Gabriel Kahane’s Assortment of Gnarly and Effortless New Sounds

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In June, composer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane released his fifth album "The Ambassador." The music is a meditation on an unseen Los Angeles as described through the filter of ten LA addresses. Though pop music at its core, the songs are colored with the classical orchestration and musical theatre of Kahane's formal training – he's composed for Kronos Quartet, American Composers Orchestra and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, among others. He was also a featured performer in this year's Ecstatic Music Festival.

Gabriel Kahane writes the following of his Mixtape:

Andrew Norman’s Try is one of the most beguiling works to emerge in the last couple of years. I was fortunate enough to hear the first rehearsals and world premiere in Los Angeles, following along with a score, which I think helped to unlock the lapidary/cellular magic of this piece. What is perhaps most striking to me is its extreme emotional range: within the span of a few minutes, Andrew has the audience laughing at the chronically interrupting guiro, only to fall spellbound and silent as crystalline piano chords dissolve into nothingness.

John Adams’s Gnarly Buttons has long been one of my favorite pieces by JCA, achieving an effortless engagement with the vernacular while summoning truly new sounds and ideas. 

Chris Thile is a dear friend and musical hero of mine – he’s represented here by the first movement of a “string quintet” he wrote a few years back for his phenomenal band, Punch Brothers. To me, there’s a bit of spiritual kinship between this piece and John’s Gnarly Buttons

Switching gears with the 4th Ligeti Piano Etude, Fanfares. This miniature is incredibly significant to many composers of my generation, as it contains the seeds of a new approach to pantonal harmony – from the “vertical” standpoint, as in any single freeze-frame of the piece, the harmony is incredibly consonant. But the harmony shifts rapidly and kaleidoscopically in such a way that we don’t recognize those consonances qua consonances. Rather, they have been decontextualized in classically “uncanny” way – we don’t know where we are at any given moment during this short work. 

Finally, we close with Django Bates’s brilliant and disarming reading of the Duke Ellington tune “Solitude”. As readings of standards go, this is about as “new” as it gets. 


Andrew Norman – Try (New York Philharmonic)
John Adams – Gnarly Buttons (London Sinfonietta; Michael Collins, clarinet)
Chris Thile – The Blind Leaving the Blind, Mvmt I (The Punch Brothers)
György Ligeti – Etude IV. for Piano, Book I (Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano)
Duke Ellington – Solitude (Django Bates, piano)

Not all compositions from the original playlist appear on Spotify.