies, starting at the age of 5, were with Howard Weisel, who encouraged a love of improvisation that abides to this day. One of the watershed moments in his early musical life was hearing Joni Mitchell’s first album, Song to a Seagull, at the age of 12, not long after he started teaching himself to play the guitar. (For a while he thought he might become a singer-songwriter.) At the age of 14, he was given the opportunity to study privately with the great Polish emigré pianist Jakob Gimpel, whose teaching profoundly shaped his understanding of what music is and what it is for.

He left home at 16 to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where his teachers included Mack McCray, Paul Hersh, and John Adams, of whose music he has been a devoted advocate for decades.

After graduating, he served for three summers as rehearsal pianist for Robert Shaw’s Festival of Masses in San Francisco, an experience which intensified his understanding of music as ethical practice, which Shaw personified in the highest degree. The love for choral repertoire these summers inspired would be deepened by his long-time involvement with Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival.

After private studies with John Perry, he went on to be a finalist in the 1981 Van Cliburn Competition, and his piano career took off after winning the Grand Prize at the Arthur Rubinstein International Competition in 1983. He took with him the conviction that music can speak to shared values and aspiration and to the most burning issues of our time. A few years later, spurred by the conviction that orchestras can and should be instruments of community, he began conducting, first at the Oregon Bach Festival, then as Music Director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the Colorado Symphony.

During his twenty seasons as Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, he led the orchestra on an East Coast tour, including a sold-out Carnegie Hall concert with bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, as well as an eight-city European tour. He was instrumental in the creation of several new series, including his signature “Discover” concerts, each of which would illuminate a major work via a lecture-demonstration and performance. Among his proudest achievements from his LACO tenure was the introduction of a commissioning club called “Sound Investment” which allowed club members to follow a composer’s process from conception to premiere.

In addition to the dozens of works commissioned or premiered by the orchestras where he has served as music director, Jeffrey has premiered piano concertos written for him by composers Kevin Puts and Andrew Norman, and recently gave multiple performances of “Heirloom”, a new concerto written for him by his son Gabriel about the connections between music and three generations of family history.

As a capstone to his final season as music director of LACO, he curated a three-week Festival called “Lift Every Voice,” celebrating the parallel achievements of composer Kurt Weill and Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who both fled Nazi Germany and became champions of the cause of civil rights in the US. The festival opened with a free concert of choral music at one of Southern California’s largest black churches which saw members of LACO playing side-by-side with the Los Angeles Inner City Youth Orchestra. The choirs for the concert came from a church, a university, a synagogue and a Muslim elementary school. Among the other Festival offerings, he conducted Bruce Adolphe’s new violin concerto, I Will Not Remain Silent, which was composed in part as a tribute to Rabbi Prinz, and led the first Los Angeles performances in 67 years of Kurt Weill’s 1949 Broadway opera about apartheid, Lost in the Stars.

Continuing his pursuit of a lifelong passion for the study of languages, in 2009 he went back to school to study ancient Greek and Latin, earning a Master’s degree in Classics in 2011 from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Classics at the University of Southern California.

Since 2017 he has been Music Director of the Sarasota Music Festival, where he has significantly expanded the diversity of both the faculty and the programming, introducing workshops in improvisation and non-classical musical languages, while maintaining a deep commitment to the core canonical repertoire.

When not on the road, he teaches a small class of gifted pianists and coaches chamber music at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, and occasionally guest conducts the USC Thornton Symphony. In cooperation with the USC Classics department, Jeffrey recently developed and co-taught a general education course for undergraduates exploring the connections between classical music and ancient classical literature.

Jeffrey and his wife Martha (a psychologist, choral singer, and writer) met at summer camp at age ten. Their daughter Annie is a brilliant choreographer-dancer-poet, their son Gabriel is a widely acclaimed singer-songwriter-composer. Their two grandchildren, Vera and Agnes, are a source of endless delight. When not involved in some kind of musical pursuit, he loves to read and hike, is a devoted practitioner of yoga and meditation, and is perpetually refining his recipe for linguine with clam sauce, which has received glowing reviews from his family and a few close friends.



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