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What I Listen to When I'm Not at Work (Hint: Gabriel Kahane)

I'm frequently asked what kinds of music I enjoy when not at work. I always find this a hard question to answer, not because I don't like to listen to music outside the classical genre, but because my tastes are fickle.

An album that I really enjoyed on first listen has usually lost its luster by the third or fourth spin. Lyrics have become trite, harmonic progressions sophomoric, production value dull. I have trouble just enjoying albums as background music; I want to consume them fully, listening for how musical decisions were reached, how deeply felt this material was to the artist. I want my enjoyment in the tunes to grow as I get to know them better.

One artist I am never afraid to endorse, however, is Gabriel Kahane. I first fell in love with his 2011 album, Where are the Arms. This lovely collection of vignettes is completely accessible on first listen and continues to reveal deeper layers upon repeated listenings. These songs were crafted by a deeply talented composer who writes for instrumentalists with immense skill and an unabashed love for heart-rending harmonies and orchestrations. In 2014, Gabriel released The Ambassador. This album, through its exploration of Los Angeles and her buildings and locales, shows off his tremendous skill for telling a beautiful musical story.

I was, of course, thrilled, when it was announced that the North Carolina Symphony will be performing one of his works next season. Gabriel's "Guide to the 48 States" will be performed in October. I highly recommend you get to know his music before then, however. You might download his albums (available on, or, even better, you might come to Carrboro on Monday night to hear North Carolina Symphony musicians Elizabeth Phelps, Samuel Gold, Nathaniel Yaffe, and me join Gabriel and special guest, Jennifer Curtis, on some of his works arranged for an intimate, chamber music setting. We had our first rehearsal today, and it was such a pleasure to work with all of these gracious and talented artists. This will be a very special show.

Please join us at Cat's Cradle on Monday, March 23 at 7:30pm. This concert is part of the Overtone Concert Series. Click here for tickets.

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