Gabriel Kahane is not an artist easily pinned down to a certain genre of music, labeled as a lyricist, or pigeonholed as a pianist. He strives for songwriting that's lyrically poignant and melodically complicated, yet delicate and accessible enough for even the most mainstream-pop-attuned ears to enjoy and understand.
"I think music is just a way of me filtering my experience of the world and spitting it back out in some aestheticized, and hopefully, emotionally resonant way," Kahane said.
He is bringing his first album of chamber music, "The Fiction Issue," to Stanford University's Bing Concert Hall on Friday, Jan. 29, where he's performing alongside the string quartet Brooklyn Rider.
Kahane's past work encompasses a number of musical styles and subjects, such as an album inspired by Craiglist.org, with lyrics taken directly from personal ads, and his 2014 major-label debut, "The Ambassador," a ten-song album/guide to Los Angeles that transports listeners to ten different addresses across the city, each with its own unique story of historical or personal significance.
He hails from a musical background -- his father is Jeffrey Kahane, concert pianist, conductor and director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra -- and has been commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He's also worked alongside pop and folk artists including Sufjan Stevens, Fiona Apple and Chris Thile.
Brooklyn Rider consists of Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on violin, Nicholas Cords on viola and Eric Jacobsen on cello, and is similarly difficult to classify. The group draws influence from world, rock and classical music, and has played in venues as prestigious and varied as Lincoln Center, the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the Library of Congress and the South by Southwest festival.
Kahane and Brooklyn Rider's collaboration on "The Fiction Issue" wasn't just about adding something new and different to their already-extensive repertoire but also about commemorating the relationship between the fellow Brooklynites.
"They're all my really good friends, and we all live about a mile apart from one another," said Kahane, who noted that two of the three pieces on "The Fiction Issue" were specifically written for Brooklyn Rider, including the eponymous six-part song "The Fiction Issue" and "Bradbury Studies," a string quartet piece that was built off of the song "Bradbury" from Kahane's "The Ambassador."
"Because I have done so much work in the classical music world I wanted to have our collaboration documented, and it's also a way of documenting my friendship with Brooklyn Rider," he said.
The Stanford performance is the first on their seven-date tour and will include excerpts from "The Fiction Issue" as well as a mix of songs from Brooklyn Rider's most recent recording, "The Brooklyn Rider Almanac," and Kahane's "The Ambassador." The group will also perform Franz Schubert's "String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor," more commonly known as the "Rosamunde Quartet."
Brooklyn Rider's violinist Colin Jacobsen said that "there's a lot of shared aesthetic and philosophy" between his group and Kahane.
"Music need not exist in an aesthetic vacuum to have real intellectual bite, but it need not be dumbed down in order to reach out, either," Jacobsen said in an email, noting that it's the first time Brooklyn Rider's done a complete album of one composer's music.
"We think that the pieces on this album are incredibly varied within (Kahane's) language, but complement each other as a listening experience."
Both Kahane and Brooklyn Rider choose their influences deliberately and carefully, crafting new sounds that are reminiscent of many genres yet are completely new in their overall feel and composition.
"I've always tried to make music that is rewarding on repeated listens, but I also want to give people something that draws them in," Kahane said. "I guess where I diverge from the norm is by exploiting a lot of different ideas and techniques to have everything that happens beneath the melody to be a little bit more complicated. It's not so much about being complicated for the sake of being complicated as it is to try to express something new that hasn't been said before."
What: Gabriel Kahane and Brooklyn Rider
Where: Bing Concert Hall, 327 Lasuen St., Stanford
When: Friday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m.
Info: Go to Stanford Live or call 650-724-2464