Kahane sets W.P.A. guides to music for Orpheus Chamber Orchestra commission

Posted on: April 22, 2013

In Sunday’s (4/21) New York Times, William Robin writes, “If there had been room in his camper, John Steinbeck once wrote, he would have packed all 48 volumes of the American Guide series. Compiled in the 1930s by the Federal Writers’ project, part of the artistic wing of the Works Progress Administration, the guides provided state-by-state accounts of local history … The Brooklyn-based composer and singer Gabriel Kahane has assembled an impressive collection of original American Guides—his current tally is 25—and his library helped him shape ‘Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States,’ a work that will have its New York City premiere with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall next Saturday. (It had its world premiere at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., on April 19.) … As a liberal dramatizing the New Deal, part of the lore of the American left, Mr. Kahane worried about creating music that was too preachy, but the guides offered a path beyond propaganda. … For Mr. Kahane, allowing the 1930s to speak for itself involved reading the guides and transcribing intriguing passages into a massive document, which he condensed and edited into a libretto. ‘Gabriel’s Guide’ journeys from California to New York, describing along the way the working class in San Francisco; the slave trade in Washington, D.C.; and the beauty of Oregon. While Orpheus plays his score, Mr. Kahane will sing and recite excerpts from the guides, accompanying himself on banjo and electric guitar.”

Posted April 22, 2013