Houston Symphony

Jeffrey Kahane On Mozart, Growing Up In LA And Spending Thanksgiving In Houston

A conversation with the renowned pianist-conductor, who returns to perform with the Houston Symphony

Celebrated Mozart interpreter and long-time Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Kahane took time from his rehearsal schedule, during this busy holiday week, to chat about his upcoming program with the Houston Symphony, as well as about himself – from his childhood in Los Angeles to his Thanksgiving plans. 

Check out highlights from our conversation below, and listen to the complete interview above.

On growing up in Los Angeles and discovering music:

“Los Angeles was a wonderful place to grow up in the 1960s … I grew up on the west side of the city.  [Neither of] my parents was a musician, but they were both great lovers of music.  And I was exposed to all kinds of different music from the time I was a child … I was only interested in classical music from a very young age.  And then when I was about nine or ten, my older brother was playing guitar in a band, and I picked up a guitar one day and started to teach myself to play.  And then I played rock and roll.  I played folk rock.  Later I learned to play some jazz.  I went to a lot of concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and also, later on, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, of which I ended up many years later being the Music Director!  But I also went to folk clubs and rock concerts.  It was a very eclectic musical upbringing.”

On Mozart:

“Mozart was not a composer that I felt very connected to as a child.  I was much more interested in Beethoven.  I was interested in the more, what at that time seemed to me, overtly dramatic composers.  And it was only later that I began to understand that Mozart, in fact, is among the most dramatic of composers and that … a vast majority of the works that he wrote are really extensions of his works for the theater.  And he’s often, I think quite rightly, compared to Shakespeare, in the sense that he had this amazing ability in writing for the stage to get inside every kind of character.  So he is a composer … who I think of as very profoundly human, which is kind of a paradox because his genius is so mysterious and he’s sometimes called sort of angelic … He’s a composer who has been a source of endless joy and comfort.”

On his Houston Symphony program, A Mozart Thanksgiving:

“I love this program in particular … because I think within the 90 minutes, roughly, of music on this program you really have an opportunity to experience the incredible emotional range and dramatic power of Mozart’s music.  From the C major Piano Concerto [No. 21], the most famous of all the piano concertos, which is just full of wit and joy and lyricism and tenderness and brilliance, to the incredibly dramatic and powerful “Prague” Symphony [No. 38], which kind of brings together all of Mozart’s great skills in terms of orchestral writing.  And then the c minor Piano Concerto [No. 24], which is a work that really stands out, I think, among all of Mozart’s music in that it is a genuinely tragic piece.  We don’t think of Mozart as a tragic composer for the most part … but this particular concerto is very different … it’s a work of real symphonic scope and really looks forward to Beethoven.  It was very much a work that inspired Beethoven, and you can hear that in it.”

On spending his Thanksgiving in Houston:

“I have some wonderful, very dear friends here!  Some of my closest friends actually live here in Houston, and they’ve invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them!  So that’s how I’ll be spending it.  And I’m immensely thankful for the privilege not only of working with this great orchestra again, but to have the opportunity to spend my Thanksgiving living with the music of Mozart is something I will definitely be grateful for every day.”

The Houston Symphony presents A Mozart Thanksgiving, featuring pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane, on Friday, November 25, 8pm; Saturday, November 26, 8pm and Sunday, November 27, 2:30pm at Jones Hall.

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