UPDATE (Monday, Sept. 10, 10:49 a.m. PT) – Oregon Symphony president Scott Showalter’s phone has been ringing since the premiere of Gabriel Kahane’s symphony commission “emergency shelter intake form.”
“I’ve had orchestras across the country mention to agents and to me directly,” Showalter said, “that they are interested in potentially bringing this piece in future seasons.”
Showalter spent his post-concert moments after the first performance wondering if he’d made an irreparable mistake.
The Symphony has not traditionally tackled topical issues from the stage. As music director Carlos Kalmar said, institutions have been wary of unspoken rules governing the orchestral world.
“You cannot — as a nonprofit institution — you cannot be politically involved,” Kalmar said.
When the time came to program the 2017–18 season, the symphony’s artistic advisory committee began serious discussions on programming that would address the issues affecting audiences: immigration, the environment, homelessness. After several years of planning — undertaken well before the 2016 election — the symphony programmed various thematic works across the year, including the commissioning of an original orchestral work.
“When you live in Portland, it’s impossible not to think about homelessness. Every day,” said Karen Wagner, assistant principal oboe. “I live in close-in southeast. I walk out my door and I see it everyday.”
Wagner was part of that advisory committee planning for 2017–18. She said members discussed what composer to approach — someone who could tackle the subject matter in a timely, relevant way.
“And that,” she said, “is how Gabriel’s name came up.”
Brooklyn-based composer and singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane was already something of a known commodity in Oregon musical circles. His father, the renowned conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, has performed several times with the Oregon Symphony, and Gabriel’s melodic, innovative compositions have won rave critical reviews. He’s collaborated with several artists in Oregon’s ecosystem, like Chris Thile and Sufjan Stevens