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L.A. Chamber Orchestra's Jeffrey Kahane: Wunderkind to maestro

September 10, 2011 |  8:45 am


Jeffrey Kahane
Jeffrey Kahane, the widely respected music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, was able to launch his career as a result of placing high in international piano competitions, like many concert pianists of his generation. In 1981, Kahane reached the finals of the Van Cliburn Competition. He received first prize at the 1983 Rubinstein Competition.

“It would be extremely disingenuous of me if I didn’t acknowledge that winning these competitions was critical to my career,” Kahane said in a recent interview at his home in Santa Rosa.  “Doing well in the Van Cliburn competition when I was 25 enabled me to get management, which then allowed me to get concerts outside the Bay Area. In 1983, when I won the grand prize in the Rubinstein competition, I managed to get more orchestral dates.”

But acing major contests isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for a young virtuoso’s burgeoning career. “If I take a look at the most successful young pianists around today, like Jeremy Denk and Lang Lang, a lot of them have never been in major international competitions,” Kahane said. 

According to Kahane, the overall visibility of competitions has decreased, owing to their exponential growth. “There are 10 times the number of competitions today than there were 25 years ago,” Kahane said. “Competitions have proliferated around the world so much that some someone could win the top prize and scarcely anybody would take notice.”

So what does it take for a young pianist on the make to get noticed today?

“Increasingly, we’re seeing that the really special talents are heard because there is a network of people in world of music who have their ears tuned to listen out for what’s really special,” Kahane said. “Word of mouth is really important.”

Read the Arts & Books profile of pianist/conductor Jeffrey Kahane.

-- Chloe Veltman

Photo credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times