Gabriel Kahane lives in Brooklyn, but lately the composer’s native city, Los Angeles, fills his waking thoughts. So much so that Kahane composed “25 Addresses in Los Angeles,” a series of songs based on the diverse architecture, populace and vibe that captured his imagination.
Commissioned by the Laguna Beach Music Festival and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the piece will premiere at the Laguna Playhouse on Saturday, Feb. 8, performed by Kahane and New York-based yMusic.
The youthful composer kicked off the week of concerts on Monday, Feb. 3, singing and playing guitar joined by the Linden String Quartet and yMusic’s Rob Moose on electric guitar at the Laguna Art Museum.
Singing in a style that defies classification, perhaps echoing the Kurt Weil era, Kahane’s songs were riffs on poems referring to diet coke’s lack of taste, the fate of poultry in “Black November Turkey” and a selection from “25 Addresses” describing Los Angeles as “a selfish city.”
With Kahane as this year’s guest artistic director, the festival presented by Laguna Beach Live and the Orange County Philharmonic Society attempts to reach a diverse audience by including material that ranges from purely classical to selections that span several genres.
“Those boundaries have been disappearing for 100 years when we think of Shostakovich, Gershwin, Bernstein and others, it’s not a new thing,” said Jeffrey Kahane, Gabriel’s father as well as a pianist, conductor and director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
A conversation between Gabriel Kahane and yMusic members will delve into the subject further in a discussion “From Old to New: Music Today” at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, at the Laguna Playhouse. The musicians will also hold a free open rehearsal there at 11 a.m. the following day.
Earlier in the week, father, 57, and son, 32, also explored boundaries in a musical conversation, alternating between classical music and pop material, as well as divulging their musical their influences in an informal discussion.
“It will be quite spontaneous, since Gabriel grew up surrounded by a wide range of music and has had a quite unusual career,” said the father, who also proved unable to classify his son’s music and singing style.
Jeffrey Kahane briefly was enamored by rock ’n’ roll but reverted back to classical music after his teens. Some of the festival’s programing has been a collaborative effort, but Kahane said his son is responsible for its direction.
yMusic got its name from the fact that its members belong to “generation Y,” with birth years between 1981 and 1982, explained Moose who fell in love with the violin but seems equally at ease with electric guitars.
“I love to play Gabriel’s songs and arrange other artists’ music,” said Moose, excited for a chance to spend a week exploring Laguna. The rest of the ensemble was expected midweek, its arrival delayed by flight cancellations due to foul weather.
Members of the Linden String Quartet, based in Cleveland, Ohio, belong to the same generation. When asked about the future of classical music, cellist Felix Umanski, 27, pronounced it immortal. “Over the years, what’s changed back and forth is where it’s played. First people made music at home and in salons, then it moved to concert halls and now it’s everywhere, in homes, coffeehouses and pubs,” he said.
Cindy Prewitt, president of Laguna Beach Live, re-stated the festival’s goal of drawing fans from a broader audience.
She’s also hopeful that “opportunity prize” travel packages to Montana and Brooklyn will add to the buzz. Tickets support outreach and education programs, she said.
With young classical musicians collecting less than rock star pay, festival supporters are hosting performers in their homes. For example, board member Ron Harris took in Umanski.
“The festival has continuously expanded classical music while still staying true to its roots. I can think of nothing better than listening to Mendelsohn and know that people listened to the same music 100 years ago and then hear the kids practicing it right in your own house,” he said.