BWW Interview: Jeffrey Kahane to Lead the Houston Symphony in A MOZART THANKSGIVING
This weekend, once the tryptophan wears off, join renowned pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane as he leads the Houston Symphony in A MOZART THANKSGIVING.
Since 1988, when he made his debut at the Oregon Bach Festival (where he played - you guessed it - Mozart), Kahane has become one of today's most admired men in his field. Currently in his 20th and final season as the music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Kahane has made some time to stop in Houston and share some tidbits about the all-Wolfgang Amadeus program, which features the "Prague" Symphony and the composer's Piano Concertos No. 21 and No. 24.
Jeffrey, next weekend you'll be leading the Houston Symphony in A MOZART THANKSGIVING. How will the program compete with people's post-turkey hangover?
Jeffrey Kahane: There is so much joy and life in the music on this program that I'm sure any post-turkey hangover will disappear within the first couple of minutes.
What makes the "Prague" Symphony so popular?
Jeffrey Kahane: The "Prague" is one of the grandest, melodically richest and most dramatic of all of Mozart's symphonies. No one had, until this symphony was composed, ever written a first movement of such symphonic grandeur and scope, and it wasn't really until Beethoven's "Eroica" that another composer (including Mozart himself) wrote anything comparable in that respect. The combination of Mozart's incomparable melodic gift with his sense of pacing, drama and exquisite orchestration all have combined to make this one of the most beloved of all symphonies, and just Mozart's.
One thing that jumped out at me in the program is that Piano Concerto No. 24 is described as "the perfect foil" for Piano Concerto No. 21. How so?
Jeffrey Kahane: The 21st Concerto, arguably the most famous, is a work of great wit, gorgeous melodies (the slow movement is one of the two or three most famous melodies Mozart wrote) and dazzling brilliance - it is a supremely joyous work. The 24th, by contrast, is the darkest and stormiest of all Mozart's concerti, in fact as stormy as any work he ever composed. It is the only concerto that begins and ends in a minor key, which is an indication of the depth of its seriousness. It's also the only piano concerto that uses both oboes and clarinets as well as trumpets and timpani, making it far and away the most symphonic and texturally rich of the entire series.
What can we expect from the cadenzas in Piano Concerto No. 21 and Piano Concerto No. 24? How do you approach improvisational moments?
Jeffrey Kahane: Expect the unexpected! That's the whole point of cadenzas, is that they are meant to be surprising. I have always loved to improvise, and although my cadenzas are composed rather than completely improvised, I always leave some room for improvisation and spontaneous creativity in them, just as I do in ornamenting and embellishing those passages in the concertos that really call for it. Improvisation is something that has always come naturally to me, so I don't think about how I'm going to approach it, I just do it.
There was a lovely quote from you in an interview with The Juilliard Journal: "Over the years, I have tried my best to bring that sense of moral and ethical purpose to everything I do as a musician, and to transmit the sense that we are not just making beautiful sounds, but engaging in storytelling, in acts of imagination and ethical choices." How would you describe the narrative arc(s) in A MOZART THANKSGIVING?
Jeffrey Kahane: I would just as soon let people create their own narrative arcs for each of the pieces as they hear them. I think that's a much better way to approach this question.
In the same interview, you spoke about not really "getting" Mozart's concertos as a youngster. Will you talk a little more about what changed and how?
Jeffrey Kahane: I was not excited by Mozart's music as a child, because I only heard the surface of the music. I loved Beethoven, I loved the Romantic composers, I just hadn't yet learned how to listen to Mozart. The truth is that Mozart's music is as "romantic" and "dramatic" as anything by Chopin or Brahms, but the emotional aspects of his music are expressed with fewer notes and sometimes deceptively simple means. I can't say exactly when or how that changed for me, but by the time I was in my mid-to-late teens I had completely fallen in love with Mozart, and that love affair has never ended.
What does it mean to be an interpreter of Mozart?
Jeffrey Kahane: I don't know the answer to that. I don't think of myself as an interpreter - I just try to listen to what Mozart has to say, and play the music as honestly as I can, and allow myself, to the extent that I can, to be a vessel for his music.
8 p.m. November 25 and 26, and 2:30 p.m. November 27. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For more information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $25 to $136.
Photo courtesy of the Houston Symphony.