The San Luis Obispo Symphony finishes its 2014-2015 season on Saturday with a program includes a tone poem by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, film music from Sergei Prokofiev, and a piano concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
But the excitement will center on the long-awaited return of pianist/conductor Jeffrey Kahane, who has one of the most storied musical careers of his generation.
Kahane has guest-conducted the New York Philharmonic, made outstanding recordings for the likes of Nonesuch Records and performed with Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw, Hillary Hahn, Thomas Quasthoff and Joshua Bell.
Although known internationally through concerts and recordings, Kahane’s contributions to classical music on the West Coast are perhaps his most remarkable achievements.
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From 1995 through 2006, Kahane directed and conducted the Santa Rosa Symphony.
He became music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) in 1997. He plans to step down in 2017, ending a tenure that’s the longest in the orchestra’s history.
Kahane has accepted a professorship at USC, which means that he will soon be relocating from Santa Rosa to the town of his birth.
“This new job does not mean I’m retiring from performances,” Kahane said, noting that he will continue touring and working as a soloist and conductor.
For Kahane, the roles of soloist and conductor are not separate.
Saturday’s concert will find him simultaneously conducting Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor” and playing the difficult solo part on piano.
“Really, it only appears to be a miracle from the outsider’s perspective,” Kahane said with a laugh.
He would know. He performed and conducted all twenty-three of the Mozart piano concertos during the LACO’s 2005-06 season.
“I’ve been conducting and playing these pieces for thirty years now, so blending the activities is second nature to me,” Kahane said, adding that piano concertos were generally performed that way in Mozart’s time.
“Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor” was a favorite of the young Ludwig van Beethoven, who wrote the cadenzas that Mozart never got to finish. Kahane plans to use those cadenzas Saturday.
“Some pianists write their own cadenzas — I’ve written my own for some of these concertos — but Beethoven’s have such dramatic integrity,” Kahane said. “And they give a window into how Beethoven may have heard Mozart, how the younger man perceived the master.”
Much as the young Beethoven looked up to the mature Mozart, Kahane clearly admired his teacher, the legendary Polish-born pianist Jakob Gimpel.
“In my experience, just about all of us in the classical music world have had a mentor at profound time in our lives,” Kahane said. “I encountered Gimpel at 14, and studied intensely with him for one year in Los Angeles.
“In that year, he opened a whole world to me, a world not just of music, but of the European intellectual and spiritual traditions the music articulates. He spoke poetically about this music’s moral connotations, about why it was serious.”
Concertgoers on Saturday can expect a seriously beautiful evening of music.