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Meet The New Sarasota Music Festival Director

Nov 16, 2016

Pianist and Conductor Jeffrey Kahane grew up in Southern California at a time when the Beach Boys provided the soundtrack for teenagers trying to catch a wave.  He said the legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix was on his radar, but he was more influenced by folk rock and drawn to the music of Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. 

His family listened to Classical music for as long as he can remember. And had a “small but wonderful record collection.” It included the complete Beethoven symphonies, chamber music of Schubert and Brahms and Beethoven piano concertos. 

He started playing the piano when he was about five and took up the guitar around the age of 10, playing folk music, “which was very big around my house,” he says.

But Kahane finally got to a point where he realized he couldn’t live without Classical music when he encountered a “world-class Classical musician…he was a Polish émigré who had settled in Los Angeles in the 1930s, his name was Jakob Gimpel.”

Kahane was given a scholarship to study music with Gimpel. Kahane said he was about 14 at the time and realized “if I was ever to become a classical musician, I would have to devote many, many hours a day… I was not a typical child prodigy, like friends who were practicing many hours a day from the time they were small children.”

Kahane said he was a small child when he fell in love with Classical music, not just the music his parents shared on the record player, but also the Metropolitan Opera on the radio, which he listened to on the weekends at his grandmother’s house.

Kahane says he could write a book about what brought him to the realization he couldn’t live without Classical music.

He calls it “a world of such inexhaustible richness.”

In his words, “It’s a whole universe. People talk about Classical music as though it were one thing, but the reality is that Classical music is as varied and rich … you could go through a lifetime -- I just turned 60 and I’m still discovering pieces that I’ve never heard. In addition to the sheer variety, it’s also the scope and depth. If you take any one of the composers, Mozart, Bach, Schubert, you enter an amazing kind of spiritual dimension when you enter into that music."

Kahane said never expected to be invited to become the music director of the Sarasota Music Festival, but he feels a real sense of obligation to help the young people who are excited about studying and performing Classical music in any way he can. And he says, “teaching makes us better musicians, and I feel very nourished and fed and stimulated and inspired by my students.”

Kahane added that giving back is very important to him and the Sarasota Music Festival “is a phenomenal opportunity for me to do that.”   

Kahane served as the music director the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for many years and teaches at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.