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Kahane and Andres, Dual-Piano Act

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T. Andres, Shy and Mighty, T. Andres and D. Kaplan

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G. Kahane, Where Are the Arms?
Gabriel Kahane's flexibility in the pop idiom, which he mixes with an interest in classical music old and contemporary, has made him the darling of many critics. The same is true of composer-pianist Timothy Andres, which made their dual appearance on the free concert series at the Library of Congress on Friday night something to hear, even if the appeal of their music has yet to sway me. The program they performed, with both of them playing piano and Kahane singing for some of the selections, mixed some examples of their own music with that of other composers, all of it brief. The central part of the concert, a series of very short pieces that Kahane described as a "live mix tape," was the sort of programming made to appeal to the iPod generation.

Kahane should be headlining a piano bar somewhere, the right kind of forum for his songwriting gifts. The excerpts from his Craigslistlieder were hilarious, the texts of personal ads fitted to equally ephemeral pop gestures in songs of great appeal. The same qualities were evident in other songs of a slightly more serious nature -- Merritt Parkway, North Adams, and Side Streets -- but this just does not feel like the sort of music that requires focused listening in silence. It is a special talent to be able to accompany oneself at the piano, but little about Kahane's performances of other music was extraordinary. The comparison is perhaps not fair, but we heard the four-hands arrangements of Bach included here, by György Kurtág, played with exceptional beauty by the Kurtágs themselves a few years ago. Kahane received his first musical training as a child chorister (he still had a pretty good boy treble hoot in Andrew Norman's Don't Even Listen), but he required a microphone even in the relatively small space of the Library's auditorium. His voice was a little rough and unsatisfactory for Benjamin Britten's gorgeous folk song arrangements from the 1940s and for a set of Ives songs.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Gabriel Kahane makes classical music jaunty, and, happily, no one seems to mind (Washington Post, April 8)

---, Gabriel Kahane, a genre bender musician (Washington Post, March 30)

Zachary Woolfe, Gabriel Kahane Is a One-Man Cultural Cuisinart (New York Times, April 27, 2012
Andres made a more favorable impression as a pianist, with a retiring style at the keyboard -- twin Yamaha pianos were brought into the auditorium for the event -- but with plenty of flexibility and flair in his fingers. He was a suave accompanist in the Britten and Ives sets, and his charming way with the three Chopinesque Mazurkas by Thomas Adès (op. 27, 2009) was one of the evening's high points. Adès is a composer who has intrigued much more than either Andres or Kahane -- Andres himself has written that these pieces "are, I believe, the finest Mazurkas yet to be written in the 21st century" -- and if the Library of Congress is going to feature a living composer, I would frankly rather it be someone like him, or Georg Friedrich Haas, Lera Auerbach, or Kaija Saariaho, to name just a couple. When Andres played his own music at the piano, it most reminded me of Debussy, not always the harmonies, but the descriptive leanings: Pierrot on 88th Street like the Debussy prelude Minstrels, and Please Let Me Sleep, both from the collection It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer. At the River was reminiscent of something an organist would improvise, harmonic block after harmonic block enlivened by figuration, capped by a quotation of Shall We Gather by the River in Messiaen-like extended chords.

The Library of Congress has an otherwise remarkable month in store, with concerts by harpsichordist Christophe Rousset (April 13), Stile Antico (April 17), and the Keller Quartet (April 18).

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