Interview | Mark Abel

by Dan McHugh

It’s not every day that you hear of someone actually trying to avoid The Beatles. Or of a rock band guitarist turned journalist becoming a classical composer. But that’s California-based Mark Abel. His newest album is entitled The Cave of Wondrous Voice and features chamber music as well as a song cycle based on Russian poetry. In February’s My Life in Music, Rob Kennedy speaks with composer Mark Abel about his musical influences, his career as a journalist, and what inspires his work today.

Growing up in the 1960s and wary of the hype surrounding The Beatles, Mark Abel was inspired by the band The Byrds. Talking about their music he said, “I just was so transported by hearing the wonderful vocal harmonies they had and wonderful material. It wasn’t complex music harmonically at all, but there was something unique about the way the song lyrics and the melodies and the instrumentation were balanced, that you could hear a great song of that era and say, ‘hey, that’s a great song.’ Maybe you only had four chords, but the lyrics were saying something.” Mark played guitar in numerous bands throughout the 1960s and ’70s and even wrote his own music.

With his vast experience as a journalist and his many years in numerous bands, writing songs came naturally to Mr. Abel. He said, “It took me some years to realize that I could bring this ability into what I was trying to do with classical music … The love of Melody is something that has been there for me since the beginning. It’s not kind of something that I had to pick up because I’ve heard so much melody expressed in different art forms.” He grew up listening to 19th-century music by Beethoven, Dvorak, and Brahms with his father and especially enjoys the late Romanticism of the early 20th century. In the liner notes, he mentions following Brahm’s example for the orchestration of his own Clarinet Trio. Even in the chamber music written without voice, including the opening selection Intuition’s Dance, you can hear a whimsical conversation take place between the clarinet and the piano.

When asked about his advice for a younger composer, Mr. Abel notes that while getting your music heard is difficult, there is no better time to start composing than now. As the traditional classical music audience ages, symphonies are appealing to younger generations to attend concerts. However, composing is not just for the young! As Mr. Abel can surely attest, composing late in life is just as rewarding. He has an active career and collaborates with pianists such as Dominic Cheli and clarinetist David Shifrin.

Be the first to hear the entire interview with composer Mark Abel on My Life in Music Monday evening, February 1 at 7 p.m. Eastern. Rob Kennedy speaks with Mr. Abel about his journey from rock musician to journalist to classical composer, his greatest musical influences, and more.

The Classical Station’s My Life in Music airs the first Monday of every month and repeats on the following Sunday at 5 p.m. online. For more information on composer Mark Abel, visit his website.

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“>interview with Mark which aired on Preview!, Sunday, August 9, 2020.

Photo: Erik Doria